The trial of a former football star charged with orchestrating the kidnapping and gruesome murder of an ex-girlfriend started Monday with courtroom arguments that caused two lawyers to abandon the case, and with a tearful plea for justice from the victim's mother.
The case of former Flamengo goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes, known in Brazil just as Bruno, has riveted the country and shocked the world of soccer. Fernandes' accomplices allegedly held his former girlfriend, model Eliza Samudio, before killing her, quartering her, and feeding her remains to dogs.
Bruno was captain when he led his team to the Brazilian championship in 2009. That same year, Samudio made the first allegations to police that she was pregnant with Fernandes' child, and that the players and others kidnapped her and tried to force her to terminate the pregnancy.
She refused. The child was born healthy, and named Bruno as well. The model disappeared soon afterward, in June 2010. In December 2010, Fernandes was found guilty of Samudio's initial accusations and is serving a prison sentence of four years and six months in that case. After a court dispute, Samudio's mother was named the child's guardian.
Bruno now faces a second trial, on charges he ordered his ex-girlfriend's grisly death.
Investigators said the player was behind a scheme that lured the 25-year-old woman from Rio de Janeiro to a ranch in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais with the promise that Fernandes would recognize the child as his and give her an apartment. There she was allegedly held again her will by Fernandes' accomplices, killed and her remains were fed to dogs who roamed the property.
The first day of the murder trial in Minas Gerais was marked by high drama, with attorneys for two of Fernandes' alleged accomplices who are also facing murder charges — the former police officer, Marcos dos Santos, and the player's right-hand man, Luiz Romao — walking out on the case after arguing with the judge over access to videos of witness testimony.
"We would like to leave clear to the jury that it is impossible to carry out a fair trial," Ercio Quaresmo, the attorney for Santos, said in court according to O Globo newspaper.
The Associated Press could not reach attorneys for comment.
Others also charged with Samudio's kidnapping, murder and the hiding of her body are Dayanne Rodrigues, Fernandes' wife, and Fernanda Castro, a lover. All those charged with the death have pleaded innocent, including Fernandes.
The attorney for the player said he remained confident that his client would walk out a free man.
"Bruno is tired of being in prison," said attorney Rui Pimenta to O Globo newspaper outside court in the town of Contagem. "He is ready to walk out and go eat some rare barbecue."
The defense's argument is that there can be no murder charges because Samudio is, in fact, alive. The attorney Pimenta says he will produce proof that Samudio is living in Eastern Europe.
Samudio's mother, Sonia Moura, told the news website G1 that she trusted justice would be done and dared the player to look her in the eyes in court.
"I believe in justice, and in the condemnation of all the accused," she said. "I want my daughter's mortal remains."