Brazilian policeman sentenced to 450 years for slum massacre
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A judge sentenced a former police officer convicted Sunday of massacring 21 residents of a Rio slum to almost 450 years in prison, saying his actions ``demeaned all values of human existence.″
Under Brazilian law, however, Paulo Roberto Alvarenga cannot serve more than 30 years. Still, the symbolic 449 years and eight months was seen by some relatives and human rights activists as a positive sign for the dozens more trials to follow.
Alvarenga was among 52 policemen accused in the 1993 massacre, described by prosecutors as revenge for the deaths of four state troopers presumably killed by drug traffickers in the Vigario Geral shantytown. He was the first to be tried. One officer since has died.
Judge Jose Geraldo Antonio sentenced the 38-year-old Alvarenga for 21 homicides and on four counts of attempted murder, saying he had an ``extremely violent personality with irrational instincts, free of human inhibitions, which manifests itself in the most bestial form.″
Rodrigo Roca, one of Alvarenga’s attorneys, criticized the sentence.
``I have never seen anything like this. It was a political condemnation,″ Roca said, referring to public cries for police reform since the massacre.
On Aug. 28, 1993, unmarked cars carrying armed men drove into Vigario Geral slum on Rio’s poor north side. The cars emptied and the men opened fire with automatic weapons. One tossed a grenade into an all-night kiosk, others burst into a house and gunned down eight family members.
The case bogged down in Brazil’s glacially slow court system. But Sunday, a jury voted to convict Alvarenga, who had testified he was home watching a soccer game on television the night of the killings. He has spent almost four years in jail awaiting trial.
For many Vigario Geral residents, some of whom spent the night praying outside the courthouse, the conviction was a major victory.
``Justice is slow, but it finally reached Vigario Geral,″ said Joao Duarte, who directs the community center ``Casa da Paz,″ Portuguese for House of Peace. It is the house where the eight family members died.
Rita Inacio da Silva, whose husband, Luis Claudio Feliciano, died in the massacre noted Alvarenga is just the first officer to be tried.
``With this conviction, we are more confidant about the others,″ she told the Jornal do Brasil, a Rio newspaper.
Cristina Leonardo, an attorney who represents the victims’ families told Globo News television that the trial showed Brazil needs a witness protection program.
Shantytown residents were too scared to testify and none of them would swear to seeing Alvarenga at Vigario Geral that night. He was convicted on the testimony of a police informant, Ivan Custodio, who said Alvarenga not only took part in the massacre but also attended a planning meeting.
James Cavallaro, the Brazil director of Human Rights Watch/Americas, said that the conviction may not signal a major change in Brazil’s willingness to rein in police.
Most police brutality cases are tried in military courts, where few are punished. The Vigario Geral case was tried in a civilian court because the accused were off-duty and not in uniform.
``It’s the direct failure of Congress to transfer jurisdiction from privileged military courts to civilian courts,″ Cavallaro said. ``This case is an exception.″