By Peter Murphy
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A court in Brazil has sentenced a rancher to 30 years in prison for ordering the murder in 2005 of U.S.-born nun Dorothy Stang, who lived in the Amazon region and opposed the destruction of the rain forest.
Vitalmiro Moura, 39, was given the maximum sentence late on Monday after a jury in the Amazon port city of Belem found him guilty of hiring a gunman to kill 73-year-old Stang, who was opposing him in a land dispute in the rain forest.
Stang, an Ohio native, had for more than 20 years helped peasants threatened by loggers and ranchers and fought against deforestation. The much-delayed process of convicting her killers became a test of Brazil's ability to tackle widespread impunity in the region.
Moura had received the same sentence previously but it was overturned in 2008, a decision that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called a "stain" on Brazil's image abroad.
A retrial was ordered after it was determined that jurors had ignored evidence pointing to Moura's guilt in reaching their verdict.
Stang was shot six times in February 2005 as she held her Bible and was left lying in the mud in the town of Anapu in Para, a frontier state where loggers and ranchers have deforested huge swaths of the world's biggest rain forest.
Her murder became a symbol of the often-violent conflicts over natural resources in the vast Amazon region.
'FAR FROM THE END'
The Land Pastoral Commission, which monitors conflicts over land in Brazil, says 365 people were murdered in such disputes between 1999 and 2008.
Commission spokeswoman Cristiane Passos welcomed the judgment but said the government and justice system need to pay more attention to violent conflicts over land as the problem still claims many lives.
"It's still far from the end of the violence," Passos said. "There have been many very similar cases (to Stang's). We say these regions, like Para and Amazonas, are lawless, far as they are from the eye of the justice system," she said.
"The practice of death threats still continues," she said.
Regivaldo Galvao, another rancher who is accused of acting as Moura's accomplice in ordering Stang's murder, is due to stand trial starting April 30.
Gunman Raifran das Neves Sales was sentenced in Belem in December 2005 to 27 years in prison. Another man, Clodoaldo Carlos Batista, was given a 17-year sentence for helping him. A third man, Amair Feijoli da Cunha, was convicted in 2006 for serving as an intermediary between the gunman and local ranchers.
A documentary film about Stang's killing, narrated by actor Martin Sheen, has helped keep the case in the public eye.
(Reporting by Peter Murphy; editing by Stuart Grudgings and Will Dunham)