A Brazilian court has ordered the arrest and retrial of an Amazon rancher acquitted of orchestrating the murder of American nun and rainforest activist, Dorothy Stang.
Para state's highest court threw out last year's verdict, which found Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura not guilty of the 2005 shooting of Stang, 73, who campaigned for 30 years to save the Amazon rainforest from the interests of wealthy landlords.
"We're elated and we are convinced we will get a guilty verdict in the new trial," said prosecutor Edson Souza.
Souza said Moura was charged with ordering Stang's murder but he had yet to be arrested.
Stang was shot six times at close range with a revolver in the small jungle city of Anapu. The nun, from Dayton, Ohio, spent three decades on the Amazon's wild frontier, working to preserve the rainforest and defend the rights of poor settlers whose lands were seized by powerful ranchers.
Her death prompted Amazon activists – more than 1,000 of whom have been murdered in the last 20 years – to demand Brazil's government crack down on the illegal seizure and clearance of the rainforest to graze cattle, raise soy crops and harvest timber.
"I am excited that perhaps Dorothy will find justice," David Stang, the nun's brother, wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
He has travelled from his home in Palmer Lake, Colorado, to Brazil several times to witness the trials. "All of us who love Brazil today are so proud of this great country, as would Dorothy be proud today," he wrote.
Prosecutors said Moura and rancher Regivaldo Galvao hired gunmen to kill Stang over a disputed plot of land.
Galvao, who denies the charge, was arrested in 2005 but was freed on bail in 2006.
Moura has already been tried twice in the case as Brazil has no double jeopardy law. He was found guilty by a state court in 2007 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.That ruling was overturned last year after the man who confessed to shooting Stang recanted his earlier testimony, insisting he had acted alone. Gunman Rayfran das Neves Sales was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
The court ruled yesterday that Moura and Sales must be retried because a video that Moura's defence showed the jury was inadmissible.
That video depicting Amair Feijoli da Cunha, who was jailed for 17 years for acting as the middleman between the gunman and the ranchers, was made while he was in prison and without a judge's approval.
The video, made by the defence team, showed Cunha saying that Moura had nothing to do with the case. He had testified earlier that Moura paid the hired gunmen.
Para court officials said no date had been set for the trials of Moura or Sales.
More than 1,100 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers have been killed in land disputes in the last two decades, according to the Catholic Land Pastoral, a Brazilian watchdog group.
Of those killings, fewer than 100 cases have gone to court. About 80 convicted suspects were hired gunmen for powerful ranchers and loggers seeking to expand their lands, according to federal prosecutors and the watchdog.
About 15 of the men who hired them were found guilty but none of them are serving a sentence today.