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Brazil's Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a landowner found guilty of the 2005 murder of US nun Dorothy Stang, ruling that his lawyer did not have enough time to prepare his defense.
Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was sentenced to 30 years in prison in April 2010 after being found guilty of the crime for a second time. An earlier conviction was also overturned.
"The right to a defense is a value that must prevail, because it is fundamental for the development of a fair trial," Supreme Court justice Ricardo Lewandowsky said late Tuesday in announcing the decision.
Moura will remain in prison pending a third trial for the murder, one of the highest profile cases in a long-running and often bloody struggle between landowners and landless peasants.
Stang, 73, a champion of the rights of the poor who also opposed the environmental degradation of the Amzazon basin, was shot to death February 12, 2005 on her way back from a community meeting in the state of Para.
The Pastoral Commission on Land, a group linked to the Catholic Church, called the Supreme Court ruling "absurd."
"Unfortunately, court decisions like these only serve to increase the violence in rural areas and to maintain impunity, principally for those who order the murders of peasants," Jose Batista Alfonso, a lawyer for the commission, was quoted as saying by the G1 news website.
Moura's lawyer, Arnaldo Lopes, who took over the case from another lawyer, told G1 he had not had time "to study the 26 volumes (in the case), but I now know the dossier and in the next trial my client will be absolved."
Para state prosecutors charge that Moura and another landowners, Regivaldo Galvao, who also was sentenced to 30 years in prison, ordered Stang's killing.
Three other people have been convicted in the case. Rayfran das Neves, who shot Stang, was sentenced to 28 years; Clodoaldo Batista, his accomplice, was sentenced to 17 years; and Amair Feijoli, a go-between, got 18 years.