RIO DE JANEIRO – Two former police officers were arrested on Tuesday for the March 2018 murder of human rights activist and city councilor Marielle Franco, Brazilian authorities said.
One of the detainees, retired officer Ronnie Lessa, is suspected of being the shooter who killed the 38-year-old Afro-Brazilian LGBT woman and her driver, Anderson Gomes.
The other detainee is Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, 46, who had been dismissed from the state police. He is accused of driving the car from which the shots were fired.
Franco, a member of the leftist PSOL Party, grew up in one of Rio’s toughest neighborhoods and was a vocal critic of killings by police and by para-police death squads known as militias.
She died on the night of March 14, 2018, in downtown Rio.
Her murder caused great indignation in Brazil and brought condemnations from human rights organizations abroad.
“It is unquestioned that Marielle Franco was summarily executed because of her political activity,” the Rio de Janeiro state Attorney General’s Office said when asking a judge to issue warrants for the arrests of Lessa and Queiroz.
Franco and her killing were remembered in the parades of some of the samba schools participating in the Rio de Janeiro carnival last week.
Investigative police officers and members of the state AG Office also raided the homes of the accused, as well as those of 34 other suspects who allegedly participated in the crime.
Lessa was arrested in a unit of the same condominium complex where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro resides in Rio’s exclusive Barra de Tijuca neighborhood.
Investigators discovered that the murder was meticulously planned for three months and that Lessa ascertained via the Internet the places most frequented by Franco.
They also established that starting in October 2017 the defendant had been investigating details of the life of PSOL legislator Marcelo Freixo as well as army Gen. Walter Braga Neto, who was then responsible for public safety in Rio state.
The state AG Office, which asked the courts to suspend the payment of the Lessa’s pension and his license to carry a weapon, also filed petitions so that the defendants, if found guilty, will be obliged to pay compensation to the victims’ relatives.