matters for the police
A crime of note
How Marcos Matsunaga’s murder fell into the public domainPaula Scarpin
Translated by Flora Thomson-DeVeaux
The building’s security camera captures a young, thin woman with bleached hair who pulls open the elevator door, propping it with one of the three heavy suitcases she’s toting. After pushing the other two bags in, she enters and pulls the third after her, allowing the door to swing shut. This trivial scene was broadcast to the point of exhaustion on TV, and the chances that someone living in Brazil at the turn of this century might not know the story behind it are vanishingly small. We know what was in those suitcases, who the woman is, and why, though she doesn’t look Asian, she’s best known by a Japanese surname.
The murder of Marcos Matsunaga by his wife Elize on Saturday, May 19th, 2012 was a crime without witnesses. We know that she had come back from a trip that afternoon, after three days spent visiting her ailing grandmother in the small town of Chopinzinho, Paraná, where she was born. She wanted her grandmother to meet her daughter Helena, who’d just turned one. With her was the nanny, Mauricéia dos Santos. Marcos went to pick them up at the airport. Security camera footage shows that the four arrived at the apartment late in the afternoon. It also reveals that Mauricéia left shortly afterwards – as soon as she’d given the baby a bath and put her to sleep in the cradle, according to the nanny’s testimony. The cameras inform us that the couple ordered a pizza, that Marcos went down on his own to get it, and that he was irritated, kicking the elevator wall.
What happened between that scene and the one in which Elize Matsunaga goes into the elevator dragging three suitcases, only Elize knows. Since she pled guilty, a few facts are beyond dispute: a shot was fired, and the body was dismembered. In her version, Marcos came in with the pizza, the two sat down to eat, they wound up fighting, and he slapped her. She went over to a cabinet and took out one of the many guns the couple had stashed around the house for fear of kidnappers. Her husband went after her, cursing and threatening to take sole custody of their daughter. She pulled the trigger.
Elize claims that she dragged her husband’s body to the guest room and left it locked there that night. She thought about calling the police, the aunt who raised her, or her mother-and-law, but didn’t. She didn’t want to pay for her crime, and she didn’t want to be separated from her daughter. She wanted the body to disappear. On Sunday morning, the temporary nanny came. While the woman took care of the baby on the second floor of the duplex apartment, Elize took a knife and cut the body into seven parts, right there on the guestroom floor: the two legs, severed near the knees; the groin; the torso; the two arms; and the head. She put each into a garbage bag, fit them into three suitcases, and cleaned up the scene with a household disinfectant. The next step was taking the elevator – the first scene witnessed after the crime. Witnessed by all of us.
The prosecution, backed up by autopsy reports and crime scene investigation, offered other versions of events. The most commonly repeated narrative had it that Elize shot her husband with no warning, as soon as he arrived with the pizza – and that she cut his throat while he was still breathing.
Each and every detail is scrutinized and weighed by both prosecution and defense, looking to lengthen or ease the sentence, respectively. And – though doctrine has it that what’s being judged “isn’t the person, but his or her behavior” – the events of the night of the crime aren’t the only things under scrutiny. The couple’s life together, their relationships, their tastes, their obsessions, all of it leaks into the shaping of a judgment.
Every crime features an indispensable core cast of characters. First come criminal and victim; in their wake are often police officers, specialists, and witnesses, whether eyewitnesses or not. Prosecution; defense; judge. Brazil’s penal code, like that of many other countries, sees murders and attempted murders as too serious to be evaluated by a judge alone. In these cases, a group of jurors is called up, everyday people who – after reading a summary of the case, sitting through the questioning of witnesses and the defendant and hearing the debate between prosecution and defense – answer a series of questions drawn up by the presiding judge. Based on their answers, he or she will arrive at a sentence. When the crime happens to be famous, the jurors arrive at the courthouse knowing more than they should, and with an opinion at least partially in place.
Famous crimes mark generations. They can be identified by the name of the criminal or the victim, or even the place where they happened. Older Brazilians will recall the Beast of Penha, the Panther of Minas, and the Cuba Street Crime. Those who read newspapers or kept up with newscasts in the 1990s heard the testimonies of Guilherme de Pádua and the Park Maniac. At the turn of the 21st century, we watched the trials of Suzane von Richthofen, Alexandre Nardoni, and Anna Carolina Jatobá – and Elize Matsunaga. People tend to say that what sets famous crimes apart from everyday ones is the size of the victim’s bank account. Though this bears a grain of truth, to chalk popular interest up to money alone would be to ignore the public’s penchant for grisly narratives.
When working on crimes of note, lawyers are forced to try to discredit whatever comes out in the press. Before Elize Matsunaga went to trial, we already knew that Marcos Matsunaga, the victim, was the CEO of and heir to a major food company founded by his grandfather, Yoshizo Kitano, whose name gave rise to the brand “Yoki.” That this wasn’t Marcos’ first marriage – he’d been married to a woman who worked at one of the family’s factories in Rio Grande do Sul, and had a daughter with her. That he cheated on his first wife with Elize, whom he’d met on a site for escorts, M.Class, where she was advertised as Kelly, a sweet little blonde. That the two lived together as lovers for three years before Marcos got divorced, and they got married under a partial community property system. That he collected wine and weapons, had a pet boa constrictor called Gigi, liked to hunt, and had decorated his house with the heads of his kills.
Similarly, the public – and hence the jurors as well – was well aware that Elize, the defendant, née Araújo, came from a poor family deep in the southern state of Paraná, and that she grew up in a wooden house with no indoor bathroom. That her father left when she was 3, and her mother moved to Curitiba to work as a maid. That Elize, separated from her mother, was raised by her grandparents and by her aunt, whom she considers her real mother. That at age 10 she was reunited with her mother, who came back from the state capital with a new husband. That she was abused by her stepfather and her mother didn’t believe her. That she ran away from home at age 15 and, once tracked down, asked to live with her aunt – who, three years later, convinced her niece to train as a nurse technician, a degree paid for with nickels and dimes. That after working a few months as a nurse, Elize decided that she wanted to be a lawyer. That upon finding out that a friend was paying for college by working as a prostitute, she followed the friend’s example. That a madam led her and three other escorts to move to São Paulo. That she met Marcos during her first month, and he decided to pay for an exclusive relationship with her. That they fell in love and were married in the Anglican Church, which allows divorced people to remarry. That they swore they’d start their life over, never telling anyone how they met. That they did everything together – trips, marksmanship courses, hunts – and were specializing in wine auctioning. That she had fertility treatment to get pregnant. That after their daughter was born, the relationship wasn’t the same. And that Marcos was cheating on her.
Luiz Carlos Lózio was a lifelong Yoki employee, having spent 23 years at the company by age 49. As the right-hand man of company president Mitsuo Matsunaga, he didn’t think twice when the boss made a personal request on that Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012: to go along with the family’s younger son to a police station, where he would report his brother missing. As usual, Lózio didn’t ask many questions, assuming that the president had entrusted him with such a delicate task because it was an exceptionally busy week. After months of negotiations, the company was going to be sold to the American giant General Mills for R$1.75 billion.
The missing son normally spoke with his mother on a daily basis. Misako Kitano, the elder daughter of a Japanese immigrant who made his fortune in Brazil, made no bones about the fact that Marcos was her favorite. On Monday morning, unsettled by his silence since Saturday, Marcos’ parents called Elize. She said that he’d left the previous morning, catching a cab and taking only a few pieces of clothing and somewhere between R$15,000 and R$20,000 in cash. Elize also let it be known that she had some theories about the disappearance, and suggested that they meet that night at her in-laws’ place.
At the agreed-upon time, she turned up with a DVD that had confirmed her suspicions: Marcos was cheating on her. In the video, shot by a private detective that Elize had hired, her husband could be seen kissing a dark-haired woman outside one of the couple’s favorite restaurants. Mitsuo, Mauro, and, above all, Misako were taken aback and supported Elize.
The news of the affair was, oddly enough, a relief for the family. Since the sale of Yoki had been brought up in the press when Marcos disappeared, everyone’s thoughts had turned to kidnapping. Mitsuo Matsunaga had gone so far as to consult the company lawyer, Braz Martins Neto, who in turn called on his friend, criminal lawyer Luiz Flávio D’Urso. “Get the police on it,” D’Urso said.
By the next day, though he was somewhat more at ease, the company president asked his younger son to file a report on the disappearance, but made sure that he wouldn’t go alone. Mauro has severe cardiac arrhythmia, and at age 39 was recovering from his second heart surgery. Two years younger than Marcos, he was no longer as close to his brother as when they were teenagers. Closer to his father and more of a “factory floor” man, he worked as the industrial director at company headquarters in São Bernardo do Campo, in the São Paulo metropolitan area, while Marcos managed exports from the office in Pinheiros, an upscale neighborhood in the heart of the city.
The brothers were diametrically opposed, and by that point they hardly knew one another. Mauro is timid and fragile-looking. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t party, and is still married to his high school sweetheart. He had no idea that Marcos, in addition to a wine cellar valued at somewhere around R$2 million, had a collection of nearly 30 weapons, including a Thompson submachine gun and a PPK pistol. He didn’t know about the boa constrictor; nor was he aware of his brother’s predilection for escorts. And, of course, he didn’t know how Marcos met Elize.
To accompany his younger son, Mitsuo Matsunaga immediately thought of Lózio. A diligent employee faithful to the Matsunagas, he also had friends in the police force. As soon as Lózio received his mission, he called Valter Sérgio de Abreu, a section police chief and long-time friend, who agreed to meet that very morning at the headquarters of the homicide division (also known as the DHPP). Though it didn’t fall under his purview, Abreu made a point of introducing them to the section police chief over at Missing Persons, in the Anti-Kidnapping Division, where they filed a report.
Every time he meets a new member of the force, reporter Lucas Martins passes over his cell phone number and asks the person to get in touch whenever he or she hears about a case. “Brasil Urgente covers a really broad variety of cases, and it’s in everybody’s interest: police officers love being on Datena,” he said, referring to the hugely popular daytime crime show based in São Paulo. When we met, he was on break from work at the Bandeirantes network. Born in Santos, Martins has a surfer’s bearing and even now, having worked on the show for nearly 10 years, exudes all the enthusiasm of a beginner. In 2012, having built up a considerable network of contacts, Martins got a call from a municipal police officer who went by Domingues, whom he’d met while covering a minor story near his home in Cotia. Since then, Domingues had been contacting the reporter whenever a new case seemed sensational.
The story on May 22nd was unprepossessing: a leg in a plastic bag had been found near a back road in Caucaia do Alto, about 50 kilometers west of downtown São Paulo. “Dismemberments are normally tied to organized crime, and Brasil Urgente’s audience prefers stories with a bit of a soap-opera narrative – involving family, say,” Martins explained. But Domingues persisted: this didn’t look like gang violence to him. The precision with which the knee had been cut, the well-cared-for toenails – and, above all, the leg’s pale skin – had initially led officers to think that it had fallen off a mannequin. This argument was more than sufficient to set off Lucas Martins’ radar. When he arrived at the station, he found that alongside the leg, the police had found an identical plastic bag containing clothing that had likely belonged to the victim. Though the trash bags were an ordinary blue, they had a red drawstring. This feature, while not exactly uncommon, only tends to be found in more upscale supermarket chains. “What caught my attention was the Diesel jeans. I Googled it: they cost over R$600!” said Martins. “I thought: this guy had money. This story is going places.” His editor didn’t seem as convinced of the story’s potential, and shelved the piece.
Martins fought “to the limit” to get the story on the air, and his eagerness eventually won out. On the next day, Wednesday, May 23rd, four days after the crime, Band Network viewers saw the leg – strategically blurred to as to diminish the shock factor – as the reporter’s nasal voice narrated: “A macabre jigsaw puzzle: pieces of a life abandoned along dirt roads in Cotia, in the São Paulo metropolitan area, that come together to form a mystery.” To give a sense of the victim’s wealth, Marcos described the pieces of clothing in the other bag. In addition to the Diesel jeans, he informed, the victim’s “long-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo is also an expensive item, at around R$300 in stores. These new white briefs are also brand-name.” As new parts of the body turned up, the police kept Martins updated, and he produced a second, longer segment the following day.
On the morning of Thursday, May 24th, the company to which Marcos Matsunaga was one of the heirs was sold. The family was in no mood to celebrate. While it seemed most likely that he was in the arms of his lover, the kidnapping hypothesis hadn’t been discarded altogether. If that were the case, the news that the billion-dollar deal had gone through would be the cue for kidnappers to make themselves known.
On Friday, six days after the crime, and still with no sign of his older brother, Mauro – Lózio again at his side – returned to homicide division headquarters. The investigation hadn’t moved forward.
That same day, the director of the division, Jorge Carrasco, called in section chief Mauro Gomes Dias to evaluate a case. While outside the jurisdiction of the city of São Paulo, the file had been sent over to him by the state department of public security with an eye to potential media coverage. Parts of a dismembered body had been showing up in Cotia. When he saw the photos of the victim’s legs and groin on his superior’s computer screen, Dias hazarded: “This looks like a crime of passion. And whoever made those cuts knows something about anatomy.”
The following day, Saturday, May 26th, one week after the crime, Mauro Matsunaga and Luiz Carlos Lózio went to Marcos’ apartment building, looking for clues in the footage from the internal security cameras. They had called in Paolo Boria, who worked under Marcos in the exports sector at Yoki and his only friend from the workplace. With shoulder-length hair and an array of well-cut suits, Boria shared a taste for wine and women with his boss. He was the last of the three to have spoken to Marcos, precisely a week earlier.
Boria knew that, after a monogamous spell, his friend had started cheating on Elize again – he said that he couldn’t stand her huffing around after the birth of their daughter. Why did his wife complain so much, when she had money, a nanny, and a maid? Marcos couldn’t understand it, and so he’d “just said fuck it.” Boria also knew that, while Elize was visiting her grandmother in Paraná, Marcos had felt just fine, smoking his cigars poolside and going out to see his young lover whenever he liked. The Saturday before, just as he was going off to the airport, Boria’s boss had sent him a message: “Heading out to pick up the nutjob.”
Elize Matsunaga was cordial with her visitors, arranging for the sub-superintendent to let them see the security camera footage for the elevators and the lobby. At first they focused on the recordings between nine and eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, the time that Marcos had allegedly left home. No sign of him. Since Elize might have remembered wrongly, they started pushing the time frame back and forth, and before long they’d gone through all of Sunday. No Marcos. They did see the nanny come by in the morning, however, and Elize go down with the three suitcases around 11 o’clock – and come back without them, nearly 12 hours later. She said she’d gone to deliver a large order of wines.
At a certain point, the sub-superintendent, who was observing them and growing fed up with the visitors’ evident lack of suspicion, burst out: “You have to explain just why we’re seeing footage of you and none of your husband!” Elize started to cry, and Mauro, her brother-in-law, tried to smooth things over. Of course there had to be some explanation. To break the tension, he suggested that they order a pizza. It was late, and they were hungry and tired.
They said goodbye to the sub-superintendent and went up to the apartment. Lózio recalls that Elize, shaken by the insinuation, spent dinner in silence and wound up snapping when Paolo Boria raised his voice. The mood, which had hardly been relaxed to begin with, became unbearable. Lózio took the dishes into the kitchen. As he threw the pizza crusts in the trash, he noticed that the trash bag – blue, like so many others – had a red drawstring.
On Monday, May 28th, nine days after the crime, Lucas Martins was on air with his third piece about the dismembered body from Cotia. Right at the start of that day’s Brasil Urgente, the reporter announced that the head had been found, and the victim appeared to be of Japanese descent. From the studio, host José Luiz Datena fumed: “All these terrible, horrific crimes, and we keep on just giving criminals a slap on the wrist.”
Distraught, Luiz Carlos Lózio called his section chief friend, Valter de Abreu. He had just seen a news segment on a man of Japanese descent dismembered in Cotia. Abreu spoke to the section chief for the municipality, who soon emailed him a photo of the head found the day before. Then he asked Lózio and Mauro Matsunaga to come to the homicide division and see the image for themselves.
Shortly afterwards, both arrived. Lózio was the first to see the photo, and it left no doubt in his mind. The skin was already stained with decay, but he immediately recognized the features of his boss’s older son. Trying to hide this sense of certainty, he tilted the screen towards Mauro. “What do you think?” he asked. “I think it’s not him,” the younger brother said, taking an iPad out of his bag and displaying a picture of Marcos. His eyes flitted from the computer screen to the iPad. That disfigured head on the stainless steel table couldn’t possibly be Marcos, who was smiling out of his company headshot. “It’s not him, is it? What do you think?” The question was directed at Lózio, the section chief, and the policemen who had come into the office. Nobody dared to say what everyone was thinking. The pair went straight to the Cotia morgue.
Once again, Mauro failed to identify the severed head before him and took out the iPad. Silence once again. “I think it’s Marcos, Mauro. Ninety-nine percent sure,” said Lózio mournfully. As disbelief slid into despair, Mauro asked to see the body’s hands. “My brother has fingernails just like mine,” he said. The only arm that investigators had turned up was the most damaged part of all – it had been found in the mouth of a dog, the owner of which couldn’t stop it from biting off a piece of flesh. The morgue employee asked if he was sure that he wanted to be exposed to the sight of the limb. Mauro did. And even then, he was unsure. It was only when he saw the feet that he recognized that the remains did, indeed, belong to his brother. When Mauro, by then in a daze, called his father, he repeated Lózio’s turn of phrase: “Ninety-nine percent sure.”
On that very Monday, just after airing the segment about the case, Lucas Martins turned to following up on the investigation. Thirteen days had passed since the crime. The show was a long one, and he hoped to be able to reveal the identity of the dismembered body that afternoon. His sources at the Cotia police station swore that the victim had been identified: it was one of the heirs to Yoki. A few phone calls got him in touch with Luiz Flávio D’Urso, who was already starting to speak on the family’s behalf. Before that day’s show ended, the lawyer confirmed the tip. With a proud smile, Lucas Martins said that he was the first to report the news, live, alongside Datena. “As soon as we put it out, articles started popping up on Folha Online, G1… everyone had them written up, just waiting for confirmation to hit ‘enter.’ But we got there first.”
Martins wasn’t the only one to get the news from employees at the Cotia police station that afternoon. Section chief Mauro Dias Gomes, from São Paulo’s homicide division, had contacted the Cotia staff days earlier; he was following the case at a distance and wanted to be kept abreast of any developments. As soon as he heard the news, he ordered that the person responsible for identifying the body should be questioned immediately. Mauro Matsunaga, with Lózio still at his side, went back to the DHPP. By the weekend, the pair would be questioned another three times.
In the week that followed the identification of Marcos Matsunaga’s body, Dias took it upon himself to interrogate all the people mentioned by the victim’s brother and by Lózio. Looking to waste no time, he mobilized his investigators and sent them to Cotia, the victim’s apartment building, the offices of the private detective hired by Elize, and to the hotel where Marcos had been seen with his lover on the eve of his murder. Upon hearing from Mauro that his sister-in-law had worked as a nurse, Dias formally requested that the judge responsible for the case in Cotia issue a search warrant for the couple’s apartment and authorize the release of her cell phone records.
On the morning of Monday, June 4th, warrant in hand, Dias awoke to a bombshell: an article in the Folha de S. Paulo said that investigations pointed to a group of military policemen who “allegedly served on the businessman’s personal security detail.” The piece was by André Caramante, one of the most experienced investigative reporters in Brazil, with a particular interest in matters involving police conduct. If the crime had already called for special attention by virtue of the victim’s social status, things were now doubly urgent, as the case threatened to strike at the already embattled image of São Paulo’s military police.
Armed with his search warrant, the section chief called the Forensic Science Institute (Instituto de Criminalística) and asked that a team of crime scene investigators be put on alert. He also drew up an arrest warrant, to be sent to the Cotia judge and the public prosecutor’s office that very day, if necessary. Upon arriving at Elize Matsunaga’s apartment, he tried to pry a confession out of her straightaway. He showed her the security footage and told her he knew everything, but she denied it. Dias asked her to bring him the clothes she was wearing on Sunday. At a certain point she left the room to tend to the baby, who was crying. Dias asked the nanny for a bag to hold the clothes. The bag that she brought back was blue plastic, with a red drawstring. When Elize came back, Dias, in a theatrical gesture, tugged on the red drawstring and pulled the mouth of the bag shut. “This doesn’t remind you of anything?” he asked the widow. Yet another denial.
Dias got on the phone. He placed a call asking that the arrest warrant be sent along, and then ordered the team of crime scene investigators to come over. He reported that, after hanging up the phone, he said to Elize: “Playtime’s over. You’re under investigation.” She asked to call her lawyer.
Elize Matsunaga has a bachelor’s degree in law from the Universidade Paulista, known as UNIP. A few days before the police knocked at her door, feeling that they were closing in on her, she had placed a call to her criminal law professor, Luciano Santoro. When they met up, Elize told him that her husband was missing, that his family was extremely wealthy and had already hired a lawyer, and that she wanted someone to guide her. Santoro advised that the police would probably search her house, and that until then there wasn’t much to be done. As they said goodbye, he promised to show up as soon as the investigators did.
On the afternoon that Elize was told that she was now a suspect, her former professor kept his word and showed up at the apartment even before the forensics team. Dias, the section chief, received the young lawyer – 34 at the time of the crime – as if he were the man of the house, and informed him that the arrest warrant for his client was on the way. When Santoro asked to speak privately with Elize, the section chief let them alone for as long as they liked – but not before suggesting to her that she confess. “You’ll feel a weight off your shoulders.”
The forensic investigation would take a while; the sun was still out, and Luminol, a reagent that reveals traces of blood, can only be seen in the dark. Luciano Santoro and Elize Matsunaga spoke for nearly two hours. In that time, Dias seized over 30 weapons from the couple’s apartment, as well as gun accessories and ammunition. By the time the forensics team rang the bell, he had an idea of where to start: the tub in the couple’s bathroom. He was thinking of the case of plastic surgeon Farah Jorge Farah, who dismembered a patient in his bathtub in 2003. “Investigation is a cumulative science, and you wind up associating similar cases,” he would explain later. Elize left the conversation with her lawyer still maintaining that she knew nothing, and they both followed along as the forensics team swept the apartment. They spent nearly all the Luminol on the first floor of the duplex, with no luck. No traces in the bathtub, nothing in the couple’s bedroom.
At daybreak, Elize Matsunaga was sent to the Itapevi Penitentiary. Mauro Gomes Dias said that he rested for no more than an hour or two before going back to the DHPP. The Cotia judge had only conceded five days of preventive custody, out of the thirty Dias had requested. Time was scarce. On Tuesday, Dias interrogated Elize’s aunt, Roseli de Araújo, who had come up from Paraná, as well as the temporary nanny. He also sent an investigator to the widow’s cell phone company with authorization to reveal her call records. “They were following the case in the press, and everyone cooperated,” he explained. When Dias received the records for the coordinates of Elize’s phone calls on that Sunday, May 20th, they gave cause for celebration: the locations matched the places where the body parts had been found. “She was calling the nanny the whole time,” Dias said, “wanting to know how her daughter was.” Before heading home, he sent a request to Itapevi for Elize to be taken for a hearing the following day.
On that Tuesday afternoon, nearly 20 days after the crime, the parts of Marcos Matsunaga’s body found in Cotia (the right arm never turned up) were buried in the Cemitério São Paulo, in the neighborhood of Pinheiros. To avoid harassment by reporters, almost none of his relatives went. Only his father, Mitsuo, and his brother Mauro were in attendance, alongside their lawyer, Luiz Flávio D’Urso, who had been serving as the family’s spokesman since June 1st. On that day, D’Urso had tasked eight lawyers from his firm – three of them children of his – to request access to and copies of the case records whenever they deemed it necessary.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 6th, Luciano Santoro realized just how massive the case that had fallen into his lap was. When he arrived with his client at the DHPP, they had to move through a seething mass of journalists; the jostling was so energetic that Santoro wound up breaking the turnstile as he stumbled into the building. The section chief welcomed them by brandishing a map of the coordinates for Elize’s phone calls superimposed on a map of where the body parts had been found. He allowed the two of them to speak privately, and once again advised Elize to come clean: “You can bottle it up inside you, but it’ll only do you more harm.” Shortly afterwards, Santoro left the room and went to find Dias. “She’s going to confess.” Dias insisted on getting the confession on video. “If not, the media will come in and say that she confessed under torture,” he explained.
Dias requested that the IC undertake a simulated reproduction of events (in Portuguese, the latest preferred terminology for “reenactment of the crime”). Meanwhile, DHPP director-general Jorge Carrasco called a press conference in which he proclaimed: “It was rumored that the couple’s security detail was suspected of taking part in the crime. That is not possible, however, as husband and wife had no personal bodyguards.” One fewer blemish on the military police’s record.
Mauro Gomes Dias and Luciano Santoro were in attendance for the simulated reproduction. In the video, shot by the IC, lawyer and section chief are seen to be speaking in a back room as Elize plays herself on the night of the crime, with a police officer in the role of Marcos. Crime scene investigator Ricardo Salada directs the scene, keeping to the script laid out in Elize’s confession at the DHPP. Just when Elize points a gun-shaped piece of wood at the officer/Marcos, Salada asks: “Did you see hate in his eyes?” She answers in the affirmative, but he presses on. “Because, from where I’m standing, I can’t tell if a Japanese guy is angry or asleep.”
As soon as they had reenacted the scene of the shooting, the police officer was replaced by a mannequin. When the doll was laid out on the ground, Salada asked if Marcos’ head had fallen onto the rug at the end of the hallway. Elize said no – which meant that the victim was probably closer to her than the reenactment suggested. “A little bit forward, a little bit back, doesn’t make a difference,” Salada said, undercutting the importance of the distance between Marcos and Elize – a distance that would become hugely controversial during the trial. In theory, the closer the shot is fired, the less chance the victim has of defending him- or herself. After the reenactment, the Luminol did its job, turning up vestiges of blood along the entire path described by Elize, although she’d tidied up the scene and the maid had since cleaned the apartment every day for eighteen days.
Elize Matsunaga asked not to be filmed reenacting the dismemberment of her husband: she claimed that she didn’t want her daughter to see the footage years later. The technical report drawn up by the IC and the photos attached to the case file suggest that the finer details of methodology fell by the wayside: Elize is seen standing with a wooden knife in hand, demonstrating roughly where she cut the body.
During the trial, much would be said of the precision of the cuts. The knees seemed to have been severed by a surgeon, and the cut across the abdomen showed a mastery of anatomy, as it preserved all the organs; but the shoulders and the neck were less deftly cut, and could have been the work of an amateur or someone extremely worn out.
The police’s negligence when it came to the finer points of the dismemberment would lead to much speculation. In what order did Elize cut up the body? What instrument did she use? A ceramic knife, which would stay sharp for longer? The electric saw that she had bought just beforehand, on her trip to Paraná, alleging that it would be useful for opening crates of wines? And, above all: how could she have learned how to cut so skillfully? While studying to be a nurse technician? Elize’s incomplete testimony would ultimately lead to the prosecution’s suspicion that a third party was involved. Since the security camera footage of the elevator – analyzed to the point of exhaustion – failed to show this alleged accomplice, some suggested that a doctor living in the apartment building might have aided Elize.
It seems odd that the factor that was most shocking in the eyes of the eyes of the public should have received so little attention during the investigation. If Elize had just shot Marcos and left it at that, the story would in all likelihood never have become famous. But in the eyes of the police and the justice system, dismemberment is a minor offense: for the crime of destruction and concealment of a body, Brazilian law stipulates a sentence of one to three years. Since the matter of who had committed the homicide itself was settled, the secondary offense didn’t seem so important. The concealment of the body wasn’t even part of the reenactment of the crime. The police were in a hurry.
On that same Wednesday, June 6th, a report from medical examiner Jorge Pereira de Oliveira was attached to the case file, following an autopsy conducted at the Cotia morgue. Then vice-director of the São Paulo city morgue, Oliveira, 71 – he was forced to retire by virtue of age limits three years ago – may have examined over 5,000 cadavers over his many years on the job. His work had never sparked quite this much interest, however.
When he first received one of Marcos Matsunaga’s legs, Oliveira had no way of knowing if the rest of the body would be found. Accordingly, he wrote up a report indicating that the cause of death was unknown. He would do the same for subsequent parts (groin, left arm, and the other leg), attaching addenda to the initial report. When the victim’s thorax was found, Oliveira observed signs of hematoid material in the lungs. Since the man’s throat had been cut, the cause of death, he reasoned, must have been asphyxiation by aspiration of blood. Days later, when the head appeared, Oliveira noted the path taken by the bullet fired by Elize and made one last addition to the report, including a second cause of death: gunshot wound to the head.
At the underequipped Cotia morgue, Oliveira made use of the material at his disposal. With a visual inspection, he identified “tattooing” around the gunshot wound – powder marks with subcutaneous penetration that indicate a point-blank shot. These markings can often be confused with so-called “false tattooing,” where the powder marks remain at the surface of the skin, in a pattern typical of mid-range shots. The precise distance could only be determined with a microscopic analysis of the layers of the affected skin, an examination which was not requested.
Oliveira calculated the trajectory of the bullet using a “stiletto,” a probe inserted into the wound, concluding that it had been fired from left to right, front to back, and downward. That might mean that Marcos was seated, kneeling, lying down (in other words: helpless), or that he ducked his head instinctively in an attempt to save himself. The method, which rests on the belief that the path carved out by the bullet remains intact, has been criticized for at least 30 years by researchers who say that flesh settles back into shape after a shot is fired. An alternative method would be to take an X-ray, but the machine at the morgue was undergoing maintenance and no one requested that the body be transferred to another unit.
Public prosecutor José Carlos Cosenzo is a short, bald man with a voice that recalls the tone used by actors dubbing the Mexican TV show El Chavo in Brazil. A die-hard football fan, he tends to favor the sports section in any given newspaper. On an afternoon in 2014 at his office, he said that he knew almost nothing about the Matsunaga case until it was assigned to him. A little less than a week before Elize’s second stay in preventive custody was about to expire, Cosenzo was leaving the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, where he attends a graduate program, when he was surprised by a gaggle of reporters. When the case was transferred from Cotia to São Paulo, it had gone to the 5th Circuit and wound up on his desk in the process.
“I knew what little I’d seen on television, where she sold that image of herself as the long-suffering wife, the real victim in the story,” he said. His perspective changed completely when he read in the autopsy that one of the causes of death was asphyxiation by aspiration of blood. “She cut his throat while he was alive!” he exclaimed, eyes wide. When Cosenzo called his mother to tell her that he would be prosecuting the case, he got his ears boxed. “You’re going to accuse that poor thing? I saw on TV that the Japanese fellow was awful to her!” The phone call had a crucial effect as Cosenzo drew up the indictment, to be presented to the judge within three days: “I could have put it into a two-page complaint, but I preferred to write 27. I was going to take off the long-suffering mask she was putting on.”
The indictment opens by saying that this is “one of the most notorious crimes in the history of this land, not only by virtue of the victim’s social status […] but above all due to the exquisite cruelty with which it was performed, never seen before even by medical examiners.” Elize is described as a “deceitful person,” “a former escort,” who acted “in a vile, foul, disgusting, repugnant manner” and “carved up the body as if it were on the block at a butcher’s shop.” Her plan, he wrote, was “to let time pass, escape prosecution and get rich along with her daughter. Nice try!” His strategy worked. Around nine o’clock that Tuesday night, Cosenzo received a call from his mother. “I’m sorry, son, you were right. I heard the newscaster saying that she killed him because she wanted his money,” the prosecutor recalled her saying, with a chuckle.
Cosenzo’s complaint proposed that the defendant be charged with intentional homicide, with the aggravating circumstances that she had acted on “base motives,” using a cruel method, and that the victim had been unable to defend himself. While the first aggravating circumstance was based on rhetoric – that beyond her fear of being separated from her husband’s wealth, Elize acted out of revenge – the other two were backed up by the medical examiner and the forensic specialist’s reports: a point-blank shot would have made it impossible for Marcos to defend himself, and asphyxiation would be proof of a cruel method.
Shortly before José Carlos Cosenzo presented the indictment to the judge, D’Urso, named deputy prosecutor, was already testing out his firepower. On June 14th, the afternoon crime show Cidade Alerta, on the Record network – which competes with Band’s Brasil Urgente – came out with what it called a new development in the Yoki case. “Here’s what I’m going to do,” host Marcelo Rezende announced. “Rather than speak myself, I’m going to turn to the president of the São Paulo section of the Order of Brazilian Lawyers, one of the finest criminal lawyers in the country, Luiz Flávio D’Urso, who’s a friend of mine. He’s going to explain how Elize killed Marcos.” Rezende only clarified that D’Urso was the Matsunaga family’s lawyer after his guest had already spoken at length about how the victim had his throat cut while still alive. The six-minute interview paved the way for Cosenzo’s explosive indictment.
Luciano Santoro, Elize Matsunaga’s lawyer, was expecting to defend her on a charge of “simple homicide,” as the Brazilian system refers to it, and was taken aback by the three aggravating circumstances. “You’ve got to recognize when you’re just not good enough at something, and that was my case when it came to forensics,” he said one afternoon last November, in the office that he shares with his wife in Jardins. Santoro says he’s “not a trial lawyer,” with a career that has been focused on teaching and academic life – he’s currently finishing up his Ph.D. at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo.
When he was interviewed by Antonio Carlos Prado, editor-in-chief of the magazine IstoÉ, Santoro heard that Prado could introduce him to Roselle Soglio, who had helped defend the Nardoni family – another notorious case in which husband and wife were accused of beating the man’s five-year-old daughter and throwing her from a sixth-floor window. Soglio was both an expert in forensics and a veteran in dealing with the press, a skill set that Santoro still needed to work on. (Days earlier, when invited to appear on A Tarde é Sua, a live show hosted by journalist Sônia Abrão, he found out upon arriving at RedeTV!’s studios that he would be sharing the couch with a pai de santo [a priest or spirit medium in one of several Afro-Brazilian religions] who claimed that Elize had consulted him just before committing the crime. He fled the studio; the result was that Abrão criticized her absent guest throughout the program.)
Before going with Roselle Soglio, Santoro was contacted by many lawyers looking to work with him. “There were those who came to give me advice on how to defend her and some who wanted to talk directly with Elize, to pull a fast one on me,” he said. “One lawyer said he’d been sent by Elize’s father, but he was dead!” He wound up choosing Soglio not only for her experience, but because he realized that they were in agreement as to the defense strategy. While Santoro would take it upon himself to shore up Elize’s image as a good wife and mother, someone who had committed a crime on impulse, having been provoked by her husband, Soglio would set about picking apart the technical aggravating circumstances.
Though both were grateful to the IstoÉ editor for introducing them, the lawyers say they’re no longer in touch with him. According to Santoro, Prado took offense when the defense gave fresh material to another vehicle and stopped taking his calls, favoring quotes from the prosecution from then on.
Neither Soglio nor Santoro wished to go into detail as to how much they were being paid to defend Elize Matsunaga. They don’t deny that working on the case has raised their profiles, nor that their time in the spotlight can be good publicity, but both suggested that the defendant is able to pay for at least a part of their services. “She has means of her own. She made money as an auctioneer, and she has a large wine collection,” said Roselle Soglio on one November afternoon.
Soglio specializes in financial crimes and traffic accidents. Like Santoro, she doesn’t see herself as a jury lawyer – by her most recent count, she’s only addressed some ten juries in all. The Isabella Nardoni and Elize cases, however, gave her national attention. In September 2013, she was interviewed by late-night host Jô Soares, who couldn’t resist cracking a joke about the client who “made hash of her husband.”
Shortly before the interview, Elize Matsunaga’s lawyers had submitted a request for the body to be exhumed, alleging that the autopsy report was flawed. A new forensic examination, even almost a year later, might overturn certain conclusions, or at least cast doubt on them – particularly as regarded the distance at which the shot was fired and the possibility that Marcos might have survived it. The judge accepted the request and followed the process closely, as did Roselle Soglio and José Carlos Cosenzo. In addition to the director of the city morgue, two other coroners took part – one working for the defense and one for the prosecution.
An enthusiast of forensic pathology, Soglio is unfazed by the nature of the work. Cosenzo was nearly sick in the morgue, as his colleague later recalled with a hearty laugh. “I was really taken aback. But the worst is the smell! I even cut my nose hairs – it seemed like the smell had burrowed in,” Cosenzo recalled. “I’m not like certain people who love that sort of thing,” he said meaningfully.
There is something childish in the way that the two lawyers taunt one another. And a clear element of theater. The prosecutor is given to shout that his colleague is “a pain in the neck” in the middle of a hearing. She, for her part, pokes fun at his diminutive stature. With more than a year to go before the trial, Cosenzo jokingly asked that she not show up in high heels, so as not to humiliate him – Soglio is 5’9”. “I’m going to go with a different pair of Louboutins every single day. All you’re going to see is my red soles,” she shot back. Later on, she justified herself: “With those robes covering up everything, you’ve got to go the extra mile with accessories and shoes.”
The results of the exhumation were inconclusive. While the prosecution’s report upheld the original autopsy, the defense reported that the shot had been fired at medium range, and that Marcos died instantly. Based on this evaluation, the defense tried multiple times to have Jorge Pereira de Oliveira’s autopsy – the one concluding that the victim had been asphyxiated – removed from consideration. The judge denied the request, saying that the jurors ought to have access to all the reports.
Over the four and a half years that separated the crime from the trial, Elize Matsunaga’s name was never far from the spotlight. One of the reasons for this was José Carlos Cosenzo’s insistence on trying to prove that she had help from an accomplice. In February 2014, a new investigation was opened up to find this potential co-defendant. On his own, and without the presence of the defendant, Cosenzo decided to simulate the part of the crime left out by the reenactment: the distribution of the trash bags. He assigned twelve police cars to drive along the back road in Cotia in search of signs that the defendant might have been unable to dispose of the body without assistance. And, of course, he alerted the press. The investigation is still ongoing.
In October of the same year, the Folha de S. Paulo published an article by Rogério Pagnan, reporting that Suzane von Richthofen – convicted of having her parents murdered in 2002 – had been wed, while in prison, to an inmate named Sandra Regina Gomes. Gomes, it was said, had been previously married to Elize Matsunaga, and Suzane had come between them in a less than amicable separation. This latest development led to no few comparisons to Orange is the New Black, and inspired a series of memes. Later on, in an interview on the pilot episode of Gugu Liberato’s show on the Record network, Suzane and Sandra confirmed the story. Elize’s lawyers responded that, “while she has nothing against homosexual relationships,” their client denied having been involved with Sandra or any other inmate.
In late September of this year, 5th Circuit judge Adilson Paukoski Simoni set Elize Matsunaga’s trial to begin in two months’ time, on Monday, November 28th. The announcement, accompanied by an estimate that the trial would take at least five days, was widely divulged. Jurors were advised to bring a few changes of clothes, since they, like the witnesses, would remain incommunicado during the process and would sleep in dormitories on site.
By eight o’clock in the morning on November 28th, over 100 people were lined up outside the Fórum Criminal Mário Guimarães, in Barra Funda, São Paulo. Unlike the trials of Suzane von Richthofen or the Nardonis, these were not rubberneckers, nor were they organized into cheering sections for or against the defendant. This audience, dressed in business casual and with more than a few attendees clutching copies of the penal code, was mainly made up of law students who, whether out of their own interest or at the suggestion of a professor, had come to watch the trial.
Meanwhile, teams from all the basic cable networks had already set up in the parking lot outside the courthouse, awaiting the lawyers for the first press conferences. With a group of producers, reporters, and cameramen that numbered about a dozen, Globo had the largest contingent. Journalist José Roberto Burnier, famous for reporting the most sought-after stories, was the last to arrive, frustrating his Globo colleagues who might have hoped for camera time.
As press credentials were handed out, producers attempted to negotiate the live transmission of at least part of the proceedings. “We’ll do a network pool, like we did for the trial of Mércia Nakashima’s murderer,” one Globo employee suggested, recalling another famous crime. He proposed that a single camera film inside the courtroom and distribute the footage to all of the networks. The courtroom’s press liaison promised to pass the request on to the judge.
Before the trial began, photographers and camerapeople were able to capture a few images of Elize and the legal teams. Her hair longer, darker and pulled back into a ponytail, the defendant looked visibly aged and intimidated, head hung low. Over the protests of prosecutor José Carlos Cosenzo, the judge authorized her to wear something other than her prison jumpsuit and handcuffs. Roselle Soglio had brought in black flats and a suit bought for the occasion. “She put on weight in Trembembé [Prison], nothing of hers would fit,” Soglio would say later. Shortly after the photos were published, Twitter users could be seen commenting on how the defendant was “a mess,” or that she had gotten fat.
Plenary no. 10, the largest room in the courthouse, is an auditorium that can seat up to 270 people, with the seats split into three sections. The right-hand section, positioned in front of the jury box, is reserved for the press and courthouse employees; the other two are open to the public, except for the first two rows, set aside for the other members of the prosecution and defense teams, who sit in the center and on the left, respectively.
In the row for Elize’s defense team were a few of Roselle Soglio and Luciano Santoro’s interns. The only family member of the defendant’s, her aunt Roseli, had been called as a witness and was thus in isolation – as was the case with the victim’s brother, Mauro. Rumor had it that the rest of the Matsunaga family was following along from abroad. Center row, however, looked for all the world like the VIP section of the courtroom: it was there that the judge’s wife and the prosecutor’s daughter sat when they showed up. The real regulars, however, were the D’Urso family – plus Paolo Boria, Marcos’ friend from work, smiling, evidently at ease, and dressed like a modern-day dandy.
On that Monday night, the plane crash that killed most of the football team Chapecoense shifted the coverage of the case. By the next morning, the crews from several networks had been pared down. José Roberto Burnier was sent to Chapecó. Valmir Salaro, a senior reporter for Fantástico, went along to follow the case since he’d been following it from the start. He was pessimistic about his chances of getting a segment on that Sunday’s show, however, predicting that it would be wholly devoted to the plane crash – as would, indeed, be the case.
Besides Elize’s aunt and Marcos’ brother, the witness stand was occupied by a series of characters of varying importance in the plot: two college friends of the defendant’s, the nannies, the maid, and Luiz Carlos Lózio. Members of the investigative team were also questioned, including medical examiner Jorge Pereira de Oliveira and the other two who oversaw the exhumation of the body. The defense’s expert, Sami El Jundi, spoke for eleven and a half hours, laying out scientifically convincing theories that perfectly fit the hypothesis that the shot was fired at a considerable distance and the body was only cut up hours later.
Whenever a specialist was brought before the judge, the prosecution requested that pictures of the dismembered corpse be shown. On the first day, a juror felt ill and the judge allowed her to go to the bathroom. Over the course of the week, however, those present grew used to the images, and by the end no one seemed affected by them. On the contrary, many in attendance, afraid of losing their seats if they left for a bite to eat, nibbled at snacks inside the auditorium as the photos of the autopsy and the exhumation were shown on the big screen.
A few more enterprising law students found a way to pass a card or a note with a suggestion for an argumentative tack for a member of the defense or the prosecution, in hopes of finagling an internship. One literature student, however, didn’t seem interested in the legal teams’ performance. The founder of the “Support Community for Elize Matsunaga” on Facebook, she asked that her identity not be revealed so as to not to displease the defendant (with whom she had exchanged a few letters). Created in September of 2012, the community has 219 members and practically all the posts – which garner an average of 10 likes – are produced by the administrator herself. These are generally photos taken from press coverage, plus some inspirational message, such as “Hang in there, Elize.” The student, who had gotten off work to follow the trial, calls herself a feminist and considers the defendant a victim of domestic violence who wound up fighting back.
After six hours in line, the community administrator entered the courtroom. Visibly restless, she tried to get as close as possible to the defendant, changing seats whenever someone got up. “I can’t stand seeing her suffer anymore,” she said just before leaving to catch the last bus home. Later, she sent a message via WhatsApp: “I think she’s gotten even prettier.”
Sunday marked the start of the cross-examination of Elize Matsunaga, the most hotly anticipated moment in the trial. After spending the week with her head hung low, hearing her life being picked apart by the defense and prosecution, the defendant looked more defeated than ever as she took a seat before the judge. Her voice, with its thick southern accent, came out weakly; when she gesticulated, her hands seemed too small to have carried out the acts she claimed to have performed alone. Some of what she said sounded like rehearsed lines – “I truly loved him,” or “I was a fool.” One of the few novelties to come out was her experience dissecting animals that she and the victim had hunted in Brazil and abroad – “boars, antelopes, peccaries, some deer.” It was implied that this, more than her training as a nurse technician, had made her capable of dismembering her husband.
Late that Sunday afternoon, on the seventh day of the trial, the prosecution and defense began their debate. Cosenzo and D’Urso were relentless in reinforcing the aggravating circumstances and attacking the report from Dr. Sami El Jundi, the medical examiner hired by the defense. Luciano Santoro, who opened up by saying that he lacked the experience of the prosecutor and the eloquence of the deputy prosecutor, had prepared a slideshow to accompany a speech. In it, childhood pictures of both Elize and Marcos were set against stock images of female victims of domestic violence.
When it came to Roselle Soglio, she nearly toppled off her Louboutins with excitement. It was time to pull out her ace in the hole: an animated video simulating the fight between husband and wife on that fateful Saturday. One week before the trial, and under the condition that his identity not be revealed, Soglio had allowed me to speak briefly with the coordinator of the project, a man at the head of a team of eleven people. A mathematician by training and a professor of artificial intelligence, he said that he had helped program part of Shrek, and that he was a specialist in subliminal messaging. The one-minute video, which played on a loop while Soglio spoke, goes from the argument over dinner to the fatal shot. The animation emphasizes Elize and Marcos’s facial expressions and body language. While he seems full of rage and gesticulates violently, she looks cornered – and when she shoots, there is terror in her eyes.
The reply and the rejoinder were straight out of vaudeville. “Male chauvinist!” shouted Roselle Soglio as the prosecutor spared no moralistic adjectives when describing the defendant’s personal life. “Pain in the neck!” he shot back at the top of his lungs. The judge, seemingly tired, didn’t interrupt the scuffle. When it was his turn to speak, Luciano Santoro said, calmly, “Dr. Cosenzo, I’d decided to stay quiet, but I can’t help myself. You know who you remind me of? The main character in the movie Falling Down, played by Michael Keaton.” “Michael Douglas! For heaven’s sake!” the prosecutor retorted indignantly. A wave of laughter swept across the courtroom. Elize was the only one not to react, her head still bowed and hands resting in her lap.
At the end of the rejoinder, at eleven o’clock in the evening that Sunday, the jurors, lawyers, and judge retired for deliberations. The audience was invited to return to the courtroom at 1:50 on Monday morning. During that time, in the press room, journalists shared snacks and started a betting pool on the sentence. Swayed by the defense, several were willing to consider the possibility of a verdict of simple homicide: six years, which would go up to seven or eight with the added offense of destruction and concealment of the cadaver. A few were already yawning when one reporter pointed out that this was the last of the “famous crimes” to go to trial. She listed them off in an almost melancholy tone: Suzane von Richthofen, Gil Rugai, the Nardonis… “We’ve got to hype up a new crime!” she exclaimed, a suggestion met with general approval.
Back in the courthouse, Elize Matsunaga awaited her sentence, now back in her prison uniform: a white T-shirt, khaki pants, and flip-flops. The judge made a point of thanking all of the courtroom employees, as well as his wife, and insisted on making two other special mentions. First, as to Bill no. 280, sponsored by Senator Renan Calheiros and overseen by Roberto Requião, which would expand the meaning of “abuse of authority,” the judge stated that “we live in difficult times” in which attempts are being made to “gag those who proffer judgment.” Secondly, Simoni paid tribute to the late Chapecoense players and made it known that he lamented the plane crash.
Only then did he reveal that the jury had dismissed two of the aggravating circumstances, the alleged base motive and cruel method. While the defense made no attempts to hide their glee, the prosecution looked crestfallen. In his sentence, the judge revealed a less than charitable view of the defendant: she had enjoyed the “opulent” “life of a princess” alongside her husband. Simoni then handed down the most severe sentence he was able, given the jury’s decision: eighteen years and nine months for the crime of homicide, and another year and two months for destruction and concealment of the body. It was 2:10 when the last of the journalists left the courtroom. “So much for Fantástico,” a Globo producer commented to Valmir Salaro. The show had ended hours earlier, with no opportunity to insert a live update. By the following Sunday, the case would be old news. The veteran reporter shrugged.
An uncommonly cold summer night greeted the defense and prosecution as they reemerged for their last press conferences. Shivering, but unwilling to cover up her red Carolina Herrera dress, Roselle Soglio announced that the defense would appeal. Only the SBT network transmitted the interview live.