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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
Court frees Stang murder suspect
Dorothy Stang
Dorothy Stang spent decades defending peasant farmers
Brazil's Supreme Court has freed a man awaiting trial on charges of orchestrating the murder of a Catholic nun and activist, Dorothy Stang.

In a three-to-two vote, the Court decided keeping Regivaldo Pereira Galvao in custody violated his rights.

The decision has been decried by the family and supporters of Ms Stang, who say he might abscond or try to intimidate witnesses.

Ms Stang spent 30 years campaigning for peasant rights and against logging.

The 73-year-old from Dayton, Ohio, was found on a muddy track in the rainforest, shot six times, in February 2005.

Testimony

The death followed a long-running dispute with ranchers over a patch of forest which they wanted to clear for pasture land, and Ms Stang wanted declared a sustainable development reserve.

Amair Feijoli da Cunha is led into court in April, where he was convicted of acting as an intermediary in the murder
Three men have already been jailed for Stang's murder

Three men have already been convicted over her murder - two gunmen and one intermediary.

During those trials testimony was given that Mr Galvao, along with another rancher Vitalmiro Moura, ordered and paid for Ms Stang to be killed. Both men have been charged but have yet to face trial.

Mr Galvao has been in custody pending trial since April 2005, but on Thursday Brazil's Supreme Court ruled his pre-trial imprisonment illegal and ordered his immediate release.

The judges threw out a previous ruling that his detention was necessary to preserve public order.

'Insult'

"I am dumbfounded," Ms Stang's brother David Stang told the Associated Press news agency from his home in Colorado.

"This is a man whose involvement in the killing has been documented in a trial. There's no doubt about his duplicity.

"My sister loved Brazil, she loved the Amazon, she loved the constitution. This decision is an insult to her and to the family."

Other supporters say they are concerned Mr Galvao could disappear, as suspects in similar cases have done in the past, or could threaten witnesses.

More than 750 land activists are thought to have been killed in the Amazonian state of Para in the last three decades, but only nine killers have been convicted.

Convictions for those who orchestrate such killings are even rarer.

This is often blamed on corrupt links between the region's landowners and loggers on one hand, and police and politicians on the other.




SEE ALSO
Third man jailed for US nun death
27 Apr 06 |  Americas
Amazon nun's killers are jailed
11 Dec 05 |  Americas
Brazil nun 'shot in self-defence'
09 Dec 05 |  Americas
'No impunity' for Amazon killers
22 Feb 05 |  Americas
Murder prompts Brazil Amazon curb
18 Feb 05 |  Americas
Brazil farmers bury activist nun
16 Feb 05 |  Americas

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