Wrongly Convicted: Carlos Edmilson da Silva’s Story
Last Updated: June 16, 2024By
Wrongly Convicted: Carlos Edmilson da Silva’s Story

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Carlos Edmilson da Silva was just 24 years old when his life took a terrible turn. He had already served three years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit when, in Barueri, Brazil, he was arrested again and accused of a series of horrific rapes.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Newspapers and TV called him the “maniac of Castello Branco,” after the highway where 12 women had been attacked over two years. His face was everywhere, making him a notorious figure overnight.

A Long Sentence for an Innocent Man

At his first trial, Carlos was convicted, and by the end of all 12 cases, he was sentenced to a staggering 170 years in prison. For 12 long years, Carlos sat in jail until DNA tests finally proved he wasn’t the culprit.

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Life After Release

Carlos, now 36, is free and trying to piece his life back together. But his lawyer warns that the flawed police methods that led to his wrongful conviction are still in use. In Carlos’s case, the police used photo recognition—showing victims his mugshot and asking if he was the attacker. This method, it turns out, is deeply flawed and can perpetuate racial bias.

The Flawed System

In 2023, Brazil’s superior court of justice (STJ) overturned 281 wrongful convictions, all based on errors with photo recognition. “We accept a kind of amateurism in investigations. We’re satisfied with so little to condemn people to high prison sentences,” said Judge Rogério Schietti.

A Timeline of Misjustice

Carlos’s ordeal began in 2006 when he was arrested for robbery, and his photo was added to a police album. Soon after, four women were raped in Barueri. One victim saw Carlos’s photo and mistakenly identified him as her attacker. He spent three years in jail before a DNA test proved his innocence.

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Back to Jail

But his photo stayed in the police album. Between 2010 and 2012, 12 more women were raped in Barueri and nearby Osasco, and Carlos was arrested again. During his trial, a detective said, “I had already arrested him in 2006 for the same crime. I took his photo and called the victims to recognize him because the characteristics always matched him.”

The Only Suspect

The “characteristics” were vague—Carlos was a “medium-height Black man.” This vague description led to a series of wrongful identifications and convictions. The prosecutor even argued that rapists and thieves have a “common physical type and face,” mentioning only white actors like Brad Pitt and George Clooney as unlikely suspects.

The Innocence Project

Four years ago, the Innocence Project Brazil, where Carlos’s lawyer Flávia Rahal works, started looking into his case. They found no DNA tests had been done. When they finally tested, the results not only cleared Carlos but identified the real perpetrator, who was already in jail for robbery.

A New Beginning

On May 16, the STJ ordered Carlos’s release and annulled all his convictions. Justice Reynaldo Soares da Fonseca criticized the photo-recognition methods used, stating they ignored Brazilian law, which has strict rules for such practices.

Moving Forward

Since his release, Carlos has moved far from the city. He’s trying to adjust to a world very different from the one he left behind. His lawyer said, “The sadness of this case is that 12 women were raped, and when the state acted, it punished an innocent person. No one wins with this, and in the end, society loses.”

Carlos has only made one public comment since his release: “To get a job and make up for lost time.” His words are a simple yet powerful reminder of the years he lost to a broken system.

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