São Paulo, Brazil – Brazil’s police announced on Monday that they have arrested a suspect in the 2018 murder of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes. Authorities say the arrest brings them one step closer to identifying the mastermind behind the murder of the Black, LGBTQ activist and politician.
According to authorities, Maxwell Simões Corrêa, a former firefighter from Rio de Janeiro, helped pass information about Franco’s daily routine to Ronnie Lessa, the reported hitman, who is already in jail for Franco’s murder. Corrêa is also accused of providing the hitman with the weapon used in the crime, an MP5 submachine gun allegedly taken from the special operations unit of the Rio de Janeiro police.
The arrest was made thanks to testimony from Élcio Queiroz, a former police officer who is also currently in jail for his participation in the murders. Queiroz accepted a plea bargain and has been collaborating with authorities.
Queiroz confessed his involvement in the assassination and implicated his friend of 30 years and retired police officer, Lessa, as the triggerman. Franco was shot four times in the head and Gomes three times in the back. Both died instantly.
According to Queiroz, on the night of the murders, he and Lessa were waiting for Franco to leave a social event to support the Black women’s community in central Rio de Janeiro. They were made aware of her attendance thanks to a post on Instagram.
The pair of assassins followed Franco and her driver after she left the event and ambushed them. According to Queiroz, he drove the getaway vehicle and Lessa fired the shots that killed the councilwoman and the driver.
Both Queiroz and Lessa have been in prison since 2019, and are being held in a maximum security prison in the state of Rondônia. They’re awaiting trial.
The investigation has now turned from those who carried out the murder, to those who ordered it.
Justice Minister and head of the Federal Police Flávio Dino said, “The investigation is now concluded in relation to the level of execution and there are elements for a new level, which is the investigation of the masterminds of the crime. Naturally, there are aspects that are still secret from the courts.”
Who was Councilwoman Marielle Franco?
Marielle Franco was a prominent politician, feminist, and human rights activist. She was serving as a city councillor for Rio de Janeiro when she was gunned down on March 14, 2018. The tribune in the city council was renamed following her death.
Throughout her career as a politician and activist, Franco championed the rights of minorities in Brazil including the Black and LGBTQ communities. She was also a staunch women’s rights defender and an outspoken critic of militarized police brutality across the country.
The motive for her murder has been suspected to be linked to the councilwoman’s work. Franco advocated for minority rights in Rio’s favelas, many of which are controlled by armed criminal militias. Around the time of her death, then-Public Security Secretary Richard Nunes said Franco was murdered by militiamen.
Via her social media, Franco’s sister, Minister of Racial Equality Anielle Franco, commented on the progress of the investigation.
“The murder of Marielle and Anderson was an attack on Brazilian democracy. Today we have a breakthrough in the investigation, with a president and a justice minister committed to resolving it. But we still need to move forward and find out who ordered the killing of Marielle and why,” she wrote.