By Associated Press Writer
updated 5/6/2008 8:17:05 PM ET 2008-05-07T00:17:05

An Amazon rancher convicted of ordering the killing of American nun Dorothy Stang has been acquitted in a retrial, a court official said Tuesday.

A jury voted to acquit Vitalmiro Moura, one of two ranchers who allegedly ordered the killing of the 73-year-old rainforest defender three years ago, court spokeswoman Gloria Lima said.

Moura had been convicted and sentenced to 30 years, but Brazil requires retrials for first offenders who are sentenced to more than 20 years.

He was one of just four prominent ranchers convicted of ordering one of the approximately 800 land-related killings of settlers, unionists and priests that have plagued Brazil’s Para state over the last 30 years, according to a tally kept by the Catholic Church’s Land Pastoral, which monitors land violence in Brazil.

Activists have compared Stang, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, to Chico Mendes, a rainforest defender killed in 1988 in Brazil’s western Amazon state of Acre.

The jury on Tuesday also convicted Rayfran Neves das Sales, who had confessed to firing six, close-range shots at Stang on a muddy road deep in the Amazon rainforest in 2005.

Prosecutors said he had been offered $25,000 to kill the nun after she fought to preserve a patch of jungle that ranchers wanted to raze for logging and cattle ranching.

Sales told the court that he had acted alone and in self-defense, contradicting previous testimony in which he said he had used Moura’s gun. Tuesday’s decision ended his third trial for the crime, after a panel of judges annulled two earlier convictions last year.

Two other men were convicted in connection with the killing in 2005 and 2006. One of them, rancher Regivaldo Galvao, has avoided trial by petitioning Brazil’s Supreme Court.

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