Step by step: how Marielle Franco's murder was planned and carried out, according to Brazil's Federal Police

Report shows the connivance of authorities and the power of the suspects to try to prevent the case from being solved

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (Federal District) |
Marielle Franco was killed on March 14, 2018. - René Junior

On Sunday (24), six years and ten days after Marielle Franco's murder shocked Brazil, the country’s Federal Police arrested the three suspected masterminds of the crime during an operation authorized by Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes. The arrests were considered the end of the Federal Police's investigation. Now, it's up to the Attorney General's Office to analyze all the material collected - including what was found in the searches on Sunday - to file charges against the suspects.

In an extensive and meticulous 479-page report, the Federal Police presented a robust document that goes through all the investigations already carried out by other authorities into the case and other notorious episodes of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro involving the names who participated in Marielle's murder.

Investigators' efforts culminated in Ronnie Lessa's plea bargain. The former military policeman who worked as a hitman in Rio and is accused of carrying out Marielle's murder told what he knows about the episode, gave details about the people involved in it and the negotiations to kill Rio's city councilor and avoid the discovery of the masterminds of the crime. Investigators checked the specifics of the testimony to the best of their ability six years after the brutal killing.

Read below how the crime was planned and carried out according to the Federal Police's most recent findings. Brasil de Fato tried to contact the Brazão brothers' defense, but their lawyer didn't answer or respond to messages until the publication of this news story. Thalita Mesquita, the lawyer of former head of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Rivaldo Barbosa, said she would not comment on the case:

1. The Brazão brothers were annoyed by Marielle Franco's opposition to the bill dubbed the “Land Grabbing Bill”. Chiquinho Brazão presented it to Rio's City Council to regularize areas in neighborhoods where Rio's militias operate and which are allegedly political strongholds of the Brazão family, such as Jacarepaguá, Oswaldo Cruz and Rio das Pedras. The bill was approved with widespread opposition from Marielle’s party (Socialism and Freedom Party, also known as PSOL) and managed to get just one vote more than necessary to pass. In addition, Marielle had been working with the communities to prevent them from participating in allotments in the interests of the militias, in addition to advocating that the areas should be earmarked for the government to establish affordable housing projects in the region.

2. The planning of the crime began in the second semester of 2017, when the Brazão brothers approached militia member Edmilson Macalé, who was close to Chiquinho Brazão, with a proposal to assassinate Marielle Franco. Then, he invited Ronnie Lessa to take part in the crime.  

3. The two men held their first meeting with the Brazão brothers to discuss the details of the murder plan and heard the proposal to assassinate the councilor in exchange for land located in areas that would be invaded by militia groups. At this first meeting, Lessa says he was also told not to kill Marielle as she left the City Council, a demand that Rivaldo Barbosa would have made so as not to draw attention to the political nature of the case, which could attract federal security forces to the investigation. At the time, Rivaldo directed the Homicide Division of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police.

4. At the abovementioned meeting – the first one – the killers were also assured that they would be protected from any investigation since Rivaldo was participating in the criminal enterprise. After the meeting, the Brazão brothers infiltrated Laerte Silva de Lima into PSOL, as a strategy to gather information about Marielle. From there, the criminal group learns that she was working to raise public awareness about affordable housing and to stop people from joining the militia's allotments.

5. As soon as Ronnie Lessa made the deal with the crime’s masterminds, he began to monitor Marielle's routine and, together with other participants, managed to get the murderer the weapon and the vehicle that would be used on the day of Marielle’s murder. However, by monitoring her, he realized it would be difficult for the crime to take place far from Rio's City Hall. Then, Lessa asked Macalé for a second meeting with the Brazão brothers to discuss Rivaldo's demand.

6. At the second meeting, the proposal [of considering killing Marielle near Rio’s City Hall] was rejected by the Brazão brothers. Lessa then resumed monitoring Marielle in search of an "ideal" situation for assassinating her. Then, on March 14, Macalé received a phone call from the number used by Laerte, the PSOL infiltrator. When he answers the call, however, the person on the other end of the line is former Military Police and militia member Ronald Alves de Paula, known as Major Ronald. He informs Lessa about the event at Casa das Pretas where Marielle Franco would be that night. With this information, the criminal group carried out the murder on March 14, 2018.

7. At the same time as the killers’ actions, the then director of the Homicide Division of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, Rivaldo Barbosa, had been working days before to be appointed head of the Civil Police. At the time, the state of Rio de Janeiro was under federal intervention in Public Security led by General Walter de Souza Braga Netto. Rivaldo Barbosa's name was endorsed by General Richard Nunes, who was also serving as Secretary of Public Security. As the first name on Richard Nunes' list didn't accept the post, he ended up appointing Rivaldo, even though the Secretary's intelligence department was against it at the time.

8. Richard Nunes, heard by the Federal Police, said that "this contraindication was not based on objective information" and appointed Rivaldo, who took over as head of Rio's Civil Police the day before Marielle Franco was murdered. According to the Federal Police’s investigations, when Rivaldo took over the position, he not only knew that the murder was going to take place but also, after the crime, appointed his trusted deputy, Giniton Lages, to investigate in such a way as not to reach the masterminds. The revelation shocked Marielle Franco's family, since he met with the family after the killing and promised to solve the case.

9. After the crime, Ronnie Lessa was surprised by the intense attention the case received, which mobilized not only left-wing social movements, but also political leaders in Brazil and abroad. He then takes part in a third meeting with the Brazão brothers, in which he informs them that the police were already working on a way to direct the investigation away from the men responsible for it. At the time, the Federal Police had received reports from a supposed witness planted by the Brazão family that the person responsible for Marielle's death was then city councilor Marcelo Siciliano. The hypothesis was investigated and later rejected by the federal authorities.

10. Six years after the crime, the Federal Police collected enough evidence and pointed to the strong political influence of the three suspects to hinder the investigations' progress for so long, as well as the risk of them fleeing the country, to request the arrest of all three from the Supreme Court. The investigators' attention is drawn to the fact that Rivaldo Barbosa is still in a strategic position in the Civil Police, after spending years working to prevent cases involving Rio's criminals from the so-called “jogo do bicho” and others from being solved. In addition, the Brazão brothers remain influential in Rio's politics and could easily flee the country due to their financial power, after information about Ronnie Lessa's plea bargain came to light.  

The other side

Domingos Brazão's press office issued a statement to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo stating that he was "surprised" by the Supreme Court’s decision. The TCE councilor states that he has "no involvement with the characters mentioned, stressing that allegations should not be treated as absolute truth, especially when they are the words of criminals who made murder into a profession".

To the news site UOL, Rivaldo Barbosa's defense justified the lack of a statement because they still don't have access to the case file or the decision that decreed his arrest.

So far, there has been no statement from federal deputy Chiquinho Brazão.

Edited by: Matheus Alves de Almeida