The murder of city councilwoman Marielle Franco and driver Anderson Gomes completes five years this Tuesday (14th) and there is still no answer regarding the person who ordered the crime. The investigations led to the arrest of two perpetrators: retired military police officer Ronnie Lessa, for having shot the councilwoman, and the driver, former military police officer Elcio de Queiroz. The motives and leaders of the attack remain unknown.
“It’s been five years: that’s a long time.” The outburst is from Marinete Silva, mother of Marielle Franco, and summarizes the feelings of family members, friends, activists, and anyone outraged by the crime. “Today, the whole world wants to know who ordered Marielle’s death. This is not an issue to be resolved only for the family”, adds the mother.
The investigation process itself came to occupy a central place in the news. The Civil Police had five delegates responsible for the case at the Homicide Police Station in Rio de Janeiro. At the State Public Ministry, three different teams worked on the case during these years.
The last change took place 10 days ago, when the Attorney General of Justice, Luciano Mattos, chose seven new prosecutors to join the task force coordinated by Luciano Lessa, head of the Special Action Group to Combat Organized Crime (Gaeco). The constant changes in command received criticism from family members and social movements over these five years, and led to suspicions of obstruction in the investigations.
In May 2019, the Federal Police pointed out that false statements were given to make it difficult to solve the homicides. Prosecutors abandoned the case in July 2021, with the claim that there was external interference in the investigation.
The MPRJ’s new command said it was committed to “not reaching a hasty conclusion, divorced from reality, but to carrying out a technical and serious job, aimed at identifying all those involved”. difficulties are greater because it is “a crime where the executors are professionals, who were military police, who know how to investigate”.
The most consistent advance in the case took place in March 2019, when Élcio de Queiroz and Ronnie Lessa were arrested in Rio de Janeiro. The first is accused of having shot Marielle and Anderson, the second, of driving the car used in the murder. Four years later, they are still in prison but have not been tried. Sought after by the report, the Court of Justice of Rio informed that it is expected “the fulfillment of the steps required by the prosecution and defense so that the date of the trial is set”.
Fernanda Chaves, former adviser to Marielle Franco, was the sole survivor of the attack. She was in the car when the parliamentarian and the driver were hit. Fernanda says that only the delegate who took over the case between 2018 and early 2019, Giniton Lages, called her to testify. She was only contacted again in January of this year by the Ministry of Justice, when she participated in a meeting with advisers from the portfolio.
“You go five years without the trial of those accused and imprisoned for the murder having been carried out? Without having an investigation that leads to the principals? It is very humiliating, I think it is shameful for the State not to deliver this response. Rio de Janeiro, when Marielle was murdered, was under federal intervention, militarized. In the center of the city, on the City Hall side, the roads were covered by cameras. And five years later you don’t have a breakthrough. Giniton dropped the case, the prosecutors dropped the case claiming interference. This is very serious”, he accuses.
Fernanda’s meeting marks a change in the federal government’s attitude towards the case. The federalization of investigations was on the agenda from the beginning and was even included in a request by the then Attorney General of the Republic, Raquel Dodge, in September 2019. The attempt did not advance after a ban by the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), on disinterest of the federal government at the time and the concern of family members.
In February of that year, the Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino, ordered the Federal Police (PF) to open a parallel investigation to help the authorities in Rio de Janeiro. Yesterday (13), the minister said that the case is a priority for the corporation and that he intends to identify all those involved.
“What I can say is that the work is progressing well. But of course, regarding the result, we will have a presentation by the researchers in the coming months of what was possible to achieve. It is not possible at this time to set deadlines, or when it will end. But I can say that there is a priority, there is a dedicated team in the Federal Police just for this and I do have the expectation and hope, which is from all of us, that the PF will help to definitively solve this crime”.
Justice by Marielle and Anderson
To increase pressure on investigations, the Justice Committee was created in July 2021 by Marielle and Anderson. It is formed by the families of the victims, Justiça Global, Terra de Direitos, Black Coalition for Rights and Amnesty International Brazil. The latter has organized and participated in campaigns since the murders took place.
For executive director Jurema Werneck, the authorities in Rio have been failing the victims’ families and society as a whole for five years. She argues that the solution to the case is essential for the country to show that it is committed to combating political crimes.
“The Minister of Justice says he will cooperate. We just have to trust that this time they will actually collaborate. And that this time they will help Rio de Janeiro and Brazil to overcome this chronic inefficiency in solving homicides. And mainly elucidation of political homicides. Brazil is the fourth country in the world that most kills activists. Therefore, the Minister of Justice, in addition to elucidating this crime, needs to establish consistent policies and mechanisms so that Brazil ceases to be among the world champions of political assassinations”.
This view is shared by international organizations, which pressure Brazil to solve the attack. Jan Jarab, UN Human Rights representative for South America, argues that it is necessary to place the case in a broader context of attacks against human rights defenders.
“We must avoid impunity. In the broadest sense of the word, not only about who performs the violent acts, but also when there are people behind them. But prevention, primary and secondary, and physical security measures are also important. And intervene when there are already threats, when there are verbal hate crimes. Let these forms of verbal aggression not be trivialized, especially in the context of social networks”.
Half a decade of sadness, anguish and anxiety. But not giving up. It is in this way that friends and family renew their hopes that, with the support of various sectors of civil society, it will not be necessary to go another year without an answer to the question “Who ordered Marielle to be killed?”.
“Unfortunately, we live in a country where many people are murdered and still don’t know who ordered the murder and why. But I think that Brazil deserves to give this answer for democracy”, says Anielle Franco, sister of the councilor and minister of Racial Equality.
“I need to believe in the institutions, I need to believe that this result will be presented. I cannot believe in a country that has functioning authorities and institutions, in a Democratic State of Law, that does not deliver this answer. I need to believe in that, I have hope”, says Fernanda Chaves.
“I understand today that doing justice for Marielle is not just about ending an investigation. This is what the Brazilian State owes to the family and society”, argues Mônica Benício, Marielle’s widow. “It’s about being able to live in a society where ‘Marielles’ are not murdered, but can flourish at their maximum power. It is us having a society in which there is no racism, LGBTphobia, sexism. That is, that all bodies can live and have equal rights, that all lives can matter equally in the eyes of the State and in the eyes of society. When we have this society, we will do justice for Marielle”.
- March 14, 2018: Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes are murdered.
- March 15, 2018: Giniton Lages takes over the Rio Homicide Police Station and the case.
- March 21, 2018: The MPRJ chooses a group of prosecutors to investigate the crime.
- September 1, 2018: The Special Action Group to Combat Organized Crime (GAECO/MPRJ) joins the case. The first exchange of MPRJ promoters takes place.
- September 25, 2018: Orlando Curicica, incarcerated at the Mossoró Federal Prison for militia-related crimes, mentions the ‘Crime Office’ to investigators. A witness cites councilor Marcello Siciliano for his alleged involvement in Marielle’s death. Siciliano was arrested, but his involvement was later ruled out.
- October 11, 2018: MPRJ investigations identify the biotype of the perpetrator of the crime and track new locations where the car used in the crime circulated.
- March 11, 2019: The first phase of investigations is closed. Ronnie Lessa and Élcio Queiroz are charged with intentional homicide.
- March 12, 2019: Élcio de Queiroz and Ronnie Lessa are arrested in Rio de Janeiro.
- March 25, 2019: Giniton Lages is replaced by Daniel Rosa at the Rio Homicide Police Station.
- May 23, 2019: Federal Police point out that false statements were given to make it difficult to solve the homicides.
- September 11, 2019: The then Attorney General of the Republic, Raquel Dodge, calls for the federalization of investigations.
- March 10, 2020: Justice in Rio determines that Ronnie Lessa and Élcio Vieira de Queiroz be taken to the popular jury.
- May 27, 2020: Superior Court of Justice (STJ) denies the federalization of investigations.
- September 17, 2020: Delegate Daniel Rosa leaves the case. Moisés Santana takes his place.
- July 5, 2021: Third change at the Homicide Police Station: Moisés Santana leaves, Edson Henrique Damasceno enters.
- February 02, 2022: Fourth replacement: Edson Henrique Damasceno is replaced by Alexandre Herdy.
- August 30, 2022: Federal Supreme Court (STF) denies appeals from the defenses of Ronnie Lessa and Élcio Vieira, and upholds decision on popular jury.
- February 22, 2023: The Minister of Justice and Public Security, Flávio Dino, announces the opening of an inquiry by the Federal Police to investigate murders.
- March 04, 2023: MP from Rio defines new prosecutors in the Marielle Franco case.