The case against Marielle Franco's alleged killers has moved a step closer to going to trail as the alleged gunman gives testimony.
The alleged triggerman behind the death of Councilwoman Marielle Franco gave testimony to the justice department Thursday afternoon concerning 117 disassembled rifles found by police in an apartment in Méier in March of this year. He is expected to give testimony regarding the Franco case Friday.
Retired Rio police sergeant Ronnie Lessa is facing two separate criminal cases related to the Franco killing. The first is for the March 14 assassination of the councilwoman and her driver Anderson Gomes. Authorities expect the murder case to take longer to prosecute due to the complex circumstances of the investigation.
According to investigators Lessa and an accomplice – retired police officer Elcio Vieira de Queiroz – followed Franco's car after she left a debate for young black women in Lapa. After following the vehicle for 30 minutes, Lessa and Queiroz are alleged to have pulled alongside Franco's car when Lessa allegedly shot 13 times through the window. Franco was shot three times in the head and once in the neck. Gomes was shot three times in the back. An aide also in the vehicle was non-fatally injured from bullet fragments.
Rio's public prosecutor's office said in March that Lessa committed the crime because of his revulsion with Franco's political activity in defense of minorities. Prosecutors said that this did not rule out the possibility that the crime was an ordered hit.
In the second case, prosecutors are moving forward with weapon charges for the 117 disassembled rifles. Because authorities were able to recover the weapons parts, the case is seen as less complicated to bring to trial by prosecutors. The hearing held Thursday is the last step before the courts will give a judicial sentence next month. If convicted, this will be the first time that Lessa has been charged.
Lessa's lawyer Fernando Wagner Pacheco de Santana said that the parts found by authorities were in fact for air-soft rifles – pressurized air guns that fire B.B. Pellets. Photos released by police at the time of the apprehension show lower receivers – the part of the gun with much of the mechanical components – with semi-automatic hammers, something that would not be found in air-soft rifles.
In 1988 Lessa joined the army and then in 1991 Rio's state police. In 1997 Lessa acted as part of Rio's special operation unit the BOPE. However, he failed to go through the rigorous selection and training process that became mandatory for the unit, and he was made to leave the group for a regular battalion in 1997. His career as a police officer ended in 2009 when he lost his leg to a bomb placed in his car.
An outpouring of national and international outrage followed the murder of Franco. Many Brazilians saw her death as an attack on Brazil's democracy. Rio de Janeiro has seen a spike in targeted assassinations against politicians in recent years, especially in the city's suburbs which have become dominated by mafia-like criminal militias willing to use violence to achieve their goals.