A KILLER’S

The man who mur­dered Sir Peter Blake has a mes­sage for the sailor’s fam­ily: ‘‘I’m sorry.’’ Sam Cowie meets the killer be­hind bars.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

THE mus­cle-bound mur­derer ap­pears all of a sud­den, in­stantly recog­nis­able from the mugshots taken more than a decade ago.

Ri­cardo Co­lares Tavares was a ruggedly hand­some man with well-kept hair, some­one who wouldn’t look out of place as the edgy guy in a boy band line-up.

But the rav­ages of drugs and life in­side Brazil’s no­to­ri­ous prison sys­tem have taken their toll.

Six­teen years after he shot and killed a New Zealand na­tional hero, Tavares, now 38, is bald, with grey­ing hair and stub­ble, his olive­coloured skin tanned dark as he greets us in an ad­min­is­tra­tion block at the In­sti­tuto de Ad­min­is­tra­cao Pen­i­ten­cia­ria do Amapa, some 2700km from Rio de Janeiro.

‘‘I’m sorry,’’ he says when asked if he has a mes­sage for Sir Peter Blake’s fam­ily. ‘‘I re­gret it very much, it wasn’t my in­ten­tion. It was other fac­tors that took me that day,’’ he adds, and it is un­clear if he is re­fer­ring to some kind of peer pres­sure from the gang, a de­sire for some kind of ex­cite­ment or some easy money.

‘‘I don’t know who will re­ceive this mes­sage, but I don’t have any­thing else to ask, ex­cept my for­give­ness,’’ he says. ‘‘It wasn’t the end that I planned, but it hap­pened, and I’m here do­ing my time.

‘‘There were so many losses dur­ing this time, and th­ese losses we don’t get back from one day to an­other.’’

On De­cem­ber 5, 2001, Tavares and his gang of wa­ter-borne thugs boarded Sir Peter Blake’s re­search boat, the Sea­mas­ter, near the mouth of the Ama­zon. Blake was shot twice in the back while try­ing to fight back against the seven pi­rates.

While Blake’s legacy has grown through the youth lead­er­ship trust that bears his name and New Zealand’s re­newed love af­fair with the Amer­ica’s Cup, Tavares’ life of crime and drug ad­dic­tion has con­tin­ued to plumb the depths, even be­hind bars.

Ini­tially sen­tenced to 36 years in jail, Tavares has tried to dig and blow his way out of prison in two es­cape at­tempts, and com­mit­ted armed rob­bery while on day re­lease.

His lengthy rap sheet shows a man who showed the same dis­re­gard for au­thor­ity in­side prison as he did as a young, drugged-up des­per­ado rob­bing boats on the Ama­zon river to fund his habit.

In what he claims to be his first at-length interview with for­eign me­dia, Tavares says he has en­dur­ing ing re­grets about killing a man who, to him, was just an­other wealthy tourist.

‘‘It wasn’t the end that I planned, but it hap­pened, and I’m here do­ing my time.’’

The In­sti­tuto de Ad­min­is­tra­cao Pen­i­ten­cia­ria do Amapa (IAPEN) prison is lo­cated in Ma­capa city, where the mighty Ama­zon reaches the At­lantic. It’s about a 40-minute drive from the city of San­tana where Tavares grew up in a well-to-do Catholic fam­ily and a short dis­tance from where Blake was mur­dered.

Tavares is def­i­nitely not your average Brazil­ian pris­oner.

I re­gret it very much, it wasn’t my in­ten­tion.’ RI­CARDO TAVARES

He comes from an upper mid­dle-class, busi­ness-own­ing fam­ily who even have a street named after them in their town.

He’s in good phys­i­cal shape, wear­ing bright new san­dals, a T-shirt and shorts and looks to be keep­ing fit in the prison gym.

But his face be­trays his years of drug-tak­ing and tough prison life.

‘‘My rea­son for en­ter­ing the world of crime wasn’t fi­nan­cial, it was some­thing dif­fer­ent,’’ he says mys­te­ri­ously. ‘‘I turned down the BBC, Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel.’’

Tavares sits on a chair next to me an­swer­ing ques­tions but he clearly wants to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion. He jumps back and forth be­tween sub­jects and rarely re­sponds to ques­tions di­rectly. At times, he is hard to fol­low. The whole time, it feels like he is hold­ing back.

‘‘It hasn’t got any eas­ier,’’ he says of his time in prison. ‘‘The same dan­ger that I faced then, I face to­day.’’

While he ac­cepts his crime, and in­deed seems to show re­morse, he claims to have been a vic­tim of sen­sa­tion­al­ist press cov­er­age, as well as some un­fair

Ri­cardo Tavares, above, comes from a wealthy fam­ily but fell into a life of drugs and crime. He is due for re­lease in 2023.

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