Brazzil
October 2000
Crime

Death in the
Press Room

At times during the past few weeks the Brazilian media
didn't know how to deal with a murder that lodged a bullet inside
the heart of the press. The killing of a journalist by a journalist
left the media scrambling for answers and raising new questions.

Alessandra Dalevi

Was it a crime of passion or not? With two shots a 63-year-old man killed his 32-year-old ex-girlfriend. This kind of news normally gets little or no notice on the police page and would not appear on the front page of the paper—where it did appear—or on any cover of the country's main news magazines—as actually happened. Mind you, this wasn't your typical love story turned to murder episode. And Brazilians, for weeks, have been mesmerized by the development and aftershocks of a crime that neither the newspapers nor the media knew how to cover. The reason: both the murderer and the murdered were fellow journalists. Moreover, the assassin was the director of O Estado de S. Paulo, one of the three most prestigious and traditional dailies in the country.

It was natural that the case's development would be followed closely from all quarters. In the days following the tragedy the media would try to answer many questions: How did and should the press treat one of their own, a man who was close to many media owners? How will a man with friends in high places be treated by the Justice and the police? How can an honorable citizen one day become a bloodthirsty avenger the next? How is it possible that chiefs in pressrooms are given dictatorial powers and exercise them as mean, cold-blooded despots?

Here's the story:

Antônio Marcos Pimenta Neves, on Sunday, August 20, around 2:30 p.m., killed Sandra Florentino Gomide. The setting was a stud farm, in the little town of Ibiúna, 44 miles from downtown São Paulo—where both kept their horses and where they shared many horse-riding outings during happier times.

The couple had a troubled four-year relationship. Several times they ended their involvement only to restart it soon after. They first met in 1995 at Gazeta Mercantil, a daily specializing in business, where Sandra was a reporter and Pimenta, the director. When Pimenta left Gazeta in October 1997, Sandra continued working at the newspaper for another three months. For six months she looked for another job and ended up accepting the invitation of her boyfriend to work as a special reporter at O Estado. In October 1999 she was promoted to editor of the daily's business section despite her inexperience.

The romance came to an end again in late May. Apparently, after accessing Sandra's e-mail, Pimenta learned she was corresponding with Jaime Mantilla, co-owner of Hoy, one of the main papers in Ecuador, triggering the break up. From then on Pimenta plotted to destroy his ex-lover. "You don't know what I'm capable of," he told Sandra, during a discussion in the newsroom. He not only fired her from O Estado, but also called everyone he knew to make certain they would not hire her. She finally got a place at Patagon, an Internet financial portal, three weeks before her murder. For that, Carlos Franco, a reporter of O Estado who had helped her land the job, was fired. He was rehired, though, after Pimenta lost his job.

On August 5, with gun in hand, Pimenta threatened to kill Sandra after invading her apartment, pushing her around and calling her names. It's possible Sandra survived that night only because her father phoned during the attack. Pimenta left, but he demanded his ex-girlfriend return everything he had given her, including clothes. "I don't want anything that's mine on you," he wrote in an-email. "I want to eliminate any trace of my presence in your life and of yours in mine." And added as a Mafia boss: "Don't make the mistake of keeping these things because you know that I have no limits." Then ended with an insult: "Go have your sexual adventure with the Ecuadorian. This will take you back to your origins as a cheap whore, without scruples or character."

Sandra's father personally delivered several bags containing dozens of shoes, clothes and other gifts to Pimenta's house.

Manipulating the News

After committing the crime, the powerful Pimenta called friends in the media attempting to prevent the news from being published or at least trying to guarantee that he was presented in a positive light. There was no serious effort by the media to hide the case, but the initial news about the murderer was quite discreet. From Octávio Frias Filho, owner of Folha de São Paulo, the daily with the largest circulation in Brazil, Pimenta was promised that no word would be said about the crime in the several media outlets of the Frias family.

Folha ended up reporting the news—without pictures and not on the front page—when other news services started to reveal details of the case. At the Estado it was decided that the news would be given front page. "Director of O Estado is murder suspect," read the discreet front-page headline on August 21, a Monday, usually a bland day for news. Rio's O Globo was even more circumspect, treating the subject as any other petty crime: "Journalist shoots and kills ex-girlfriend." Folha de São Paulo, the other paper belonging to the trio of the most important Brazilian newspapers skipped the front page and buried the news inside the paper.

The call to Frias lasted a little more than two minutes and was "a personal outpouring of the heart," as the media executive would later reveal: "All he did was to ask the paper and my father to excuse him because his behavior might have repercussions for the paper where he once worked."

Pimenta had called his own newspaper around 3 p.m. and told an editor that he had shot Sandra and explained why: "She was badmouthing the paper." Another day he complained to Ruy Mesquita, one of O Estado's owners that the news was too favorable to the victim's family. He also called executive editor José Maria Mayrink and told him: "The news is too loaded, Mayrink. It is against me. You are listening too much to her side. We need to review that. That's absurd. Even Boris Casoy (the anchor for TV show Jornal da Record) is against me. The Folha is doing better in this case."

A special bank account was created to help pay the legal costs involved in prosecuting Pimenta and is receiving contributions from Sandra's friends and relatives. Ruy Mesquita has contributed to the fund and asked that the amount of his check be kept secret.

Pimenta Neves had a brilliant career as a journalist. He worked in top positions for several Brazilian newspapers. In the '60s he worked for the Folhas group in São Paulo. After moving to Washington, DC, in 1974, he acted as foreign correspondent for Folha de São Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and O Estado de S. Paulo. In 1986, the World Bank hired him as a consultant. He returned to Brasil in 1995.

Turning Against the Victim

In order to avoid the more serious charge of qualified murder, Pimenta tried to denigrate the reputation of his victim. Still in the Albert Einstein hospital where he was taken after ingesting 70 tranquilizers and anti-depressants, the journalist made statements to the police in which he accused his ex-girlfriend of being incompetent as a journalist and of betraying him personally and professionally. Pimenta said that Sandra had given him a venereal disease. For a while it seemed as though Pimenta was willing to revive what, until recently, was a common strategy in the courts in cases involving the murder of a woman by a man: "legitimate defense of honor".

All of this was done after having written what supposedly was a suicide note to his twin daughters, who live with their American mother in Washington, DC: "My defense in a long and painful process would be impossible. I would say nothing that could denigrate the image and memory of Sandra. I only loved two women in my life: her and your mother." (Read the letter in its entirety elsewhere).

What was supposed to be secret testimony by the journalist ended being shown on national TV in a clandestine tape acquired by Globo TV. The film showed a man who knew how to give orders, but not to take them. In one example, Pimenta gestures and raises his voice in a tone similar to that of an instructor tired of repeatedly explaining the same concepts to a group of inattentive students, while talking to a Justice prosecutor, a lawyer and three police chiefs:

—What I'm saying here is that is useless this kind of questioning, because if I don't sit down and write I'll end up saying lots of nonsense. No one has the memory to register these details. I'm an expert on that.

The interview was shown on prime time on Globo's Jornal Nacional, the most popular Brazilian news show, seen by 40 million viewers. The whole episode was a mockery of the letter the journalist had written on August 22 to his daughters in which he asked forgiveness for what he did and talked about his decision to commit suicide. In what seemed a sincere act of contrition he paid homage to his victim: "I would never say anything that might denigrate the image and memory of Sandra."

Easy for him to say. Harder to fulfill the promise. Now, the whole nation heard him saying: "I killed Sandra because she betrayed me, personally and professionally." He even accused his victim, without any proof, of having given him a venereal disease. He couldn't even name the disease, saying: "I don't know the name of the disease. All I know is that my penis gets irritated."

According to Pimenta, Sandra took the initiative in the relationship. She was the one who approached him first, she was the one who kissed him first, as if to prove that from day one she was acting in a calculated manner to climb the ladder of success, as if she manipulated him from the beginning and for years. "In one year," he said in a matter of fact way, "her salary went from $900 to $4700 a month. Maybe I saw more talent in her than was there."

Who used the mini-camera to tape the interview in his hospital room? No journalist was allowed at the deposition. Marcelo Millani, the prosecutor present during the testimony, is the main suspect but was quick to deny any impropriety. According to Brazilian law, covert videotaping is illegal only when the recording is made by a third party not part of the action or conversation being recorded.

A Tough Jury

The so-called "crime doloso contra a vida" (felonious crime against life) is always tried by jury in Brazil and that's how Pimenta will be tried. There will be seven jurors chosen among the residents of Ibiúna, a small town of 60,000 people and 15,000 ranches, including those of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Health Minister José Serra.

Pimenta has already been tried and condemned by public opinion in the city in which the crime was committed. Nobody seemed to show any sympathy for the assassin in several interviews by the media. There were some people asking for capital punishment or life imprisonment, although neither exists in Brazil.

TV personalities also were not hiding their feelings. Popular TV hostess Hebe Camargo sent this message to the murderer in her nationally broadcast show: "You took too few pills. You should have died. Why did you get involved with a woman much younger than you, kill her and then leave a deceitful letter to your daughters? They must be dying of shame because of you, rogue old man."

For possessing a college degree, Pimenta has the right to a special cell in prison—although not necessarily an individual one—far from the common and generally poor criminals. This right was introduced by the 1941 penal code, which also assures the same privilege to military personnel, judges and some government authorities, among others. The Brazilian legislation assumes that a person with a college diploma is a lesser criminal than someone without a higher education.

Commenting on this peculiarity of the Brazilian law, David Teixeira de Azevedo, a penal law professor at Universidade de São Paulo, told weekly newsmagazine Veja: "There is no doubt that we can justify this law when it deals with policemen and judges so they can avoid contact with the criminals they helped put in jail. Except for that, it's just pure privilege."

The DHPP (Departamento de Homicídios e Proteção à Pessoa—Department of Homicides and People Protection) used 18 police cars to transfer the Pimenta from the Clínica Parque Julieta, where he was being treated for depression, to prison. In jail, Pimenta shares a 100 sq. ft. cell with Vicente Viscome, a councilman arrested for corruption in a case involving city inspectors, and with Matheus da Costa Meira, a student, who, in 1999, killed three people during a movie at a shopping mall theater. Ironically, as the director for O Estado de S. Paulo, Pimenta was instrumental in giving both cases front-page notoriety. Viscome is in charge of the three different pills Pimenta takes to control his depression. Most of the time the journalist walks in sandals, dressed in white and blue pajamas and a brown cap.

Pimenta entered the 77th Police District's police station in downtown São Paulo amid the yells of 40 other inmates who screamed four letter words, "You coward, woman killer. Ooh, ooh, you are going to die." And they added: "Get the machine gun, Mateus." Mateus, who is called Doctor Death by his prison colleagues used such a weapon when he killed the moviegoers in a shopping mall. For his own security Pimenta is being kept inside the cell at all times even when his colleagues are allowed to go out on the corridor.

If Pimenta is condemned for a qualified crime—one in which there are aggravating circumstances—the jail term would vary from 12 to 30 years. Since Pimenta has no criminal history he would benefit from an automatic reduction of one third in his jail term. That would mean he would get a minimum of eight years behind bars.

Several loopholes, however, might allow him no jail time besides that served while waiting for trial. Jail terms shorter than nine years can be served in a condition of semi-liberty. In this case, the inmate only has to sleep in jail, being allowed to work in a regular job and have a regular life during the day. Those sentenced to four years or less can serve their time in freedom.

Lawyers Antônio Cláudio Mariz de Oliveira and Roberto Podval, who started working for Pimenta in the days following his crime, decided to drop the case alleging that relatives and friends were interfering too much. Soon after, another legal team entered the scene led by former Justice minister José Carlos Dias, who was later joined by criminalist Arnaldo Malheiros Filho. In 1988, Dias took the defense of a São Paulo case known as the Cuba Street Crime. The defendant, José Carlos Dias, was accused of killing his parents on Christmas Eve.

Soon after meeting their client for the first time inside the jail the new lawyers talked about their concern for the life of their client who, according to them, was in a "profoundly depressive state". They have also promised they will not use insanity as a defense and hinted they will continue trying to move the journalist to a psychiatric institution. According to the Sociedade de Combate à Violência das Mulheres (Society to Fight Violence Against Women) 450 women were killed in 1999 in Brazil by their partners. Half of the defendants waited—or are still waiting for trial—in freedom.

On the victim's side is Márcio Thomaz Bastos, 65, who will assist the prosecution. He served the same role in the trial of singer Lindomar Castilho, who killed his ex-wife in 1981 and got a 12-year jail sentence (see box). He also worked on the prosecution team against the killers of Amazon environmentalist rubber tapper's leader Chico Mendes, who was killed in 1988. Bastos, who graduated from USP (Universidade de Sao Paulo), considered the best institution of higher education in the country, presided over the São Paulo Bar association as well as the federal lawyer's association.

His opinion about the confessed criminal: "Pimenta is a false criminal of passion. He is an autocratic individual who acted premeditatedly and gave the victim no choices. He killed in an act of revenge and jealousy. He was cruel, choosing special bullets, which cause more serious injury than ordinary ones. Justice has to be harsh with an individual who had as many opportunities in life as he had."

It is estimated that Brazil has half a million lawyers, some who graduated from fictitious schools, others who never practiced law. Rare are those who become famous for their work in the courts. A few who do are those who take high visibility cases often involving celebrities.

Not for Love

Arnaldo Jabor, a famous moviemaker—among other movies he made I Love You (1980), with Sônia Braga—before turning into an infamous and scathing newspaper columnist for Rio's daily O Globo, compared the story of Pimenta becoming police news to that of a priest who did not believe in God. The journalist's murder has brought anguish to the newsrooms, says Jabor, and brought several questions to the newsmakers' mind: "He fooled us. We lived with him, we brown-nosed him, we heard his criticism while he was there, the impostor, scheming his purifying trip to jail! If he killed, can I kill too?"

He recalls that Pimenta Neves was praised for his ruthlessness and principles and comments that the paranoid are, by and large, good bosses. "They see everything, they control everything, they are always right. They kill with `reasons.'" And continues: "It was frustrating not to see the criminal melting in tears; his attempt at suicide was simulated, he lacked the despair of guilt, he lacked the bleeding wrists, the cries of repentance. His story with Sandra showed that he did not kill for love; he killed because she didn't follow his orders, he killed to punish the insubordination of his subordinate."

Jabor also notes that the newspaper director controlled everything: the special bullets he used, the content of texts the media would publish regarding his crime, and in his testimony to the police he seemed more like the chief conducting a meeting at the newspaper than a confessed murderer. For Jabor, this crime shows that Brazil has clean and dirty criminals and Pimenta is the clean kind: "The journalist's gruesome crime is, despite its brutality, a "clean" crime. There's no misery to justify it, no ignorance, no crack. It is a crime that upsets us, that destabilizes. The dirty crime comforts us—it is only the practice of wretches who reaffirm the logic of the white world. The dirty crimes exclude us—the clean ones include us. The dirty crimes absolve us—the clean ones incriminate us. We have a discreet relief when facing the horror that only reaches the miserable." And adds: "Pimenta makes us feel bad. We need him to be an off-the-wall crazy, but he is not…. This is the real Brazilian racism: he who steals $100 million goes to a special cell; he who steals $100 goes to the worst kind of slammer."

Writer Luís Fernando Veríssimo, for many the best columnist at work today in Brazil, avoided touching the Pimenta affaire in his daily column on O Globo and O Estado de S. Paulo. When he mentioned the episode it was just en passant in the middle of a column on other subjects. "I can't quite understand," he wrote, "why every journalist who has a signed column feels that he is obligated to comment on the Pimenta Neves case. It was a tragedy for two families, I don't think there is much more to tell." Maybe he should have just skipped the subject altogether. His comment didn't please many of his devoted readers mainly the female ones.

Echoing this dissatisfaction in NO. (it reads no ponto), an Internet-based publication (http://www.no.com.br), in an article entitled "How Could You, Veríssimo?," Beatriz Rezende, a professor from UFRJ's (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) School of Letters, wrote—not without a lot of chagrin—that the author has fallen from his pedestal as the conscience of the Brazilian Enlightened Ones.

Rezende agrees that the columnist did not have to comment on the case. "It's OK, he doesn't have to write about the episode, although it was good that he has done it. But when the columnist equates the tragedies of both families he seems to forget an important detail, the difference between life and death: one killed, the other was killed."

Writing in Folha de São Paulo, novelist Marcelo Coelho was one of the few who didn't condemn Pimenta's act up front. "I'd like to know who defends journalist Pimenta Neves," he started his article. "And I'd like to better understand the fury directed against him. Of course, he killed. Of course he has to be condemned. I don't accept arguments that Pimenta Neves should get a light sentence because it was a crime of passion, an impulsive act, etc. But the reactions to the case—and may the women, especially incensed, forgive me—are becoming too hysterical. A letter published yesterday in the Folha, calls Pimenta Neves a "bloody hypocrite"; another complains about the treatment given by the press to the murder of women, saying that the press is protecting the criminal."

Coelho comments that the journalist is inspiring an indignation "bigger than the one against the killers of children, Indians and landless, all put together." The columnist says that the crime generated perplexity in the newsrooms across the country leading the male journalists to ask themselves whether they would be capable of doing the same thing. On the other side, female journalists, mainly younger ones, are likely to identify with the victim and wonder if they too could be victims. At another level, the fact that the crime was committed because the journalist was left by the girlfriend makes the case seem an act against the independence of any woman who might feel threatened if she wanted to leave a guy.

At the end of his article, Coelho says that he changed his mind about the whole episode while writing his piece (he published it the way he wrote it anyway) and that he has found many reasons for the hysteria against Pimenta. Among them: the inequality between men and women and the "machismo" that continues to permeate Brazilian society. He concludes, however, that to concentrate all the indignation in one case will not help the discussion of the issues the murder raised.


Passion Made Them Do It

Stories of crimes of passion by celebrities are
quite common in Brazil.
Here are some of the most notorious of them:

1909

Writer Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909), author of Os Sertões, is killed in August 1909 by the young cadet Dilermando de Assis, his wife Ana's lover. The famous author was "defending his honor" and trying to kill Assis, but he didn't shoot straight and the lover ended up killing him in legitimate defense. Curiously, Euclides da Cunha, who was an engineer, worked as reporter for O Estado de S. Paulo and Os Sertões was originally written in 1902 as a series of articles for that paper, which was then called A Província de São Paulo.

1976

The Doca Street case became a cause for feminists after the murderer, invoking "defense of honor" was sentenced to only two years in prison which was never served. It happened on December 30, 1976. The assassin was Raul "Doca" Street, a playboy from São Paulo, who was married to Ângela Diniz, a beautiful socialite from the state of Minas Gerais, who became know as the Minas Panther. Doca killed Ângela with four shots, after the couple had a squabble in their chalet in the exclusive Búzios beach resort, in Rio. The playboy accused his wife of a lesbian affair with a German woman. Soon after being sentenced to two years of jail, Doca was free thanks to habeas corpus. His released generated uproar and he was submitted to a second trial in 1981. This time he was sentenced to 15 years in prison converted to house arrest and five years later he was free on probation.

1980

Infuriated with a comment by her husband, ad man Paulo Sérgio de Alcântara, that he couldn't feel any desire for "an old woman," singer Dorinha Duval, 51 at the time, killed him on October 5, 1980. Alcântara who was 16 years younger than the crooner was murdered with three shots. Three years after the murder, Duval went to trial and was sentenced to 18 years in jail. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to six years, but all she did was sleep in the jail for six more months.

1981

"I couldn't stand seeing her separated from me and happy." That's the way bolero singer Lindomar Castilho explained why he killed, in March 1991, his ex-wife Eliane Aparecida de Grammont. The couple was married for one year when the crime occurred. The singer suspected his wife of betraying him with his cousin Carlos Randhal. Eliane was killed with five gunshots on the stage of a São Paulo nightclub and Randhal was hurt. In court, the lawyer used the argument of legitimate defense of honor, but it didn't work. Sentenced to 12 years in prison, he went to jail and served the whole sentence.

1987

Writer León Eliachar was murdered by two hit men who had been hired by betrayed husband José Alberto Araújo, a farmer and councilman in the city of Palmas, state of Paraná. Eliachar was killed on June 1, 1987, with a shot to the head at his Rio de Janeiro home. The reason for the tragedy was Vera Bini Araújo.

1992

In this case it is hard to distinguish between fiction and reality. On December 28, 1992, Globo TV actor Guilherme de Pádua, with the help of his wife Paula Thomaz, killed actress Daniella Perez, who was his love interest in the novela (soap opera) Corpo e Alma (Body and Soul). The murder had some macabre aspects, with Daniella being stabbed 19 times with a dagger or pair of scissors—the police were never able to find the murder weapon. The real motives for the crime were never revealed. In 1997 Guilherme and Paula were condemned to 19 and 18.5 years of prison respectively. Both of them, however, are free on parole.

 

 

Two of the e-mails Pimenta Sent Sandra

The e-mails found by police in Sandra's computer revealed two more characters in this tragedy: the Quito's newspaper owner and Cecilinha. Sandra suspected that Cecilinha was Pimenta's lover. In his messages, however, the newspaper's director calls her a childhood friend to whom he appealed in times of depression.

July 17, 2000

5:14 PM

"I was very saddened to know about your interview with the personnel department at O Estado and the things you told them about me.

I should have answered and registered the complaints made by Dr. Rui (Rui Mesquita, the newspaper owner) against the section you were in command of and against your articles, some of them in writing. I'll do nothing of the kind.

I ran a risk bringing you here. You never recognized that. By the way, you never recognized anything I did. I was only an object of use to be discarded when convenient.

Your suspicions about my feelings in relation to you were a product of make believe.

You know very well that I love you above every thing and I had no other purpose than to live with you the rest of my life. But your job was more important. Everything was more important than our relationship.

You are selfish and cruel with the people who love you. You'd rather be caring with strangers. You talk about my power (if there is any) and how I use it.

You ignore, however, the power you had over me and how you used it to gain advantages and to punish me emotionally. But we can forget everything, start from the beginning, to begin a relationship that is clean and honest, transparent and loving. Come back home once and for all.

6/8/2000

16h35

You are still keeping many fine wool clothes and other things that I demand you return. I don't want anything that's mine on you. I want to eliminate any trace of my presence in your life and of yours in mine.

Put it all in a bag and ask someone to deliver or I will send someone to pick it up. If you want to destroy your used clothes and send the rags for me to check, it's OK, I am going to give them to charity anyway.

But don't make the mistake of keeping these things because you know that I have no limits. I am also going to send the number of my banking account to your father. I've already told him that I can wait until he gets the money.

I have nothing against him, much less against your mother, who is a victim of the children. One more thing, go have your sexual adventure with the Ecuadorian.

This will take you back to your origins as a cheap whore, without scruples or character.

 


A Handwritten "Suicide" Note

My dear daughters:

You know what you mean to me. I committed a senseless act for which I'll have to pay. I destroyed two lives—Sandra's and mine—in a moment of panic. With this gesture, I deeply hurt all of those who loved us.

I have lost all interest in living. I want you to understand what I'm about to do as an act of love for you, a reparation for the harm I caused you.

My defense in a long and painful process would be impossible. I would say nothing that could denigrate the image and the memory of Sandra. I only loved two women in my life, her and your mother.

Live with courage and dignity. You have no reason to feel remorse or guilt. Only Sandra and I know the whole truth and maybe not the whole one.

I kiss you with the kindness of the most loving of fathers. I'm immensely proud of you.

To my dear sisters and to my relatives and friends I leave an appeal that they will understand me. To the parents of Sandra, a plea that they will forgive me. I wasn't false in the friendship I dedicated to all.

Pimenta

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