Jefferson Pureza Lopes was killed on the night of January 17, 2018, in Brazil’s Goiás state, located southwest of Brasília. Lopes was at his home in Edealina, a town of around 4,000 people, when two men with motorcycles shot him dead as he was watching television, police and news reports said.
Friends and colleagues told CPJ and the local news site Globo that Lopes, who was frequently critical of local politicians on his radio show, faced threats and other forms of intimidation for more than a year before his murder.
Lopes, 39, worked as a radio presenter for Beira Rio FM, an Edealina-based station that is owned by a political rival to Edealina’s current mayor, a police spokesperson told CPJ. According to the spokesperson who was not authorized to give his name, Lopes frequently criticized the incumbent on air.
The station director Cristina Leandro confirmed to CPJ that Lopes was a sharp and constant critic of local politicians, and devoted much of his daily one-hour show, Voz do Povo (Voice of the People), to highlighting what he saw as corruption or poor administration by local politicians.
Marlon Queiroz, Lopes’ co-host and a station DJ, told the Globo TV station that Lopes regularly received threats.
"For two years now he’s been getting threats, daily threats via WhatsApp– messages saying I’m going to end your family, that kind of thing," Queiroz said.
Leandro told CPJ Lopes’ house was shot up in the fall of 2016. Several months later after Lopes had been criticizing a local politician on air, her husband put a gun to Lopes’ head and told him to stop, according to Leandro.
According to Leandro, Lopes reported this incident to police, and pressed charges against the man who put a gun to his head. However, the accused never showed up to court and the case stymied, Leandro said.
In a separate incident, the building where Beira Rio FM is based was also set on fire in November 2017, the second such arson attack in a year.
State police told CPJ officers from five different groups have been sent to the area to help with the investigation, but they refused to release further details.
"Because he works on the radio he has enemies in the city but we haven’t yet been able to determine who the killer was," Queops Barreto, the state police officer leading the investigation, told Globo TV.
"His [Lopes’] program was controversial but that doesn’t mean it was connected to his assassination," Barreto added. "This will all be cleared up through investigation."
On February 9, 2018, three men were arrested for their suspected involvement in the killing, according to local news reports: local city council member José Eduardo Alves da Silva, suspected of being the mastermind, Marcelo Rodrigues dos Santos, suspected of being a facilitator, and Leandro Cintra da Silva, who owned the car wash where the murder was allegedly negotiated and was suspected of receiving 5,000 reals ($1,238) as a payment for the killing. An unidentified teenager was also arrested as a suspected facilitator in the killing, according to those reports.
On March 1, 2018, two unidentified 17-year-olds were detained in the city of Aragoiânia as suspects in the killing, according to news reports. One was alleged to be the shooter and the other of driving the motorcycle on the night of the killing, those reports said.
In December 2018, a judge ruled that José Eduardo Alves da Silva, Marcelo Rodrigues dos Santos, and Leandro Cintra da Silva would face trial by jury. As of January 2019, the three were being held in pre-trial detention and the three teenagers were being held in a juvenile justice facility, according to news reports. The three teenagers were kept in the juvenile detention center for six months, according to an ABRAJI report.
A jury in the city of Edeia on October 4, 2019, found Leandro Cintra da Silva guilty of murder and corruption of minors, and sentenced him to 14 years in prison for the two charges, according to the Brazilian press freedom organization ABRAJI.
On December 10, 2019, a jury found accused mastermind José Eduardo Alves da Silva, and alleged accomplice Santos, not guilty of Lopes’s murder, but the Goiás Public Prosecutor said he would appeal the decision, according to news reports. The jury did find both Silva and Santos guilty of “corruption of minors”– the crime of inducing someone under 18 to commit a crime, punishable by two to five years in prison under the Brazilian Penal Code –for the teenagers’ participation in the murder. The presiding judge sentenced Silva to four years in prison (commuted to a fine and community services) and sentenced Santos to four years and 10 months in prison, to be served in a semi-open regime, under which prisoners are allowed to work while serving their sentence, according to those reports.