Fugitive Danelo Cavalcante’s mother defends his murders and says ‘everyone is lying about him’

‘He had to, he had no other choice,’ Iracema Cavalcante told The New York Times about his son’s murders

Andrea Blanco
Wednesday 13 September 2023 11:53 BST
Timeline: How murderer Danelo Cavalcante has escaped prison and police

Danelo Cavalcante’s mother has spoken out in defence of her convicted murderer son nearly two weeks after he escaped from a prison in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Cavalcante’s mother Iracema Cavalcante said in an interview with The New York Times that she believes her 34-year-old son is better off dead than spending the rest of his life behind bars for the April 2021 murder of his former girlfriend Deborah Brandao.

“If it’s to go to a place to suffer and die in that place, it’s better to die soon,” Ms Cavalcante told the Times on Tuesday. “You don’t have to suffer so much.”

Ms Cavalante acknowledged that her son killed his former ex-girlfriend in front of her young children but claimed that he only did it because he felt cornered.

“Did it happen? It happened,” Ms Cavalcante told the Times. “But it happened because of the stranglehold she put on him, the stance she took with him ... It wasn’t femicide. He had to, he had no other choice.”

The brutal nature of Brandao’s killing was on full display during Cavalcante’s trial last month. Prosecutors said he stabbed her 40 times in front of her young children and then proceeded to threaten the minors.

Cavalcante was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and escaped from Chester County Prison on 31 August while awaiting transfer to state prison.

In Brazil, prosecutors in Tocantins state have also accused Cavalcante of “double qualified homicide” in the 2017 slaying of Válter Júnior Moreira dos Reis in Figueirópolis, which they said was over a debt the victim owed him for repairing a vehicle.

Danelo Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison on 31 August. Police say he has changed his appearance
Danelo Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison on 31 August. Police say he has changed his appearance (PA State Police)

In the aftermath of Cavalcante’s escape, his mother recorded a message asking his son to surrender, which authorities then blasted into his previous hiding place from helicopters and patrol cars. She has now said that if she had another chance to communicate with her son, she would tell him to “ask God to forgive him for what he did.”

Deborah Brandao was stabbed to death in front of her children in April 2021
Deborah Brandao was stabbed to death in front of her children in April 2021 (Brandao family handout)

“If I said my son didn’t make a mistake, I’d be lying,” Ms Calvacante said. “I know what my son did was wrong. I know my son should pay for his mistake. But I want my son to pay for his mistake with dignity. Not to pay with his life.”

Pennsylvania State Police Lt Col George Bivens previously credited Cavalcante’s upbringing in rural Brazil for his success in hiding and surviving in the woods for so long without a consistent source of food. Ms Cavalcante told the Times that her son had learned those skills very early in life as the family faced hardship in the South American country.

Cavalcante reportedly started working shining shoes when he was just five and was doing labour at a farm by the time he was seven.

Law enforcement gather as they search for Cavalcante in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania
Law enforcement gather as they search for Cavalcante in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“His training was his suffering,” Ms Cavalcante said.“It was going to sleep hungry, it was waking up as I wondered what to feed them ... we’re poor. We’re humble. But we’re workers.”

The fugitive was last seen in South Coventry Township on Monday night. Pennsylvania State Police said that a man fired seven times at Cavalcante after the convicted prisoner broke into his home on Monday night and stole a .22 rifle with a scope and a flashlight on it.

Cavalcante was last seen in South Coventry Township on Monday night
Cavalcante was last seen in South Coventry Township on Monday night (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Before that, Cavalcante was spotted several times near Longwood Gardens in Pocopson Township, near the prison. Over the weekend, he stole a vehicle parked near a dairy farm that he used to drive more than 20 miles to Phoenixville, where he showed up at the door of two former coworkers asking for help.

The individuals were not home and later alerted law enforcement, but Cavalcante had fled the area by the time officers responded to the scene. The vehicle Cavalcante stole was found abandoned on Sunday in East Nantmeal Township, about five miles away from South Coventry Township.

Cavalcante is not believed to be injured and continues to be considered extremely dangerous.

Authorities have asked residents of the area to remain vigilant and secure their homes and vehicles. Around 500 officers were hunting for Cavalcante on Tuesday as one school district remained closed.

The search is now focused near Route 23 to the North, Route 100 to the East, Fairview and Nantmeal roads to the South and Ambridge and Country Park roads to the West.

A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his capture.

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