The facts of the case are clear, the killer having confessed. Elize Matsunaga, a former prostitute, murdered her rich, cheating husband Marcos, chopped his body into pieces and left them on a dirt road.
Still, the interpretation of those events and the behavior of Elize, 30, and Marcos, 42, have all of Brazil talking.
The Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper reminded readers that killing a spouse and disposing of the body was nothing new. Elize told police she shot Marcos, an executive with his family's food company, Yoki, with a pistol he'd given her, then cut up his body with a knife the next day. A video surveillance camera in their apartment building captured Elize descending in the elevator with three suitcases and returning home with none. What made the case unusual, the paper wrote, was that the perpetrator was a woman, the victim a man.
"If it was the other way around, nobody would comment because this happens every day in Brazil,” wrote someone identified as Renatinho Lared on a Facebook community site established in solidarity with Elize.
Another sympathizer, Nadia Bonanoni, wrote that Elize was the "victim of a cruel man." Kamila Santos added: “The biggest problem of all is that she didn’t just end his life, but her own as well, and will not be able to raise her daughter… Cruelty!”
Marcos Matsunaga was already married when he met Elize, who grew up in a poor family in a small town in Parana state and studied to be a nurse. They connected on a website used by sex workers to advertise to clients. Marcos left his first wife to marry Elize, and the couple moved to a penthouse apartment in Sao Paulo. They had a daughter, enjoyed fine restaurants, attended wine courses and went to shooting ranges together.
Suspecting Marcos had begun a relationship with another prostitute, Elize recently hired a detective to follow him. On May 19, she told police, she confronted her husband and they argued. According to her defense, Marcos hit her, threatened to take her daughter from her, and said, “I’m going to send you back to the rubbish you came from.” She initially denied the murder, then confessed everything while in police custody.
Admiringly, someone identifying as Camila Rocha tweeted, “If they knew they were being betrayed, many women would vow to make stew with their husbands. Elize Matsunaga fulfilled the promise!”
On the Facebook site, Andressa Esfinge wrote, “This should serve as a lesson for men who underestimate women.” Broaching the class element in the case, she addressed the murdered executive, saying, "Off you go, gorgeous. See if your money is going to help you in hell."
Adriana Shirley took a modulated but still understanding view of Elize's actions:
Nobody has the right to take anybody’s life, but put yourself in her place. Anyone would have the motive to do something equal or similar in the moment of rage, especially when it’s said your child will be taken from you.
Legal experts chimed in to note that these mitigating circumstances may work in Elize's favor when she comes to trial.
On the popular Jovem Pan radio station, Daniel Barros, coordinator of the Forensic Psychiatry Nucleus at Sao Paulo’s Clinicas Hospital, told listeners, “The impression is this was really a crime of passion because it was motivated by betrayal, jealousy.”
Criminal lawyer Sergei Cobra went so far as to say Elize could be acquitted. The gruesomeness of the dismemberment would pose a challenge, he said, "but this does not mean that the jury couldn’t give a sympathetic look to a person who acts with emotion. This is part of criminal advocacy."
Other commentators saw the support for Elize as misdirected. Referring to her slain husband, Calvin Peniche wrote on the Facebook site, "The guy… takes her out of the s___, she cuts him up, but even with this, she is the victim of the story. This is female logic."
Marcone Ferreira tweeted, “This Elize Matsunaga has to die in prison the same way she killed her husband.”
The debate is fed by circus-like news coverage of the murder and the circumstances around it. In his blog for the UOL newsite, Sao Paulo-based reporter Mauricio Stycer wrote:
Inspired by the way the crime occurred, TV is slicing the story and presenting it in chapters. Morning and evening presenters feel free to say anything that enters their heads, exposing their prejudices and sadism.
I recognize that it is impossible to resist the appeal of a story like this. But how far will our curiosity go and when do we start consuming details that don’t interest us? In times like these, the best weapon is the remote control.
But viewers aren't tuning in because they're so interested in Elize and Marcos Matsunaga, per se. It's the perpetual struggle for power between the sexes and classes, and the wider questions of guilt, blame and treachery that reel them in to this story and compel so many to speak up.
(Dom Phillips is the Rio de Janeiro correspondent for World View. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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