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Trial begins for Rio police accused of killing homeless kids

Witnesses boycott trial

December 9, 1996
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EST (2445 GMT)

From Rio De Janeiro Bureau Chief Marina Mirabella

accused

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- Trial began Monday for three men -- including two police officers -- charged with the murders of eight homeless children in July 1993.

Prosecution witnesses boycotted the trial, protesting what one lawyer called a "game of marked cards."

Attorney Cristina Leonardo, who was called to testify for the prosecution, predicted the defendants -- two Rio de Janeiro state policemen and a metal worker -- would go free.

Leonardo said the court had accepted the confessions of two other state policemen and their testimony that Lt. Marcelo Ferreira Cortes, trooper Claudio Luiz Andrade dos Santos and metal worker Jurandir Gomes de Franca didn't take part in the attacks.

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Survivors of the shootings, including star witness Wagner dos Santos, who lives in Switzerland, did not show up.

Prosecutors said the children were sleeping on the sidewalk near the Candelaria Cathedral, when they were murdered in what human rights observers are calling Rio's worst massacres of street children. Six were killed on the spot, and two others were taken to the waterfront and executed.

Two police officers have already been convicted in the killings.

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"This trial is most important because it involves a senior officer," Leonardo said. "Those convicted were junior officers and we fear a conspiracy ... that they confessed to protect others."

Human rights groups maintain that off-duty police officers often take part in death squads, paid by shopkeepers and others to rid the streets of homeless children, who are considered a menace.

According to police figures, 596 minors were killed last year in Rio de Janeiro, up from 513 in 1994. But human rights groups say many more are killed and buried in hidden graves.

 
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