World

Portuguese court convicts all 7 defendants of child sex abuse after 6-year trial

September 3: Former diplomat and UNESCO ambassador Jorge Ritto, a defendant in a major child sex abuse trial that has lasted almost six years arrives at a court in Lisbon, Portugal for the verdict. (AP)

September 3: Former diplomat and UNESCO ambassador Jorge Ritto, a defendant in a major child sex abuse trial that has lasted almost six years arrives at a court in Lisbon, Portugal for the verdict. (AP)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Seven people were convicted of child sex abuse in Portugal on Friday in a major trial that lasted nearly six years and shocked the country.

The six men and one woman were found guilty of crimes including sexually abusing minors and adolescents, raping children and running a pedophile ring at a state-run children's home in Lisbon during the 1990s.

The six men were handed jail sentences of between six and 18 years for sexual abuse. The woman, whose house was used by the ring, was not given a custodial sentence because of a 2007 change in the law, the judge said in the televised ruling without elaborating.

The longest sentence was given to a 53-year-old former driver at the home, Carlos Silvino, who confessed to more than 600 crimes and gave evidence against the other defendants.

Others sent to prison were Carlos Cruz, a popular television presenter with a three-decade career in show business, who will serve seven years; and Jorge Ritto, a decorated career diplomat and former UNESCO ambassador, who was given six years, eight months in jail.

Their lawyers said they would consider an appeal.

Chief prosecutor Miguel Matias said the victims were pleased with the outcome.

The victims — now aged between 16 and 22 — gave chilling testimony during the trial and identified their alleged abusers by pointing to them across the courtroom.

Bernardo Teixeira, one of the victims, said he felt vindicated. "The court recognized that we were telling the truth," he said. "It's a happy ending for us. The pedophiles are going to jail."

The three judges at the trial read out a summarized version of the court's decisions, but they did not refer to dozens of other alleged crimes they found to be unproven. The full ruling, which reportedly runs to almost 2,000 pages, is due to be released next week.

The trial, believed to be Portugal's longest, included testimony from more than 800 witnesses and experts, including 32 alleged victims.

The abuse centered on Casa Pia, a 230-year-old institution caring for roughly 4,500 needy children, most of them living in dormitories at its premises around the capital.

A whistleblower broke the scandal in 2002, followed by a yearlong police investigation. The case that shook public trust in the country's institutions, and the protracted trial fueled outrage about Portugal's notoriously slow legal system.

Catalina Pestana, who was head of Casa Pia during the period when some of the abuse took place, said she would not celebrate the ruling.

"Nobody in their right mind can be happy after a case like this," she said. "These were some of the most horrible stories I've ever heard."

Casa Pia "shared some of the blame" for the crimes because it failed to detect them, the judges said.

Alvaro Carvalho, a psychiatrist who has counseled the victims and was in court with them, said they were nervous as they awaited the verdict.

"They calmed down when the judge ruled that the crimes were proven," Carvalho told reporters. "In a way, it's society making reparation for what happened to them."