Stories of crimes of passion by celebrities are
quite common in Brazil.
Here are some of the most notorious of them:
By 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 paperwhere it did
appearor on any cover of the country’s main news magazinesas 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
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,
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 Paulowhere 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
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
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 newswithout pictures and not on the front
pagewhen 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
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
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
prisonalthough not necessarily an individual onefar 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 PessoaDepartment 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
If Pimenta is condemned for a qualified crimeone in which there are aggravating
circumstancesthe 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
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 waitedor are still waiting for trialin
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
Not for Love
Arnaldo Jabor, a famous moviemakeramong other movies he made I Love You
(1980), with Sônia Bragabefore 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
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
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 usit is only the practice of wretches who reaffirm the logic of the white
world. The dirty crimes exclude usthe clean ones include us. The dirty crimes
absolve usthe 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, wrotenot without a lot of chagrinthat 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 caseand may the women,
especially incensed, forgive meare 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:
Writer Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909), author of Os Sertões, is killed in August
The Doca Street case became a cause for feminists after the murderer, invoking
Infuriated with a comment by her husband, ad man Paulo Sérgio de Alcântara, that he
"I couldn’t stand seeing her separated from me and happy." That’s the way
Writer León Eliachar was murdered by two hit men who had been hired by betrayed
In this case it is hard to distinguish between fiction and reality. On December 28,
Two of the e-mails Pimenta Sent Sandra
The e-mails found by police in Sandra’s computer revealed two more characters in this
July 17, 2000
"I was very saddened to know about your interview with the personnel department at
I should have answered and registered the complaints made by Dr. Rui (Rui Mesquita, the
I ran a risk bringing you here. You never recognized that. By the way, you never
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
You are selfish and cruel with the people who love you. You’d rather be caring with
You ignore, however, the power you had over me and how you used it to gain advantages
You are still keeping many fine wool clothes and other things that I demand you return.
Put it all in a bag and ask someone to deliver or I will send someone to pick it up. If
But don’t make the mistake of keeping these things because you know that I have no
I have nothing against him, much less against your mother, who is a victim of the
This will take you back to your origins as a cheap whore, without scruples or
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
I have lost all interest in living. I want you to understand what I’m about to do as an
My defense in a long and painful process would be impossible. I would say nothing that
Live with courage and dignity. You have no reason to feel remorse or guilt. Only Sandra
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