SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) – A former police officer, his son and two accomplices have been convicted in the 2005 killing of a former University of Maine Farmington professor doing anthropological fieldwork in Brazil’s northern jungle, the state attorney general’s office said Wednesday.
The four men were convicted Tuesday on charges of armed robbery resulting in death and sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison, said Carlos Cunha, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
James Petersen, 51, was shot to death during an armed robbery in a restaurant in Iranduba, a small rainforest town near the Amazonas state capital of Manaus.
Chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Vermont, Petersen was researching pre-colonial indigenous life in the region.
Judge Frank Augusto Lemos do Nascimento sentenced former police officer Ronaldo Costa dos Santos and his son Rodolfo to 28 years in prison “for being the ringleaders of a gang of thieves that committed the armed robbery that resulted in the professor’s death,” Cunha said.
Wilson Cornelio de Oliveira and his brother Janderson de Oliveira, “who fired the shots,” were each sentenced to 29 years and four months. The sentences meted out to all four, plus the time they have already spent in prison, total 30 years – the maximum sentence for the crime- Cunha said.
Santos and his son, who claim they had nothing to do with Petersen’s death, will likely appeal the conviction, Cunha said.
The Oliveira brothers, who confessed, will not appeal, he added.
Contacted by phone, Nascimento refused to comment.
Petersen founded the Archaeology Research Center at the UMF, where he was a professor from 1983 to 1997, according to the University of Vermont Web site. He was also a graduate school professor at the University of Maine in Orono from 1986 to 1997.
Petersen’s widow, Jennifer Brennan, 40, of Williston, who went to Brazil for the sentencing but was barred from the courtroom, was pleasantly surprised by the verdicts.
“Oh, my God! I’m relieved!” she told the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press afterward.
“I’m just so excited they were able to get a conviction on the ex-cop and his son, because I really didn’t think it was going to happen.”