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The Journal Gazette

Monday, April 08, 2013 12:36 pm

Brazil: 26 police tried in 1992 prison massacre

The Associated Press

Trial began on Monday for more than two dozen police involved in the infamous 1992 massacre at Sao Paulo's Carandiru prison, which left 111 inmates dead.

Twenty-six Brazilian military police officers, some of them still on active duty, are facing murder charges in the deaths of 15 inmates. The Sao Paulo court's proceedings are expected to last as long as two weeks, with trials of other groups of officers to follow in the coming months.

In total, 79 officers are to be tried in connection with the massacre, which took place on Oct. 2, 1992, following hours of rioting at the overcrowded facility.

Many critics see what is known as the "Carandiru massacre" as a symbol of police brutality and impunity in Brazil. Many of the officers involved in the killings, which saw survivors forced to help pile the bodies of their fellow inmates, were promoted, and more than two decades on, only a single officer had been tried in connection with the massacre.

In 2001, Col. Ubiratan Guimaraes, was sentenced to 632 years in prison for using excessive force when he ordered police to quell the rebellion. But a Sao Paulo state appeals court overturned the conviction in February 2006 based on arguments that Guimaraes was only following orders.

Guimaraes was found dead in his Sao Paulo apartment seven months later with a gunshot wound to the chest. His girlfriend was tried on homicide charges last year and acquitted.

The riot began after a brawl between rival groups of inmates and devolved into an uprising that quickly spread through the penitentiary, which was built to hold fewer than 4,000 inmates but was housing nearly 8,000. The riot raged for around three hours before more than 300 officers invaded the facility, gunning down more than 100 inmates in the space of around 30 minutes. Autopsies showed the dead were riddled with an average of five bullets. No police officers were killed in the incident.

The massacre was the basis for the hit 2003 movie "Carandiru," by Brazilian director Hector Babenco.

The prison was torn down 10 years after the massacre and transformed into a park.