A cattle rancher and his son were found guilty Saturday of first-degree murder for the killing of Chico Mendes, a fierce defender of the Amazon rain forest. The defendants were each sentenced to 19 years in prison.
The seven-member jury decided Darly Alves da Silva planned the 1988 shotgun killing and that his son Darci Alves Pereira pulled the trigger.The trial in this Amazon river town 2,650 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro opened Wednesday with the surprise murder confession of Alves Pereira. His father had fought the charges.
Judge Adair Longhini and the jury members remained behind closed doors for more than three hours late before returning with the verdict.
The decision was applauded by scores of residents and family members of Mendes who jammed the tiny wooden courthouse in this Amazon jungle town.
Earlier, prosecutors had demanded the maximum 30-year sentence for the two, saying they had "stained the forest with (Mendes') blood."
The trial has caused a sensation in this nation of 150 million, where Mendes, 44, is seen as an ecological martyr who died defending the vast Amazon rain forest from slash-and-burn destruction by ranchers and farmers.
The Amazon, the world's largest rain forest, is the only habitat for many plant and animal species. Rubber tappers and others depend on the forest for their livelihood, but once the jungle is cleared it becomes barren of most vegetation within a few years.
A Texas-sized chunk of the forest already has been cut down.
Earlier Saturday, the 54-year-old Alves da Silva slumped in his chair in the tiny Xapuri courthouse and pressed a white handkerchief to his face during the prosecution's closing statements.
"You killed him, you!" declared prosecutor Marcio Thomaz Bastos, pointing a finger at the defendants.