In a trial that lasted for 24 hours straight, a jury convicted a former policeman for his role in a night of killing in 1993 that culminated in the deaths of street children who were sleeping in the doorway of a cathedral.
Although he was sentenced to 309 years in prison, the legal maximum penalty is 20 years, and he is likely to serve an even shorter term.The defendant, Marcus Vinicius Borges Emanuel, 29, insisted on his innocence until the moment his trial began Monday. Though he confessed to having killed only one of the eight youngsters who died that night, Emanuel was convicted of six counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, two counts of grievous bodily harm followed by murder and one of causing grievous bodily harm.
The shootings came to be known as the Candelaria massacre because the victims included youngsters who had been sleeping in the doorway of the Candelaria church, which is often used as a backdrop for society weddings in Rio.
The case drew international attention, but it only foreshadowed further violence against homeless children in Brazil.
Tuesday, representatives of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Americas Watch hailed the verdict as a first step in bringing those guilty of police excesses to justice.
Since the killings, popular speculation had held that police officers who killed street children were doing so to earn extra money from local shopkeepers.
But perhaps the most troubling of Emanuel's admissions was that police were retaliating because the children had thrown stones at a police car the day before.
"We imagine death squads and people getting paid off," said Rubem Cesar Fernandes, the director of Viva Rio, a civic organization. "Life is much more absurd and violent."
He said the massacre was an important case because the killings of street children occur outside any kind of justice system.
"It's a case that became a symbol," he said, "and justice is having its turn. This is how you open justice to everyday life."
For Emanuel, a first offender, the 30-year maximum was automatically reduced to 20 years. Because he has already served almost three years in prison awaiting trial, Emanuel would be eligible for parole in less than four years.