updated 3/27/2005 8:15:33 PM ET 2005-03-28T01:15:33

The rancher accused of ordering the slaying of American nun Dorothy Stang surrendered to police on Sunday, authorities said.

Vitalmiro Moura, known as Bida, was taken into custody after turning himself in to federal police in Altamira, about 80 miles from where 73-year-old Stang was shot dead on Feb. 12, police said. Moura had been a fugitive since an arrest warrant was issued for him on Feb. 15.

Moura initially told police he was not involved with the murder, but two suspected gunmen, who were arrested shortly after the slaying, have said before a judge that the rancher told them to kill Stang.

Amair Feijoli, whom police accuse of acting as a middleman by offering the gunmen about $18,000 to kill the nun, first said Moura had ordered the hit but later recanted that testimony and said he alone ordered the killing.

Officials had said ballistics tests linked a revolver found on Moura’s ranch with the four bullets recovered from Stang’s body.

Stang, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, wanted a stretch of rainforest to be declared part of a sustainable development project for poor settlers, but Moura allegedly wanted to develop and log the area.

Stang, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, spent the last 23 years of her life in Para state trying to protect the rain forest and peasants from loggers and ranchers seeking to exploit the area’s rich natural resources. She was shot six times on a muddy stretch of road deep in the rainforest.

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