Five years after her death, Marielle Franco’s family continues to demand justice

Five years since her murder, the names of those behind the crime and their motives are still unknown

March 15, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Marielle Franco, a Black lesbian human rights activist and councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, was shot dead on March 14, 2018. (Photo: Jeso Carneiro)

March 14 marked five years since the assassination of Brazilian Afro-descendant, LGBTQI+ activist, human rights defender and councilwoman Marielle Franco. Hailing from the working class Maré neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Franco became a symbol of resistance against oppression.

Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes were shot dead in Rio de Janeiro on the night of March 14, 2018. While Gomes was driving Franco home from an event, their car was ambushed by another car in the Estácio neighborhood. The attackers fired several shots at Franco’s car. Franco was hit four times in the head, while Gomes was hit three times in the back.

The assassinations shook the country. From the beginning, the crime was treated as a political attack against the councilwoman. Franco who represented the rise of a black lesbian woman to the Rio de Janeiro legislature at a time when Brazil was politically dominated by conservatives.

After a year of investigation, on March 12, 2019, the civil police arrested retired police officer Ronnie Lessa and military officer Élcio Vieira de Queiroz. The Rio de Janeiro Prosecutor’s Office determined that Lessa was the alleged shooter, while Queiroz was the alleged driver of the car that chased and ambushed Franco. Evidence showed that Lessa had been monitoring the events the councilwoman attended and the crime had been planned for three months.

The investigation also revealed that Lessa and Queiroz were members of far-right militias that operate in Rio de Janeiro, with whom former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro allegedly had links. It was also revealed that Lessa’s daughter dated Bolsonaro’s youngest son Jair Renan Bolsonaro, and that Lessa and Bolsonaro were not only neighbors, but friends. 

Bolsonaro never accepted the claims regarding his involvement in Franco’s assassination, but the investigations into her murder could not be clarified during his presidency (2019-2022). The impunity shrouding the crime has been widely criticized. Five years later, Lessa and Queiróz remain the only suspects arrested in the case.

Last month, on February 22, the government of left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ordered the Federal Police to open a new investigation into Franco’s assassination. On Monday March 13, on the eve of the 5th anniversary of Franco’s brutal killing, President Lula sent a bill to the Chamber of Deputies, requesting to declare March 14 as the “National Marielle Franco Day to Combat Political Violence based on Gender and Race.”

With the entry of the Federal Police in the investigations, Franco’s family has expressed hope that those who are behind the crime and their motives will finally be revealed during the administration of President Lula.

“Without a doubt, Lula’s return to the Presidency gives us hope that we will finally find out who ordered Marielle’s death and why,” said Monica Benicio, a Rio councilwoman and Marielle’s widow.

Antonio Francisco da Silva, Marielle’s father, said: “Today, we see some light at the end of the tunnel because the Minister of Justice promised that he will endeavor to elucidate our daughter’s brutal murder,” adding that the family lived in despair during Bolsonaro’s presidency.