2,202 days later, Brazilians get an answer for who may have ordered the killing of Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco at the Maré Complex, where she grew up. Photo by Bernardo Guerreiro/Mídia Ninja on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

For 2,202 days, Brazilians asked who killed and who ordered the killing of Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco on March 14, 2018. After six years, this March 24, the federal police arrested three men suspected of being the ones responsible for planning the crime and hiring gunmen to execute it: Domingos Brazão, a politician and adviser for Rio's Court of Auditors, his brother, Chiquinho Brazão, a federal congressman, and Rivaldo Barbosa, former head of Rio de Janeiro's civil police.

According to the police report for Operation Murder Inc., the motivation was Franco's stance against an allotment plan in a territory taken over by militia — especially in Rio, the term designates ”paramilitary groups made up of current and former police officers as well as Military Firefighters Corps officers, criminals, politicians, and military officers, operating also as a regular mafia by trade extortion and political influence.”

In 2019, a year after the crime, two former policemen were arrested as suspects. One of them, Ronnie Lessa, was the suspect believed to have fired the gun that killed Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes — the car was hit with 13 bullets. After a deal with the investigators, Lessa confessed to the crime and indicated those now arrested as the men who hired him.

A story published by newspaper Folha de S. Paulo claims the investigation report has gaps and lacks evidence to corroborate the link between the two Brazão brothers and Barbosa. All three men deny participation in the crime.

Barbosa, who was named head of the civil police shortly before the crime and met with the victims’ families, is pointed as the one who acted to guarantee impunity to the executors. As for the Brazão brothers, UK newspaper The Guardian noted after the arrests:

The Brazão brothers have long faced accusations of involvement in organised crime — claims they have denied. During the 1980s, the men were reportedly known in Rio as the “Irmãos Metralha” (The Beagle Boys) — a reference to the Disney cartoon villains.

The Intercept Brasil says that, according to the federal police director, there were many situations that led to ordering the killing of Marielle Franco, with the allotment plan that needed to be approved by the City Chamber likely being the main one. The news outlet also mentions a person who infiltrated Franco's party, Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), the previous year to monitor her.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled to maintain in prison the three men arrested for planning and ordering the killing.

Who was Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco was raised in the Maré Complex, one of the largest favela slums and housing complexes in Rio de Janeiro city. A sociologist, she worked as an aid with congressman Marcelo Freixo, who presided over a parliamentary inquiry on the militias in Rio's state assembly, before being elected as a councillor for the first time in 2016, with 46.502 votes.

As newspaper Valor Econômico reports:

Durante sua trajetória, Marielle abordava muitas temáticas sociais como a pobreza e marginalidade das comunidades, o acesso a universidades públicas, violações aos direitos humanos e violência contra as mulheres e costumava criticar abertamente ações da Polícia Militar em favelas cariocas.

During her trajectory, Marielle approached many social themes such as poverty and the marginalization of communities, access to public universities, human rights violations and violence against women and used to criticize openly the Military Police actions into Rio's favelas.

A week before being murdered, on March 8, International Women's Day, Franco made a now historic speech in the City Chamber. When talking about the numbers of violence against women in Brazil — with 12 women killed every day, and a daily average of 13 rapes, a man in the audience said something, and Franco responded:

Tem um senhor que está defendendo a ditadura e falando alguma coisa contrária? É isso? Eu peço que a Presidência da Casa, no caso de maiores manifestações que venham a atrapalhar minha fala, proceda como fazemos quando a Galeria interrompe qualquer vereador. Não serei interrompida, não aturo interrupção dos vereadores desta Casa, não aturarei de um cidadão que vem aqui e não sabe ouvir a posição de uma mulher eleita Presidente da Comissão da Mulher nesta Casa.

Is there a gentleman defending the dictatorship and saying something contrary to it? Is that it? I ask the Chamber's presidency, in case of louder manifestations that may disturb my speech, to proceed as we do when the gallery interrupts any City Councillor. I will not be interrupted, I do not stand for interruptions of any City Councillor from this House, I will not stand for it from a citizen who comes here and does not know how to listen to a woman who was elected president of the Women's Commission in this House.

On the night of March 14, 2018, she attended an event about ”Black women moving the structures.” After leaving the meeting, her car was approached by another vehicle, and someone inside it opened fire, killing the councillor and her driver, Anderson Gomes. Fernanda Chaves, who worked with Franco as an aid, survived.

Her participation in the project believed to have been the trigger for her murder was rather discreet, according to Brazilian press.

In the past six years, many women followed her footsteps into politics, inspired by her, and wanting to carry on her legacy. An institute with her name was created since then. Her sister, Anielle Franco, is the current minister of racial equality in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government. Her widow, Monica Benicio, was elected Rio's city councillor in 2020, also with the PSOL party.

A Black and LGBTQ+ woman who became a mother at 19 years old, Marielle Franco was a representation for many who had never seen themselves in positions of power. Her killing became a symbol and caused an immediate national and international outcry.


Anielle Franco posted a video, alongside her mother, to comment on the latest developments for her sister's case:

Six years ago, they took Marielle and Anderson from us in a brutal crime that shook all the country's democratic structures.
The solution for this crime, about who ordered to kill and why, is a response to democracy.
This fight is not only from the families, but all the people from Brazil…

In an interview for TV Brasil, Monica Benicio claimed not to be surprised by the Brazão brothers’ involvement but said she was shocked to learn about Barbosa's, who welcomed Franco's and Gomes’ families into his office days after the murders, promising them that solving the case was a priority.

”Hours after the murder of my wife, I was actually facing a man who knew exactly what had happened,” she said.

Since March 14, 2018, many people have kept a daily count on social media asking who killed and who ordered the killing of Marielle Franco. With questions yet to be answered, Monica Benicio asks for justice:

2.204 days without her. 2.204 days missing her. #JusticeForMarielleAndAnderson

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