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Police Reenact Killing of US Executive in Brazil

Police Reenact Killing of US Executive in Brazil

Posted - Apr. 2, 2004 at 1:47 p.m.



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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Police on Friday led a 20-year-old handyman through a reenactment of the Nov. 30 killing of a native Utah couple in their high-security home.

On Thursday, Jociel Conceicao dos Santos confessed to the bludgeoning death of American Shell Oil executive Todd Staheli, 39, and his wife, Michelle, 36, but many people believe his confession raised as many questions as it answers. He has not been charged in the murders.

"His is a version that can be consistent with the truth, with a half truth or even with a lie. We'll have to wait for corroborating evidence before we know what happened," said Joao Mestieri, who had been retained as a lawyer for the Staheli children following the Nov. 30 murders.

Police said dos Santos led them to the murder weapon, a rusty crowbar, and to the clothing he says he wore during the crime -- but these articles still have to be tested for traces of blood.

Dos Santos could also be linked to the crime if his DNA matches traces of skin found beneath Michelle Staheli's fingernails, although the suspect claims not to have struggled with either of the victims.

The biggest problem with the story is motive. Dos Santos, who is black, claims the killing was revenge for Staheli calling him "crioulo," one the worst racial slurs in Brazil.

"I didn't want to rob anything. I went to get revenge. I hit him first. I regretted it after the first strike. I was going to leave but she saw me. I hit her and then I hit him again," dos Santos said at news conference Thursday.

State Security Secretary Anthony Garotinho said he was unconvinced by the motive, an opinion that was shared by nearly everybody.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the FBI, which has been accompanying the investigation, did not consider the case closed.

"We understand that this is still an ongoing investigation. The FBI continues to follow the case and remains in a position to offer continued investigative support if necessary," Wes Carrington said by telephone from Brasilia, the nation's capital.

A security guard at the complex where the Stahelis were killed echoed the thoughts of many here, suggesting it was a robbery gone awry.

"To me Jociel went in to rob and ended up killing the couple. The racism story is an excuse," Cezar Almeida told reporters gathered outside the gated community's entrance.

Almeida, who also is black, said Staheli kept to himself but did not appear to be racist.

The slain man's uncle, Elias Staheli, speaking in Utah, also said he was puzzled by everything from the caretaker's alleged motive for killing his nephew to the alleged murder weapon.

Elias Staheli said the Shell executive would "never, ever" use a racial slur. "He just wouldn't do it."

"I just doubt it myself that the caretaker would do it," Staheli said, who was surprised to learn police identified a crowbar as the murder weapon after saying for months that it was a hatchet.

At one point, early in the investigation, security secretary Garotinho suggested the murder was carried out with a small toy hatchet that belonged to one of the Staheli's children.

Following the murder, a local judged even ordered the children to remain in Brazil for questioning, but they were eventually allowed to leave.

Other theories presented by police included a possible contract hit because of Staheli's work at Shell.

Until dos Santos was arrested early Thursday morning after breaking into the house of a Greek consular official in the same complex, police were pursuing 14 lines of investigation.

Dos Santos confessed to the murders shortly after his arrest but so far has only been charged with criminal trespass.

Dos Santos said that before his arrest, he had gone to the police station twice to confess the killing but that detective in charge of investigating the crime did not have time to see him.

Staheli was vice president for joint ventures in the Southern Cone gas and power unit of Shell. He was a native of Spanish Fork, Utah. Michelle Staheli was originally from Logan, Utah. Staheli had worked for Shell London, Ukraine, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia before transferring to Rio.

Shell's spokesman in Brazil, Ricardo David, said the company did not plan to comment on the case unless the police made a declaration relating to Shell.

Although the Rio homicide rate hovers around 50 per 100,000 residents, violence rarely spills into the city's high-security condominiums.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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