Courtroom dramas are a news staple these days and Brazil has its fair share.

The Chico Mendes trial and the trials of those accused of murdering US sister Dorothy Stang, as well as that of the police involved in the massacre of landless peasants and inmates at Carandiru, captured the nation’s attention.

None, however, managed to work Brazilians into a fury like last week’s trial of Alexandre Nardoni and Ana Carolina Jatobá, the São Paulo couple accused of killing Nardoni’s 5-year old daughter Isabella by tossing her out a sixth floor window in 2005.

I wrote a piece on this for the Christian Science Monitor’s Global News Blog at the weekend but admin and personnel snafus meant it was never put online. (This is an increasingly common result of the widespreads cuts in the media business; there simply aren’t enough editors to handle all the copy.)

Here’s the piece in its entirety, a little late but still relevant.


SÃO PAULO, Brazil – The trial of Alexandre Nardoni and Ana Carolina Jatobá, the couple accused of throwing Nardoni’s 5-year old daughter Isabella to her death from a sixth floor window, has been all over the news in Brazil this week.

Unusually in today’s celebrity obsessed world there are no famous people involved. This is not Brazil’s version of the OJ Simpson trial. There’s just a dead child from a lower middle class suburb of São Paulo and a media frenzy.

The trial began Monday and has dominated public life here not just because of enormity of the offense but also because it brings together crime and children, two of the topics Brazilians feel most strongly about.

Every country has their own fallback subjects, the ones that people commonly talk about in offices, over lunch, on buses and trains. In Britain, it is the weather, while in the US it’s celebrities and television (or, more and more, technology).

In Brazil, two of the most talked about issues are crime and children. Crime is a hot button issue because Brazil is a violent society. There are perhaps 20 million illegal guns in circulation and although the murder rate is falling it is still one of the highest in the world for a country not at war.

Assaults and burglaries are common and many people live in fear. More than half of those living in São Paulo have been victims of at least one kind of crime, according to studies published last year, with one-in-five having been assaulted a gunpoint and one in six having seen their house burgled.

When it comes to children, Brazil is no different from many Latin American nations in that young ones are treated like little gods. Newcomers can be shocked how Latins revere – and defer to – their children.

(Once in Mexico City I offered my seat on the metro to a mother with two tearaway kids and an infant in her arms. When I got up, the bedraggled woman gave her seat to the boys and remained standing. I felt like removing them by the scruff of the neck and telling their mother to take the weight off her feet.)

So while mistreating a child is a heinous crime in any country it’s perhaps treated with even more outrage in Brazil.

And the outrage surrounding this trial has been huge. Hundreds of people gathered outside the courtroom this week, some traveling hundreds of miles just to be there and shout abuse. Many carried tshirts and placards with Isabella’s picture. Almost all of those screaming for justice had already decided on the couple’s guilt. One man even attacked their lawyer.

When the jury’s decision came in late Friday night the crowd got their wish. Both defendants were found guilt of aggravated homicide. Nardoni was sentenced to 31 years in jail, Jatobá to 26 years.