José Roberto Ornelas de Lemos

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Around 8 p.m. on June 11, 2013, four masked men arrived by car to a bakery in the Corumbá neighborhood in the city of Nova Iguaçu, in Rio de Janeiro state, and shot Brazilian journalist José Roberto Ornelas de Lemos, who was inside the business, at least 44 times, according to news reports.

Ornelas de Lemos, the finance director of local newspaper Jornal Hora H, was involved in all aspects of the daily’s operations, a newspaper employee told CPJ at the time. He was also the son of Jornal Hora H‘s owner, José Lemos. A journalist at Jornal Hora H told authorities that Ornelas de Lemos had received threats for the daily’s reporting, according to news reports, but did not elaborate.

On November 4, 2015 civil police in Nova Iguaçu arrested six people accused of running a militia, Fabio Cardoso, the officer in charge of the investigation, told CPJ at the time. Three of them were accused of being directly involved in Ornelas de Lemos’s murder, Cardoso and news reports said. They denied involvement.

Cardoso told CPJ the militia wanted to stop the paper from writing about militia-related violence in the area. “He was writing about it and that was a problem for the militia who wanted to take power there,” Cardoso said via telephone, “so they decided to kill him.”

On April 20, 2022, a jury in the 4th Jury Court in Rio de Janeiro found two of the men arrested in 2015 guilty for the murder of Ornelas de Lemos and the court sentenced them to 12 years in prison, according to news reports. The jury found two other men charged with the murder as not guilty.

According to those reports, prosecutors said the men were motivated to murder Ornelas de Lemos because the journalist had threatened to denounce the activities of a local criminal organization in his newspaper, and also because Ornelas de Lemos prevented that organization from “expanding” its presence in the neighborhood, without giving further details.

CPJ emailed the Rio de Janeiro state public prosecutions’ office for additional information on what motivated the men to kill the journalist, but did not receive a response.

According to several news reports, in 2003 police arrested Ornelas de Lemos on the suspicion that he headed a death squad that in 2002 allegedly killed São João de Meriti city deputy government secretary over a dispute over the control of garbage collection services. The reports did not specify how long Ornelas de Lemos was detained, but said that he was released and that police closed the case without advancing a prosecution.

According to newspaper Estadão, Ornelas de Lemos had also been investigated on suspicion of involvement in three murders committed in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Police investigations into those killings were similarly closed without prosecutions, the newspaper said.

CPJ emailed the Rio de Janeiro state civil police and public prosecution’s office for further information on the cases, but did not receive a response.