A BRAZILIAN man accused of killing 42 boys in a series of macabre Satanic murders was yesterday sentenced to 20 years and eight months in jail.
Francisco das Chagas Rodrigues de Brito, 41, was found guilty of killing one of the boys, Jonathan Silva Vieira, 15, who disappeared in northern Brazil in December 2003. The motor mechanic still faces a host of other charges related to the other killings, as well as to sexual abuse.
Police in the Amazonian states of Para and Maranhao believe Brito sexually abused the boys, and in some cases cut off their genitals, before decapitating them and burying the bodies. He is also suspected of participating in black magic rites before killing some of the victims.
During the trial, Jonathan's mother, Rita de Cassia Vieira, told the court her son had said he was going to pick fruit with Brito on the day he was killed.
"The monster tried to help out the mothers of the children he killed because he was looking for victims," Mrs Vieira said.
She said she had shown Brito a picture of her son after he disappeared, and the killer laughed and told her he hadn't seen him. "It seemed like he was laughing at my suffering," she said.
The trial was held in the auditorium of a club in Sao Jose de Ribamar, 1,400 miles north-east of Rio de Janeiro, because the courtroom was not big enough to hold the hundreds of victims' relatives.
Prosecutors say they charged Brito with Vieira's murder first because it was the case in which they had the most evidence.
Brito was arrested in April 2004 after neighbours complained of a stench coming from his ramshackle house in Sao Luis. Officers dug up the dirt floor and found two skeletons, one of a four-year-old boy named Daniel and the other of a child Brito said was called Diego.
According to police, Brito quickly confessed to the killings and those of at least 18 other young boys. The methods he used were similar to those used in the spate of murders that ravaged Para and Maranhao between 1989 and 2003, police said, and an investigation found Brito lived in both states at the times the killings took place.
The series of killings shocked even Brazil, where violence is common and the murder rate is one of the world's highest. Reports that Brito sexually assaulted the boys and then castrated them added to the outrage, as did allegations that some of the earlier killings that took place in Para between 1989 and 1993 were related to a satanic cult.
Brito originally told police he did not remember castrating the dead bodies or attacking the boys because his memory went at the moment of the killing, but he offered another version in this week's trial.
He and other witnesses, including his sister, testified that he had been abused as a child by his grandmother and a man named Carlito. Brito told the court that when he murdered Jonathan, he did so with a pent-up rage stemming from those juvenile experiences. "I was seeing Carlito in front of me," he said.
The killings were so brutal and the lack of action so shocking that the Organisation of American States launched a campaign to pressure local authorities into more rigorously investigating the cases.
Several foreign and Brazilian human rights groups also petitioned the federal government to intervene in the investigation.