Brazilian jury convicts suspected drug lord in Lopes murder

New York, May 25, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today’s conviction of a suspected drug lord in the brutal 2002 slaying of Brazilian investigative reporter Tim Lopes. A jury in Rio de Janeiro also sentenced the defendant, Elias Pereira da Silva, to 28 and a half years in prison, according to press reports.

Lopes, an award-winning reporter for TV Globo, was tortured and slain with a sword in June 2002 while investigating the proliferation of parties involving drugs and under-age sex in a Rio slum.

“We’re encouraged by the conviction of Pereira da Silva in the cruel murder of our colleague Tim Lopes,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We are hopeful that justice will be served in the cases of the six other defendants still to stand trial in this heinous killing.”

Pereira da Silva, known as “Crazy Elias,” was found guilty this morning after the jury heard more than 16 hours of testimony. The jury voted 4-3 to convict, The Associated Press reported. His lawyers said they would appeal, contending that the jury was influenced by media reports, the Brazilian press reported.

The conviction is unusual, CPJ research shows. The killers of journalists have been brought to justice in fewer than 15 percent of journalist murders worldwide over the last decade. “We hope that this exemplary prosecution demonstrates to governments in Latin America and around the word that pervasive impunity need not be accepted,” Cooper added.

Pereira da Silva was convicted of murder with cruelty, hiding the body, and creating a criminal gang. He was the first of seven defendants to stand trial in the murder of the renowned Brazilian journalist. The six other defendants are to be tried June 14.

Pereira da Silva did not testify at his trial. In a statement read by Judge Fábio Uchôa, Pereira da Silva said he was not a drug trafficker.

Lopes disappeared on June 2, 2002, while on assignment in Vila Cruzeiro, one of Rio de Janeiro’s slums. Carrying a hidden camera, Lopes was working on a report about parties hosted by drug traffickers in Vila Cruzeiro involving drugs and the sexual exploitation of minors. Residents told Lopes that they were powerless against drug traffickers and had complained about the lack of police action.

On June 3, TV Globo reported Lopes’ disappearance to the police. Two suspects, both members of a gang reputedly headed by Pereira da Silva, were arrested a week later, according to Rio de Janeiro police.

According to the suspects’ depositions, details of which the police released and the Brazilian press published, drug traffickers close to Pereira da Silva kidnapped Lopes in Vila Cruzeiro at around midnight on June 2. After Lopes told them he was a TV Globo reporter, the traffickers called Pereira da Silva.

In their depositions, the suspects gave the following account: Gang members tied Lopes’ hands, forced him into a car, and took him to Pereira da Silva. There, they beat the reporter and shot him in the feet to keep him from escaping. They then held a mock trial and sentenced Lopes to death. Pereira da Silva killed Lopes with a sword, and his body was burned and put in a hidden burial ground, the suspects said. Police found Lopes’ remains on June 12.

Lopes had received Brazil’s most important journalism award in December 2001 for a TV Globo report on drug trafficking. The report, titled “Drug Fair” and broadcast in August 2001, was filmed with a hidden camera and showed how traffickers sold drugs in an open drug market outside Rio de Janeiro.

Police apprehended Pereira da Silva on September 19, 2002. The month before, several gang members were arrested after a shoot-out with the police and charged with murdering the journalist.