LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The late Gabriel Garcia-Marquez once said that the inspiration for his books came from daily life in his region. Surrealism runs through the streets, he said in an interview in 1973. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.
The story I'm going to tell you today that is one that could be ripped straight from one of his novels. It has a criminal, his lover, her lover, a murder, a court case and a medium. This is a story about Brazil. But it begins in the least romantic place you can imagine - a tiny office in an old building in a rural city called Uberaba northwest of Sao Paulo. Rondon de Lima is a lawyer with a wide, wolfish grin, slicked-back silver hair and the dapper dress sense of a man more suited to a Paris cafe than an agricultural city.
This tale begins as many do; with a relationship gone sour. In this case, her name was Lenira de Oliviera. Her man was a crime boss, the head of an illegal gambling operation here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) She was very much in love with Joao Rosa. But he couldn't be only with her. It was her and two, three other women.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oliviera started seeing another man; an ex-cop.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) But Joao Rosa, although he had other women, he doesn't accept losing Lenira.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He is consumed with jealousy. One night he follows Lenira de Oliviera and her new boyfriend. A shootout ensues but it is the crime boss and not the lovers who is killed. The ex-cop and Oliviera are charged with murder. And this is when things get otherworldly. Lenira is riven with guilt. She still loved him, you see. And so she goes to see a medium, a very famous one. And she receives a letter from Joao Rosa, the gambling kingpin from the beyond, de Lima says.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) In the letter channeled by this medium the deceased confesses. He says his jealousy was the reason for his death. The letter includes details that only people close to him could have known.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this letter is then submitted by the defense to the court to exonerate the accused. Let me repeat that - a letter, channeled by a medium, supposedly written by a murdered crime boss to his ex-lover is admitted in a Brazilian court of law.
PADILHA DE OLIVIERA: My name is Hertha Helena Rollemberg Padilha de Oliviera. I'm a judge.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Judge Hertha says, there are many cases involving spirits in Brazil.
PADILHA DE OLIVIERA: If the proof is not illegal - it's lawful - you have to accept it in the process.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if I come with a letter written by a medium from a dead person purporting that this crime wasn't committed or saying that I wasn't the person who did the crime, the judge has to accept it?
PADILHA DE OLIVIERA: He has to accept it - the proof - in the process. He can't say, take the letter away from the process - in the process, no, he can't.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think this happens here in Brazil? Do think it's because Brazil is a more spiritual society?
PADILHA DE OLIVIERA: Yes. Of course. This is a - it's a very spiritual society. Probably 90 percent of the people probably will believe in something in - some kind of a spiritual influence. And most of the - I think most of the people believe in life after death.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Life after death is one thing - being able to communicate with the dead is another. But it's an accepted practice in Brazil. To understand why, you have to delve into religion called Spiritism. Brazil has more practitioners than any place in the world, almost four million and growing. And as it happens, its center is the city where the court case took place, Uberaba.
We arrive at a modest building in a residential neighborhood where a service is being held. Its 5 a.m.
Here this morning, 80 people are huddled on this cold rainy predawn day under blankets in a sort of chapel. In the front of the room sits a man writing letters.
His name is Carlos Baccelli. He's the main medium here and he channeled the letter used in the recent court case. So briefly, if you're thinking Victorian table rapping and sÃ©ances, then actually, you aren't far wrong. But this isn't at all your neon sign advertising a palm reading for five bucks. This is a religion. No money changes hands. Spiritists believe in reincarnation but also in Jesus's gospel.
Right now some of the associate mediums are coming around to the congregation and laying their hands on them and it's supposed to be transferring spiritual energy; this all to the the tune of "Feelings."
It's suddenly my turn. A woman waves her hands over my head and upper body - I don't know if it's the power of suggestion or the music, but I feel a buzzing. All eyes are now on the podium. Baccelli starts to read out the letters he has channeled from the dead. One in particular catches my attention, it has a lot of detail.
CARLOS BACCELLI: (Speaking foreign language).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The spirit explains that he was drunk when he was hit by the car that killed him. The letter details exactly how it happened. As the message is read, a group of people next to me begin to cry.
Gisele Fernanda Bardasi tells me her husband was run over by a car four months ago. Next to her, one of her three daughters quietly sobs.
GISELE FERNANDA BARDASI: (Through translator) It is my first time here. I was desperate. I wanted to know what happened. It was a big question because we were together and suddenly we found him dead on the road.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The letter, she says, has given her comfort. At the end I ask Carlos Baccelli, the medium, if he remembers the letter he channeled that was used in the court case.
BACCELLI: (Through translator) No. Sincerely, I don't remember. The letter is given and the way the family uses it - if they keep it, throw it away or rip it - we don't know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Baccelli says, he believes that letters should only be used as a last resort in a legal case. They are written to comfort the families and sometimes even bring a little clarification. Baccelli was trained as a dentist. But he's been a medium since his youth, when he started having out of body experiences. He explains that he never knows which spirit will speak through him, or why.
BACCELLI: (Through translator) I don't know what the spirit will say. For example, I don't know how he will end a sentence. Sometimes he is writing and I'm thinking, how is this sentence going to be finished?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at the lawyer's office, Rondon de Lima tells me he used the letter because it's not the judge who decides a criminal case, but the jury. And he says, everyone in the city believes in the spirits and will take a letter like that seriously.
In the end, the lovers were indeed acquitted. But was it because of the letter? We'll never know. De Lima says there without overwhelming evidence - the forensic kind - that the ex-policeman acted in self-defense. I ask him if he believes that these letters from the dead are real.
RONDON DE LIMA: (Speaking foreign language).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do I believe, he says? I confess, I do.
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