Francisco Gomes de Medeiros

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

A gunman on a motorcycle shot Gomes, 46, at least five times in front of his home in the Paraíba neighborhood of Caicó, Rio Grande do Norte state, news reports said. The journalist, shot around 9 p.m., was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Gomes, news director of local broadcaster Radio Caicó, had reported on a variety of local topics, including government corruption, crime, and drug trafficking, according to local news accounts. He also published stories on a personal blog. In September, Gomes broke a story on vote-tampering in Rio Grande do Norte while covering the Brazilian general elections. The story, which described local politicians buying votes in exchange for crack cocaine, was picked up nationwide, according to Portal Imprensa, a Sao Paulo-based news site focused on press issues. Soon after the piece aired, Gomes received anonymous death threats, news reports said.

The day after the murder, state police arrested a man identified as João Francisco dos Santos, also known as "Dão," local news media reported. Police said dos Santos had admitted killing Gomes in reprisal for the reporter’s coverage of his 2007 armed robbery conviction. Despite the suspect’s reported statement, state police said they were still investigating the case and had not ruled out further leads. In an interview with the Natal-based daily Tribuna do Norte, state prosecutor Geraldo Rufino said he believed that dos Santos was a hired assassin. Brazilian media quoted Gomes’ relatives and friends as saying they believed drug traffickers had ordered the killing.

In December 2010, investigators said dos Santos had been hired by Valdir Souza do Nascimento, a convicted felon serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking. News reports quoted investigators as saying that Gomes’ coverage had hindered criminal activities being run by Souza from prison. Prosecutors requested that Souza be prosecuted for masterminding the murder, news accounts said.

In 2011 and 2012, authorities also accused a group of local men of having ordered, planned, and carried out the crime. The individuals, reports said, had grievances with Gomes in relation to his coverage of local crime, corruption, and drug trafficking. Police charged a businessman, Lailson Lopes, known as "Gordo da Rodoviária," as the mastermind of the crime, according to news reports. Four other men, including a local army lieutenant colonel, military police officer, lawyer, and a former pastor who was serving a jail sentence for drug trafficking, were also charged for their alleged roles in the murder, according to news reports. All five men denied involvement.

Dos Santos was sentenced on August 6, 2013, to 27 years in prison on charges of shooting and killing Gomes. His sentence was later reduced to 21 years on appeal, according to news reports.

Lopes and former pastor Gilson Neudo, another alleged mastermind, faced trial by a jury in Caicó on April 16, 2019, and were found guilty and sentenced to 14 years in prison each, local media reported. Neudo did not appeal and was sent to prison, while the court allowed Lopes to remain free while he appealed the ruling, according to local media. A judge archived the charges against military police officers Marcos Antônio de Jesus Moreira and Evandro Medeiros, according to news reports.

Lawyer Rivaldo Dantas de Farias, the third alleged mastermind, was found guilty in a trial by jury on September 10, 2019, where he was sentenced to 14 years in prison and lost the right to practice law, according to local news reports. Farias had been in pre-trial detention since July 5, 2019, after a judge approved his detention based on the risk he would attempt to interfere with the judicial process, according to reports.

In February 2020, the Rio Grande do Norte state Court of Justice denied Lopes’ appeal, and in September it sent the judicial process back to the Caicó Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for Lopes in July 2021, according to news reports.  

On August 5, 2021, a joint operation of the Rio Grande do Norte Public Prosecutor’s office and state Military Police enforced the warrant and arrested Lopes in Natal, the state’s capital, according to news reports.