Brandão, owner, publisher, and columnist of the daily Folha do Estado, based in the city of Cuiabá in the central-western state of Mato Grosso, was shot at least five times by two unidentified men on a motorcycle.
The two men were waiting for Brandão near the paper’s new offices, which were under construction. As Brandão was surveying the exterior of the building with an engineer from the construction company, the gunmen approached him, shot him in the chest and head, and fled on the motorcycle. Several people witnessed the murder.
In an October 1, 2002, editorial, Folha do Estado blamed the murder on a “parallel power,” a reference to organized crime groups that it said had taken over Mato Grosso. The paper attributed Brandão’s death to its extensive coverage of drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and government corruption. Brandão had not received any threats, the newspaper said.
On October 2, 2002, police arrested former police officers Hércules de Araújo Agostinho and Célio Alves de Souza in connection with the murder of Brandão. During a raid of the suspects’ homes the same day, police confiscated weapons, ammunition, and four motorcycles. Two days later, police announced that ballistic tests confirmed one of the weapons found was used in Brandão’s murder.
In early December 2002, a federal judge ordered that former police officer-turned-businessman João Arcanjo Ribeiro be held in temporary detention after federal and state prosecutors identified him as the head of a major organized crime group and linked him to several homicides, including the murder of Brandão. Ribeiro fled, and was arrested in Uruguay in 2003 and held in detention there while awaiting extradition proceedings.
Later that month, Ribeiro was formally charged with masterminding Brandão’s murder in retaliation for his newspaper’s criticism of organized crime and illegal gambling. Ribeiro also faced homicide, smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, illegal gambling, and racketeering charges. Prosecutors also charged former police officers Araújo and Alves with involvement in the murder. Two suspects arrested the same month, João Leite and Fernando Barbosa Belo, were charged as accomplices.
In December 2003, Araújo was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In June 2005, Leite and Alves were convicted and sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison, respectively. Alves escaped prison in July 2005 and remains a fugitive. In September 2005, Barbosa was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison.