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Court Acquits Wife Killer, Deals Major Blow to Brazilian Feminists

September 1, 1991

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Brazilian feminists are dismayed by the second acquittal of a man who argued he killed his wife and her lover in a legitimate defense of honor.

For years, feminists have attacked the defense tactic, saying it perpetuates widespread violence against Brazilian women.

The nation’s Supreme Court had cheered women last March when it annulled the man’s previous acquittal, saying the ″honor″ defense was invalid. But a state court in southern Brazil allowed the defendant to use the ″honor″ defense in his latest trial.

″This case is a barbarity, an aberration to the hard-fought advances women have made in recent years,″ said Rosemarie Muraro, a prominent author and leading feminist. ″This should cause a national outrage.″

Though the ″honor″ defense is not part of Brazil’s legal code, it is commonly accepted by courts, especially those in tiny, rural towns in the interior. Scores of men have been acquitted of killing wives or lovers using the defense.

The issue returned to the spotlight Thursday when a jury in Parana state court acquitted Joao Lopes, a bricklayer who caught his wife with another man in a hotel in Apucarana, a small city in Brazil’s southern farming belt.

Lopes admitted he stabbed both to death. But he was acquitted by an all- male jury after a trial in which the defense attorney was allowed to argue Lopes ″acted on moral impulses.″

The defense argument defied the 3-2 ruling by the Supreme Court in March that decided Lopes killed for revenge. The high court ordered a new trial and a new jury, and it abolished the use of the ″honor″ defense in Lopes’ case.

The ″legitimate defense of honor″ cannot be used in murder cases ″because honor is a personal value that cannot be restored with the blood of an unfaithful wife,″ the Supreme Court said.

State Judge Luis Fernando Araujo said he permitted the use of the defense because it was ″essentially the heart″ of the case.

″One decision by the Supreme Court does not necessarily form a national precedent,″ Araujo said in a telephone interview from Apucarana. ″Unless the defense’s strategy is completely absurd or irrelevent, I can do nothing to impede it.″

Ms. Muraro said women’s rights groups are planning demonstrations in Brasilia, the national capital, in preparation for a second appeal to the Supreme Court, a highly unusual but legal recourse in Brazil.

Feminists have demanded an end of the ″honor code″ since 1976, when fashion model Angela Diniz was killed by Doca Street, her live-in-lover and well-known playboy. Street flew into a rage when Diniz ended their romance and took a female companion.

The case triggered a national uproar when Street was sentenced to just two years in jail - with immediate parole. After widespread protests by women’s groups, prosecutors won a second trial and obtained a 16-year sentence.

The issue flared again in 1987 in the western jungle city of Porto Velho when a man soaked his girlfriend with alcohol and set her afire after she ended a three-month romance.

The woman suffered severe burns on most of her body and lost part of one ear and her mouth. The boyfriend was acquitted after his lawyer argued men had a ″natural right″ over women.

In 1990, a judge in the tiny southeastern town of Assis acquitted a car mechanic who had beaten his mother-in-law, saying he was ″exercising his duty to save his marriage from outside interference.″

Ms. Muraro said an examination of 1980s court records in the southern city of Sao Paulo turned up dozens of cases of men who used the honor defense to avoid conviction.

A study released this year said more than 6,000 violent crimes occurred against women in the northeastern coastal city of Recife between 1987 and 1989. About 400 of them involved murders of women by husbands, boyfriends or lovers.

Feminist groups, which have grown slowly in Brazil, worry the Lopes decision will weaken women’s resolve to press for social change.

″What this decision tells the poorer, less-educated people in the interior is that it’s OK again for men to kill ‘bad’ wives,″ said Ms. Muraro. ″It’s a dangerous message that is all too often heeded.″

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