Portuguese Press Jostles for News About Murder Suspect

The moment Rodrigo Freixo posted on his Facebook page a message that he was headed to New York, his friends were quick to post snide advice.

“Drink beer; don’t drink wine,” one warned.

The friendly tip came in the wake of a story that has captivated the airwaves, bandwidth and message boards in Portugal: the brutal murder of a well-known Portuguese society columnist, Carlos Castro, who was castrated with a corkscrew at a luxury hotel in Times Square. The police have charged an aspiring model, Renato Seabra, also from Portugal, with the crime.

Mr. Freixo, a Lisbon-based reporter for the Portuguese fashion magazine Caras, was part of a scrum of about a dozen Portuguese journalists sent to New York to chronicle this cringe-worthy case, which has been front-page news back home because of its gruesome details, dramatic back story and famous characters.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Seabra made a brief appearance in Manhattan Criminal Court, reporters and camera operators from at least three television stations, five newspapers and a magazine from Brazil brought a bit of energy into the typically drab courthouse setting. They clung to every moment in Mr. Seabra’s proceeding. In his first one, which took place last month when he was still hospitalized, he was not even in the courtroom, appearing instead on a video projector.

Mr. Castro, 65, was an influential columnist who could make or break someone in the fashion world with his writing. He also was a leading gay rights activist.

In Portugal, the journalists explained, there has been no shortage of speculation over the relationship between the two men.  Mr. Seabra, some said, is not actually gay, but did whatever Mr. Castro wanted in the hope that he could help him break into the fashion world. Some wondered whether Mr. Castro was taking advantage of Mr. Seabra — making promises to him in exchange for favors, said António Soares, a reporter for the Jornal de Notícias in Porto.

As Mr. Seabra, 21, made his first appearance in public since the Jan. 7 killing, anticipation pulsed in front of the courtroom before the doors were even unlocked. The camera operators huddled behind barricades and a group crowded around the door. A court officer stuck her head out from inside and summoned three local photographers to speak with the judge.

The court officer came back a few more times to call others in. Each time she opened the door a roar went up — people wanting in, people wanting to ask a question, people wanting to hand her something. Finally, all the photographers were let in to take their place in the jury box, followed by the general public, hustling through the doors as if trying to get the perfect seat in a theater.

As for news, the proceeding did not deliver much. Mr. Seabra’s every stride and breath was greeted with what sounded like the crumpling of garbage piles: camera clicks from the 10 or so photojournalists that the judge had allowed into the courtroom.

But Mr. Seabra was hardly dressed the part of a runway king: He wore a puffy neon-orange jacket to go with light gray sweatpants and a disheveled cream-colored sweatshirt. His hands were cuffed behind his back the entire time. He was expressionless and did not say a word. His lawyer, David Touger, entered a plea of not guilty on Mr. Seabra’s behalf after he found out that he had been  indicted on charges of second-degree murder.

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Touger offered the token give-him-his-day-in-court defense lawyer lines: “We plan a vigorous defense. I’m very optimistic there will be a successful result for Mr. Seabra.”

But the scene Tuesday was tame compared with the one after last month’s arraignment, when the hallway turned into a Court Procedure 101 class. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office circulated a handout to the foreign journalists that explained how the grand jury system worked. She then fielded questions of all types.

“If he pleads guilty, it’s over?”

“So the grand jury voted, so they decided already if he goes to trial or not?”

“And the grand jury confirmed the charges?”

Mr. Soares, the Jornal de Notícias reporter, explained his country’s fascination with the case.

“It has lots of violence, lots of passion,” he said. “It has all the ingredients.”

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