SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The man convicted of killing American nun and Amazon activist Dorothy Stang in 2005, has been released from a Brazilian prison after serving less than a third of his sentence, adding controversy to the long-running struggle over land rights in the rainforest.
The penitentiary system of Pará, the northern state where Stang was murdered, confirmed that confessed killer Rayfran das Neves Sales was released on Tuesday, though they were unable to specify if he was released on parole or into house arrest. He had been sentenced to 27 years in prison.
"In Brazil we have neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment," a spokeswoman for Cláudio Henrique Lopes Rendeiro, the judge who oversaw Neves' release, said by email. "One right afforded to each prisoner, even prisoners of terrible crimes, is the right to re-education," she said.
Stang, from Dayton, Ohio, was murdered in 2005 on a dirt road outside the small town of Anapu. She was shot six times in the chest, back and head.
She was 73 at the time of her death and had been working as an advocate for landless peasants in Brazil since 1967. She was a fierce critic of cattle ranchers, whom she accused of bullying peasants, seizing land illegally and destroying the rainforest.
The subsequent legal saga involved Neves, another hitman, a middleman and two rich ranchers who were convicted of ordering the hit. Although Sales confessed to the crime and all five were convicted in the Pará state court for their involvement, none are currently in prison.
The case highlights continuing tension between farmers and ranchers and environmental activists. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, a pragmatic leftist facing re-election next year, has often favored pro-development interests over environmental conservation or indigenous rights.
According to prosecutors in Pará, Neves and Batista were hired by Vitalmiro Bastos Moura, a local landowner who had previously clashed with Stang. Though Moura was convicted of the charge in 2007 and in a new trial in 2010, he is currently free awaiting another trial in September.
Regivaldo Pereira Galvão, another landowner, was separately accused and convicted of ordering the murder in 2010, though he was granted a conditional release by the Supreme Court in 2012.
"One does wonder how these killers receive such privileged status when we know that many people in the Amazon ... have been murdered with no trial at all," her brother David Stang said in an email.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle and Lisa Shumaker)