Brazil Cops on Trial for Massacre
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Ten former police officers went on trial Wednesday for taking part in the bloodiest massacre involving Brazilian police death squads, a 1993 attack that left 21 people dead in a Rio de Janeiro slum.
All 10 sat impassively as Judge Jose Geraldo Antonio read the charges, including graphic descriptions of each killing.
Nine of the men were led out of the jury room as the first defendant, Carlos Teixeira, pleaded innocent.
``I only learned of the event the next day reading the newspaper,″ said Teixeira, who claimed to be at police barracks at the time of the killing.
The 10 men are among 52 former officers accused in the August 29, 1993, massacre in the Vigario Geral slum on the city’s poor north side.
Prosecutors say police carried out the massacre to avenge the killings a day earlier of four state troopers, allegedly by drug dealers.
While police have been blamed for other attacks in the city’s crime-ridden slums, the Vigario Geral massacre is among the most notorious.
Shortly before midnight that day, hooded men with automatic weapons poured out of unmarked cars and entered the slum firing, seemingly at random. Some tossed grenades, and others burst into a house and gunned down eight members of a family.
Following the massacre of eight street children sleeping in front of a downtown Rio church, the killings generated a public outcry against police impunity.
The two incidents compelled new laws that now require police accused of homicide to stand trial in civilian courts, rather than in military courts where they were usually acquitted.
Wednesday’s trial is the third related to the massacre. In earlier trials, two former police officers were convicted and each sentenced to more than 440 years in prison. The men are confined to police barracks while they appeal.
Lawyers for the ten officers are expected to base their defense around a jailhouse videotape in which other defendants claim those accused in Wednesday’s trial were not involved. The release of the tape in 1993 led to the indictments of 19 other officers.
Following the release of the video, the 10 men on trial Wednesday were freed pending trial. But two of them, Gilson Nicolau Araujo and Adilson de Jesus Rodrigues, returned to jail after they were charged with separate murders after the 1993 massacre.
The prosecution is expected to base its case on ballistic evidence that shows one of the bullets found in a victim’s body was fired by Araujo, who in the tapes was said not to have been involved.
``This is the most important of all the trials,″ said assistant prosecutor Cristina Leonardo. ``If they are acquitted, the truth will never be known. If they are convicted, the others will begin to crumble, sending them all to jail.″
The trial, which includes 12 prosecution witnesses and 15 defense witnesses, is expected to last a week,
Relatives of the victims gathered outside the court house at dawn Wednesday and maintained a vigil throughout the day with banners and pictures of dead relatives.
``It’s hard for me. It’s hard, but I haven’t given up hope. I’ll never give up hope,″ said Iracema Medeiros, who lost her husband and brother-in-law in the massacre.
Trial dates for the remaining 38 defendants have not been set. Two other defendants have died since the massacre.