updated 4/26/2006 8:10:21 PM ET 2006-04-27T00:10:21

A Brazilian judge sentenced an Amazon farmer on Wednesday to 18 years in prison for his part in the 2005 killing of American nun and rain forest defender Dorothy Stang.

Amair Feijoli da Cunha, 38, told a jury he offered money to two gunmen to shoot the 73-year-old nun on Feb. 12, 2005, at the behest of two ranchers who wanted her killed for her opposition to plans to log a disputed patch of rain forest.

The sentencing capped a day-long trial in which jury members rejected defense claims that Feijoli was forced to hire the gunmen by ruthless ranchers who threatened his life and to whom he owed money.

The two ranchers, Vitalmiro Moura and Regivaldo Galvao, have been charged with Stang's killing, but legal maneuvering has kept their cases from coming to trial.

"We couldn't ask for anything better," said David Stang, the victim's brother, who traveled from his home near Colorado Springs to attend the trial.

He called the sentence "an important piece," but said he still wanted the ranchers' cases to be decided quickly and for them to be held in jail until they face a jury.

David Stang, 63, was joined by his sisters Marguerite Hohm, 73, and Mary Heil, 77.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Stang spent the last 23 years of her life in the remote jungle town of Anapu, some 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) north of Rio de Janeiro, where she defended the rain forest and poor settlers who lived there.

Stang was shot on a muddy stretch of road deep in the heart of the Amazon following a long-running dispute with ranchers over a patch of forest they wanted to log and then convert into pasture land. She wanted to have the land declared as a sustainable development reserve.

Her killing evoked comparisons with rain forest defender Chico Mendes, who was shot in 1988 in the western Amazon state of Acre.

Feijoli testified that Galvao told him: "Until we put an end to this woman, we won't have peace on these lands."

He said Galvao told him to offer US$24,000 (euro19,316) to kill Stang. Feijoli said Moura supplied the .38 caliber revolver used in the killing.

Prosecutors had asked that Feijoli be sentenced to the maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Gunmen get 27 years, 17 years
The gunman, Rayfran das Neves Sales, and his accomplice, Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, were sentenced in December to 27 and 17 years, respectively.

Lawyers for the Stang family said it also was important to convict the men accused of ordering the killing — something that rarely happens in Para state, where ranchers and loggers are closely linked to politicians and the police.

"Up until now, the history of this region is one of impunity, where the wealthy have their way," said lawyer Brent Rushforth, who flew in from Washington, D.C., to attend the trial along with three of Stang's siblings.

Outside the courthouse, poor settlers, who traveled for days by bus over washed-out dirt roads, camped out under tarpaulins. Some held banners with Portuguese slogans reading: "Sister Dorothy, your blood has cleansed the Earth."

Para is notorious for land-related violence. According to the Catholic Church's Land Pastoral, more than 500 land-related killings have occurred over the past 20 years, but only 10 cases ever went to trial.

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