Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil trial over Carandiru jail 'massacre' adjourned

Carandiru jail demolition on 8 December 2002.
Image caption There were numerous riots at Carandiru before the jail was demolished in 2002.

A judge in Brazil has adjourned the trial of 26 police officers accused of involvement in the country's most notorious prison massacre in 1992.

Hours after the trial began, one of the jurors said she was unwell and asked to leave. It will be resumed next week.

More than 100 inmates died at the Carandiru jail, in the city of Sao Paulo, during a police operation to end a fight between rival groups.

Prosecutors say most of the 111 victims were shot dead at close range.

No policemen died in the operation, which lasted only 30 minutes.

More than 20 years after the killings, which shocked Brazilian society at the time, only one person had faced trial, in 2001.

Col Ubiratan Guimaraes, who led the operation to regain control of Carandiru, was convicted of using excessive force, but was acquitted on appeal in 2006.

Dozens more officers are expected to be brought to trial in connection with the case over the months to come.

This stage of the trial is expected to last one or two weeks. Seven jurors - five women and two men - have been chosen by ballot out of a list of 50 pre-selected candidates.

After one of the jurors fell ill, judge Jose Augusto Nardy Marzagao dissolved the jury and said the trial would restart on 15 April.

'Excessive force'

The officers who went on trial on Monday are accused of the murder of 15 inmates on the second floor of the jail in Sao Paulo.

The riot began on 2 October 1992 after an argument between two inmates quickly spread, with rival gangs facing off in what was at the time one of South America's largest prisons, housing 10,000 inmates.

Inmates said riot police brutally repressed the riot.

"We never thought they would come in and kill people randomly, as not everyone had joined the rebellion," former prisoner Jacy de Oliveira told BBC Brasil's Luis Kawaguti.

"The policemen began shooting everyone; I was on the fifth floor, if you looked a policeman in the eyes, you were dead," he said.


The officers' lawyer, Ieda Ribeiro de Souza, says they were only doing their duty and acted in self-defence, as many of the inmates were armed.

Ms Souza also argues that it will be impossible to prove which of the officers fired the lethal shots as no ballistic test were carried out after the incident.

"I don't think the jury will be able to convict someone for 15 deaths without knowing if the accused ever fired a shot," she said.

If convicted, the officers could face between 12 and 30 years in prison.

While prison riots are not uncommon in Brazil, the number of those killed at Carandiru and the slow pace of the Brazilian justice system in bringing the accused to trial has shocked the public.

Carandiru was closed in 2002, shortly after inmates co-ordinated simultaneous uprisings in 27 jails across Sao Paulo state during which thousands of visitors were held hostage.

More on this story