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SAO PAULO: Twenty-three Brazilian police officers were sentenced to 156 years in jail each on Sunday for their role in the killing of 111 inmates during Brazil’s deadliest prison uprising in 1992.
The 23 were among 26 military officers on trial before the Sao Paulo state tribunal. The three others were cleared.
The officers, most of them now retired, were accused of killing 15 prisoners in Sao Paulo’s Carandiru prison during the operation to quell the revolt on October 2, 1992, which came to be known as the “Carandiru massacre.”
The defense, which argued that the police officers fired in self-defense after being threatened and assaulted by the prisoners, said it would appeal.
None of the officers involved in the operation were harmed. In addition to the 111 prisoners killed, some 87 others were wounded.
Survivors accused police of firing on inmates who had already surrendered or were hiding in their cells.
Authorities initially claimed the police were trying to break up a fight between prisoners who had seized control of one of the cell blocks.
But evidence uncovered later suggested military police had shot prisoners and then destroyed evidence which could have determined individual responsibility for the killings.
No one is currently in prison for the murders. The commanding officer of the operation, Colonel Ubiratan Guimaraes, was initially sentenced to 632 years in jail for his mishandling of the revolt and the subsequent killings.
But in 2006, a court voided the conviction because of mistrial claims.
Later that year, Guimaraes was found dead in his apartment under unclear circumstances.
The massacre in what was then Latin America’s biggest prison, with 8,000 inmates, sparked outrage among inmates, and prosecutors said it was a key factor in the emergence of a criminal gang known as First Command of the Capital (PCC) in 1993.
The PCC is believed to have ordered the death of the director of the prison at the time, Jose Ismael Pedrosa.
From the prison, PCC bosses organized a series of assaults on police stations and other buildings that left more than 170 people dead and paralyzed Sao Paulo for four days in May 2006.
The unrest eventually spread to other cities, and scores of suspected criminals were gunned down in a subsequent wave of police reprisal attacks.
Late last year, the PCC was also blamed for a wave of police killings and bus burnings.
The Carandiru prison was demolished in 2002. - AFP