Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brazil: Rancher tied to nun's case is charged

A rancher fighting accusations that he ordered the murder of a U.S. nun has now been charged with trying to fraudulently obtain the plot of Amazon rain forest she died trying to defend, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

The new charge, filed in federal court in the northern city of Altamira, could undermine one of Regivaldo Galvao's key alibis in the separate murder case. He has testified he had no interest in the piece of land that 73-year-old Dorothy Stang was trying to defend when she was shot to death in 2005.

But prosecutors say that Galvao presented documents to Brazil's Incra land reform agency in November asserting he owns the disputed land and saying he wants it back.

Federal prosecutor Felicio Pontes said Galvao's claim is fraudulent _ that the land where Stang was killed is public property _ and that the attempt to get the land will aid prosecutors trying to convict him of killing the nun, a native of Dayton, Ohio.

"It will help the case of Dorothy's murder," Pontes said. "The case is still open and we can use the facts from this land case in Dorothy's. He is going to be found guilty, I have no doubt."

It was not immediately possible to contact Galvao and calls to his lawyer rang unanswered.

Stang spent three decades trying to preserve the rain forest and defending the rights of poor settlers who confronted powerful ranchers seeking their lands in the Amazon's wild frontier.

Prosecutors contend Galvao and another rancher hired gunmen to kill Stang over a disputed plot of land. He was arrested in 2005 but was freed on bail in 2006 and has used legal maneuvers to avoid trial.

A second rancher accused in Stang's murder, Vitalmiro Moura, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in May 2007. But his sentence was overturned last year after the man who confessed to shooting Stang recanted earlier testimony and said he acted alone. Gunman Rayfran das Neves Sales was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Pontes said Galvao will likely appear within a month before a judge in the jungle city of Altamira for arraignment on the land charges.

In the last two decades, more than 1,100 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers have been killed in disputes over preserving land, according to rights groups.

Stang's case was the subject of a documentary film, "They Killed Sister Dorothy," which will debut on HBO on March 25.