At 6:30 in the morning, on the 22nd of October, 2009, in Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian State of Paraná, João Guilherme Martinho Martins pulled up in front of the home of his girlfriend, Jéssica de Andrade Casas, 21.
He was bringing her home from a party.
While they were exchanging a goodbye kiss, a young man with a pistol came up to their car.
The young man told them he was going to steal the vehicle - and told the young people to get out. João Guillerme followed his instructions and handed over the keys.
The story might have ended there -- but then things went terribly wrong.
Jessica was nervous and had trouble unfastening her seatbelt.
The thief was high on drugs.
He became impatient, lost his temper and shot her in the arm.
João Guillerme tried to intervene in her defense, and the thief shot him, too.
One of the bullets struck him in the head.
The young man died on the spot.
João Guilherme’s Dad was Colonel Jorge Luiz Thais Martins, a man who’d headed up the state’s firefighters from 2007 to 2009, when he retired.
That’s right. A colonel. In Brazil, firemen are a branch of the State Police.
That gave Jorge close ties to law-enforcement.
Hundreds attended his son’s funeral.
Hundreds more marched in the streets to protest the violence sweeping their town.
The Civil Police, charged with the investigation, promised a thorough investigation and swiftly arrested a suspect.
But they had insufficient proof – and had to let him go.
There, too, the story might have ended.
But it didn’t.
Fast forward to August of 2010. Someone started killing drug users in the neighborhood where João Guillherme was shot. Nine were murdered in the course of the next five months.
Initially, the police were stymied.
Finally they got a break: a survivor indentified a photo of a man he claimed to be the shooter.
That man was Colonel Martins.
The Colonel’s home was searched.
Ammunition was found that, allegedly, matches bullets removed from the victims.
Another witness identified a car used to commit the crimes, a Ford Escort. The Colonel owns just such an automobile.
The Colonel’s family, friends and ex-colleagues are in denial.
Jorge Martins, they say, is a man who dedicated his existence to saving lives.
Why should he now turn to taking them – whatever the provocation?
The Colonel, informed that a warrant had been taken out for his arrest, turned himself in. He denies the charges.
His lawyer denounced the accusation as “garbage” and claims his client can prove he was elsewhere when the killings occurred.
The cops, on the other hand, are convinced they’ve found their man.
They think the Colonel Martins set out to kill young drug users, one after the other, until he got the one responsible for murdering his son.
Is the Colonel innocent?
Or were the murders vengeance killings committed by a grief-stricken father?
This one sounds like a Charles Bronson movie.
But, sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.
Leighton - Monday