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Brazilian tells jury he didn't order nun's death

Image: Dorothy Stang
Dorothy Stang of Dayton, Ohio, was shot in 2005 near the jungle town of Anapu in a dispute over a patch of forest that a Brazilian rancher wanted to cut down. Luiz Estumano / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A rancher convicted of ordering the killing of American nun Dorothy Stang told a jury Monday he played no part in the death of the rain forest defender.

Vitalmiro Moura denied any participation in the February 2005 crime, said court spokeswomen Gloria Lima by telephone from Belem, the capital of the Amazon state of Para.

Moura is being retried alongside Rayfran das Neves Sales, already twice convicted for shooting the 73-year-old nun to death along a muddy stretch of road deep in the Amazon rain forest.

Sales was expected to enter his plea after Moura finished his testimony before Judge Moises Alves Flexa.

Moura was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in May 2007, but as a first offender sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, he gets an automatic retrial under Brazilian law.

Sales, who confessed to shooting Stang six times, is facing his third trial in the killing. A panel of judges annulled his most recent conviction in December because two of the jurors had participated in an earlier trial of another defendant in the case. In 2005, Sales had been sentenced to 27 years in prison, a sentence upheld in October and then overturned.

Killing ordered over jungle dispute
Prosecutors say Sales was offered $25,000 to kill the nun because of a dispute over a patch of jungle that she wanted to preserve and ranchers wanted cut down for development. At his last trial, Sales claimed he was acting in self defense.

An accomplice, a middleman and a rancher also have been convicted in connection with the killing.

Another defendant, rancher Regivaldo Galvao, has so far managed to avoid trial through legal maneuvers before the country's Supreme Court.

Stang, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, has evoked comparisons to Chico Mendes, the rain forest defender killed in 1988 in the western Amazon state of Acre.

Human rights defenders say the prosecutions are a key measure of whether those behind land-related killings can be held accountable in Para state, which is plagued by land-related violence.

Land ownership is hard to trace in the Amazon, and powerful ranchers often resort to forged deeds and violence to drive poor settlers away.

The trial before the seven-member jury is expected to end late Tuesday.