Brazil club signs goalkeeper convicted in girlfriend's death

FILE - This April 7, 2010 file photo shows Flamengo's goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza during a soccer game in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Boa Esporte, a Brazilian soccer club, presented Souza on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, to announce his signing as goalkeeper. Souza was convicted in the killing of an ex-girlfriend, prompting outrage from many. He is free while appealing a 22-year prison sentence. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian soccer club on Tuesday presented its newest member, a goalie convicted in the killing of an ex-girlfriend, prompting outrage from many nationwide and promises by sponsors to drop out.

Boa Esporte's contract for Bruno Fernandes de Souza ignored mounting criticism in recent days after the team expressed plans to sign the former star player.

Souza was recently released from prison while he appeals a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of a former girlfriend, Eliza Samudio. A Supreme Court justice ordered his release on the grounds that his appeal to a higher court was languishing.

In a news conference transmitted by ESPN Brazil Tuesday, Souza said he was thankful for the opportunity and had been preparing himself for years to return to play.

"People run from me because of what happened in the past," said Souza, wearing a team shirt. "Boa is opening the doors (for me). I'm very happy, motivated."

At least five sponsors have said they'll drop the team in protest. The city of Varginha, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of Rio de Janeiro, also said it was looking into whether it was legally possible to break with team, which uses its facilities.

In a Facebook post, club president Rone Moraes da Costa defended the decision, saying all laws had been followed and that the second-division club was doing its part to help a man recover.

"Who has never heard (it said) that work dignifies a man?" he wrote.

Many Brazilians, from Esporte fans to women's groups, strongly disagreed, and thousands of angry comments were posted on the team's Facebook page.

"I will cheer on Boa Esporte if the team plays terribly in every game," wrote Rodrigo Marcos Costa below the club president's message. "A team that hires a killer doesn't deserve anybody's respect."

Souza, 32, previously starred for Rio de Janeiro-based Flamengo. He signed a two-year deal with Boa Esporte.

The case underscores two deep problems in Latin America's most populous nation: endemic violence toward women and a notoriously slow judicial system.

Nearly five in 100,000 women are killed each year in Brazil, giving the country one of the world's highest homicide rates for women.

Souza was convicted by a lower court in 2013 after a trial and police reports that included horrific accounts of how Samudio died: She was strangled, her body was cut up and pieces were fed to dogs.

The model went missing after she sued the goalie for child support in a public dispute that damaged Souza's image at the height of his fame. Souza, who was married, denied the child was his; DNA tests later proved he was the father.

Ultimately, Souza, two men and an ex-girlfriend of Souza were convicted in the killing.

Souza appealed his conviction to a higher court. After more than four years, Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello recently ordered Souza's release, arguing that the lack of a decision on the appeal couldn't justify indefinite detention.

Lucio Adolfo, Souza's lawyer, said that while technically it's possible that his client could be sent back to prison if the higher court rejects the appeal, he believes that possibility is remote because the Supreme Court has gotten involved.

"At this point, only the Supreme Court can decide on this case," Adolfo said.

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Follow Peter Prengaman: www.twitter.com/peterprengaman

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