SAO PAULO — Brazil's Supreme Court has annulled the trial and conviction of a rancher jailed for ordering the 2005 murder of U.S. nun and Amazon defender Dorothy Stang.
In a ruling posted Wednesday, the court said Vitalmiro Moura was not given enough time to prepare his defense in 2010 when he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The court said Moura will remain behind bars until he his retried at a yet-to be scheduled date.
Also convicted of ordering Stang's murder is Regivaldo Galvao. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered his release, saying he had the right to remain free pending the outcome of his appeal process. He was sentenced to a 30-year jail term in 2010.
Two other men charged with taking part in Stang's killing are also in prison. Another one is at large.
"The Supreme Court's decision to retry Moura surprised and saddened me because he had plenty of time to prepare his defense," prosecutor Edson Souza said by telephone.
Stang was born in Dayton, Ohio, and 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.
The northern Brazilian state of Para, where Stang was gunned down with six shots fired at close range from a revolver, is notorious for land-related violence, contract killings, slave-like labor conditions and wanton environmental destruction.
In Brazil, killings over land are common and seldom punished as powerful landowners clash with farmers and others for control of lucrative farming and logging land. The killings are mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protests over illegal logging and land rights.
According to the Catholic Land Pastoral, a watchdog group that tallies land-related threats and murders, more than 1,150 rural activists have been slain in Brazil over the past 20 years, but fewer than 100 cases have gone to court since 1988. Out of those cases, courts have convicted just 15 men for ordering killings.
In reaction to the high court's ruling, the group's website quoted Jose Batista Afonso, one of its coordinators, as saying: "Unfortunately absurd decisions such as this one only contribute to an increase of the violence and impunity that exist in the countryside."