Young model condemned to five years in prison for assault even though she was not in city where the crime happened
Model convicted on flimsy testimony and a judge’s rejection of evidence that could overturn her conviction
By Marques Travae
I first became aware of this case back in February via the website Alma Preta. I thought to myself, sounds like another injustice in the making but let’s wait and see what happens. Well, here it is six months later, and based on the evidence we have at hand, it IS a clear case of injustice. The story goes something like this.
Barbara Querino is a 20 year model that was accused of participating in two armed assaults, one on September 10th and another on September 26th. She was apprehended in early November in São Paulo. Along with Querino, four other persons were arrested, included her younger brother and three friends.
Upon her subsequent release, in January the young woman was arrested again based on the claim that she had been recognized in a photo shown on television by one of the victims of the assault, which would lead to her subsequent imprisonment in the women’s prison of Franco da Rocha in greater São Paulo region.
During her testimony on November 4th, Querino attempted to prove her innocence by presenting information that would seem to prove that she couldn’t have been involved in the crimes she was accused of. First, according to Querino, on September 10th, she wasn’t even in the city of the São Paulo as she had been working out of town on a modeling assignment. As evidence, she presented photos that had been taken by her cell phone along with other pertinent information. As for the second date, September 26th, the model said that she was at home.
So what’s really going on here and how did this young model end up mixed up in this case?
Well, as is quite common in a high crime city such as São Paulo, there had been a string of crimes in the city’s south zone putting police investigations into high gear. In what looks to be a clear case of mistaken identity, Querino still finds herself mixed up in such a case, and given a police record as a participant in the crimes even though there is nothing connecting her to either crime or that would substantiate the claim of the victim. Further still, Querino’s cell phone containing photos that could have easily proven her innocence in one of the days in question was apprehended and deleted by police.
But let’s go back and look at the details.
On November 4th of last year, SP police were doing a stroll through in Barbara’s neighborhood when they came across a parked stolen car. They picked up all of the four men hanging around the car as possible culprits of the crime. This same car had been stolen on September 10, 2017, the day that Barbara alleges having gone to the city of Guarujá, on São Paulo state’s coast on a modeling assignment. One of those persons was Barbara’s 18-year old brother, Wesley. Upon hearing of her brother’s arrest, Barbara and a few of her friends went down to the police station to see what was going on. Arriving at the precinct, their photos were taken, the same ones that ended up being divulged on a sensationalist police television show as well as various WhatsApp groups, falsely linking her to the crime. Viewers who recognized her were encouraged to identify her in connection with the crime.
Barbara was detained for 16 hours in a police van and had a record written up about her. Contrary to how such cases are supposed to go, Barbara was imprisoned based on her photos being divulged on television and social media.
According to the Public Prosecutor of São Paulo’s version of the story, on September 10th, Barbara and her brother Wesley and three men all participated in a car-jacking at a traffic light. According the victims, a couple and their children, the assailants approached them with a revolver, made them all get out of their car, taking their personal items as well as the vehicle.
One of the victims of the assault said she recognized Barbara even though she was robbed faced down and would not have been in any position to have seen who was behind her. Another of the victims claimed that Barbara’s hair was similar to the supposed woman who participated in the crime.
Barbara’s brother Wesley eventually confessed to the robbery and acknowledged that his sister had nothing to the do with the crime.
Later, other participants in the modeling assignment in which Barbara participated confirmed her presence in Guarujá on the date in question and even later posted photos of Querino at the event showing that she wasn’t even in the city of São Paulo on the date of crime.
So, all told, what we have is a robbery and a confession, evidence and testimony showing that Barbara was not involved and victims who allege to have recognized Barbara’s face in a police report and a report by the victim that doesn’t add up. Still according to Barbara’s friend, Mayara Viera, the victim claims that chances of one of the assailants being Barbara is about 80%, although she’s not exactly sure.
One of the worst details of this whole ordeal is that, on November 5th, the day following her detainment, Barbara, who is also known by the nickname ‘Babiy’, took and passed a test that would have allowed her to follow her dream of being a journalist and take a course at a private university in a scholarship project provided by the Educafro NGO that has helped thousands of black and poor Brazilians get funding for their education over the past few decades.
But Barbara’s dreams will be put on hold. On August 10th, a judge in São Paulo condemned Barbara to five years in prison on assault charges. According to her lawyer, during the trial, Barbara’s brother admitted to acting alone during the assault and that his sister was not there. But the judge didn’t consider the admission, the testimonies of those who were with her out of town or any of the documents presented that would prove her innocence.
But perhaps the dirtiest detail of this whole case is the claim of retaliation made by Barbara’s lawyer Bruno Cândido Sankofá. According to him, after Wesley’s confession, the police wanted to appropriate the stolen items. When Wesley stated he had already disposed of the goods, the police decided to arrest Barbara.
Sankofá further points out that there is a vast amount of academic studies that show that there is a clear difference in the way black and white defendants are treated in cases involving drug-related and property crimes.
For Bruno, Barbara’s case is similar to that of actor Vinicius Romão, who was another victim of false identity and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Another example of the thinking that ‘todo preto é igual’, or ‘every black is alike’.
“The victim (of the assault) does not recognize her phenotype, and thinks that, because of her hair and size, it ‘could’ be her. If it were a white person, they would make a point of verifying an identity,” opines the lawyer.
The case of Barbara Querino is also reminiscent of two other controversial cases that seem to signal a disbelief in the innocence of a black defendant in recent years. In 2013, Rafael Braga was arrested during street protests of that year and detailed, accused of intending to create a bomb with a container of bleach and a bottle of Pine Sol. And then there is the case Mirian França de Melo, a Ph. D candidate, who was arrested and imprisoned in 2015 in the state of Ceará upon suspicion that she murdered her friend, an Italian tourist. Again, with no evidence linking her to the crime.
Another question I have is why the words of the testimony of the victims seem to carry more weight in defining Querino as a criminal than the words of the witnesses who speak in her defense? Barbara has three witnesses who were with her on the day of the crime, two verifying her whereabouts, being in a car with her on that fateful day and the other posting a photo of a group of young women at the event in Guarujáin which Barbara appears in the photo.
From what I see in the photo, Barbara and possibly only one other woman (out of a group of ten) in the photo seem to be black. The story doesn’t mention the race of the women who provided testimony by verifying her presence at the event, nor does it mention the race of the victims of the car-jacking. And racelessness is often a status afforded to white people. All this to say, if I were betting on this situation, I would wager that the victims, as well as the women speaking in support of Barbara, were all white. In such a scenario, why is the testimony of white people to condemn a black woman taken at face value, even though the victims could not have even seen if one of the assailants was in fact Barbara, while the testimony of white women who were actually with Barbara, and can prove it, is disregarded?
Before, during and after her Querino’s conviction, family and friends, including Mayara Viera, have remained in support, creating the “Todos por Babiy Querino” (all for Babiy Querino) online campaign to raise funds to pay for Querino’s legal costs. There have also been several black collectives that have come together with Barbara’s family and created R$5.00 raffle giveaways of Malcolm X and Angela Davis films as well as a Nelson Mandela book and Black Panther necklaces. Other friends organized dance classes at the price of R$10 to help in the cause.
All of this, once again, goes to show what it is to be black in a country like Brazil.