PRAIA DA LUZ, Portugal, Sept. 26, 2007 — -- The husband of a convicted murderer has accused the Portuguese investigator spearheading the case of Madeleine McCann of beating a confession out of his wife.
Leonor Cipriano, 36, was convicted of the murder of her eight-year-old daughter Joana, who disappeared in the Algarve region in September 2004 under similar circumstances to the McCann disappearance.
In an exclusive interview, Cipriano's common-law husband, Leandro Silva, told ABC News that his wife said she was beaten repeatedly as police grilled her during a three-day long interrogation.
"'They beat it out of me', she told me, 'they beat me until I confessed,'" Silva said as he recalled his first visit to his wife about a week after police took her into custody.
"The only difference between the McCanns and us is that we don't have money," Silva said. "They have means, they have high powered attorneys that they can pay."
According to Silva, his wife told him that chief inspector Gonçalo Amaral, one of the leading detectives in the McCann case, watched as police hit her in the face and chest again and again.
Local newspapers have reported that Amaral and four other officers will be in court next month to face charges surrounding the beating allegations. But Amaral has not been suspended from his work on the McCann case.
Cipriano is currently serving a 16-year sentence for the murder of Joana who disappeared in 2004 in a town less than 15 miles from where Madeleine McCann disappeared nearly five months ago.
Joana's body has never been found. McCann, who was 3 years old when she went missing has also not been found, but the family and police still hold out hope that she is still alive.
Kate McCann and her husband, Gerry, were declared "arguido," or official suspects, last month, although under Portuguese law, the police are not allowed to divulge publicly what evidence they have. But the couple, both doctors and substantially well-off, have been allowed to leave Portugal.
Silva said his wife retracted her statement just two days after confessing to Portuguese police, but she remains in a women's prison in Odemira, about a two-hour drive from Praia da Luz.
Joana went missing one night when her parents say she went for a short walk to the local market in her home town of Figuera, near Portimão. Cipriano was arrested and convicted, in part because of her confession, along with the discovery of some of Joana's blood, police say they found in Cipriano's home.
Maddie also disappeared just minutes from where her parents were dining at the Ocean Club in Praia da Luz in May 2007.
"I knew immediately that it was the police that had done that to her," Silva said. "They wanted her to confess to a crime she did not commit."
He shakes his head back and forth saying that the police in Portugal don't work professionally.
Amaral could not be reached for comment and police refused to talk about the allegations.
"We all saw the bruises," Silva said. "My mother, my sister and me. Leonor's face was all battered and bruised, so was her chest."
"Leonor was a good person, she didn't deserve this, but then there is no justice for the poor."
Silva, a 41-year-old auto mechanic, said his wife is not the only member of his family to be treated roughly by Portuguese police.
Maria de Lourdes, Silva's mother, who visits her daughter-in-law regularly in prison, said she was also abused by Portuguese police in Faro in interviews conducted during the Joana investigation.
"The police in Portimão treated us really well," she told ABC News in her home near Lagos. "But the Faro police were awful. They gave us nothing to eat or drink the whole day," said the 57-year-old mother of nine. "They battered us physically and mentally."
Amaral was always present during questioning, de Lourdes said her daughter-in-law told her.
"He controlled everything," she said. "And he kept asking me: 'Did you see blood in the house?' 'I'm sure you cleaned the house with petrol to get rid of the smell.'"
"They have accused us of everything that we killed Joana, that we stabbed her, even that we sold her," de Lourdes said.
But as far as de Lourdes is concerned, the worst thing is not knowing what happened to Joana and then being blamed for her disappearance.
"How can they prove that we had anything to do with her disappearance?"
"If Kate McCann were Portuguese, she would already be in jail," said de Lourdes.
The McCann's circle of friends and savvy contacts have been able to generate the kind of media attention that has made their daughter's face instantly recognizable all over the world. They have also hired top attorneys in Portugal and the U.K., as well as forensic experts to pick apart every DNA sample gathered by investigators.
The couple has also received financial backing from a British millionaire Brian Kennedy, a move that may have saved the 39-year-old doctors from having to sell their home to cover their legal defense.
Still, despite her bitterness over what she believes is her own daughter-in-laws wrongful conviction de Lourdes is convinced of Kate McCann's innocence. In fact the slightest mention of the couple brings empathy from de Lourdes.
"I don't think that that woman is capable of doing something like that to her daughter," she said. "I just don't believe it."
"The same Portuguese press that are now chasing the McCanns are the same journalists who were on my doorstep when Joana disappeared," she said.
And while she knows that she and Kate McCann come from very different worlds their situations are parallel.
"Our plight is not so different anymore," she said. "So I cannot help but feel for that woman. After all we are on the same path."
De Lourdes recalls vividly the day Joana went missing.
"I got the phone call around midnight," said de Lourdes. "My son Leandro was asking me if Joana was here with me." They then went to look for her at the cousin's house where she spent the afternoon.
"When I didn't hear from them again, I assumed they had found her," she said.
But the following morning when de Lourdes was getting ready to pick up her son to go to work, she saw her daughter in law Leonor walking down the street sobbing hysterically.
"'Joana is missing,'" she told me.
The girl's parents called police within an hour of Joana's disappearance. But according to Leandro and his mother, police did not begin searching for his daughter until 48 hours after they reported her missing.
Silva remains convinced of his wife's innocence. But he is particularly bitter about Amaral, against whom he has lodged a formal complaint.
"He (Amaral) should not even be working on this (the McCanns') case," said Silva.
If the beating charges turn out to be true it will hurt the McCann investigation, according to Roy Ramm, former commander of special investigations at Scotland Yard. Ramm told ABC News: "This is not something you would expect to find in the U.K. When someone has allegations of falsifying evidence and beating a witness and these are very serious allegations -- it does not bode well for the case."
"People have to have confidence in the person leading the investigation," he added. "Otherwise the chances of a satisfactory outcome are jeopardized."
In a book entitled "The Star of Joana," former Portuguese detective Paulo Pereira Cristovão alleges how police took too long in organizing a search for the little girl.
Silva thinks his wife's beating was a simple matter of the police needing to find a suspect as well as maintaining a safe image for tourists who come to the Algarve.
He calls the accusations against her ridiculous. "She was a great mother," said Silva. "She never even hit Joana, not once even when our little girl insulted her."
Joana was not Silva's biological daughter but he insists she was still his daughter. "First they took my daughter, now the police have taken my love, my lifelong partner."