Gucci murder trial takes baffling twist

WHAT sort of defence can there be for a woman who tells everyone how she'd like to see her ex-husband dead, shows little emotion when he is gunned down outside his office, and acts utterly unsurprised when the police arrest her for his murder?

Such is the challenge facing Patrizia Gucci's lawyers as they prepare for Italy's celebrity murder trial of the decade. Three years after the killing of Maurizio Gucci, the man who inherited and largely squandered the fashion family fortunes, the prosecution is confident that it has an open-and-shut case.

Patrizia herself may not have confessed, but her friend and confidante, a Neapolitan medium called Pina Auriemma, has. Her evidence, in turn, tallies with the accounts of police informers who allege that the murder was a conspiracy cooked up by the two women and carried out by a couple of underworld types, masterminded by an eccentric hotel porter with a morbid interest in the occult.

If that wasn't enough sensation to chew on, we now have a tantalising new titbit: a 543-page memoir penned by Patrizia just before Maurizio's murder. Intriguingly, this document was first seized upon by the prosecution as evidence of Patrizia's raging hostility - in it she describes Maurizio as selfish, inconsiderate, mediocre and, in the early part of their marriage, impotent. But now, six weeks before the start of the trial, it has been released by Patrizia's own lawyers as part of what might be defined the Hermione Defence. In Racine's play Andromache, a furiously jealous Hermione orders Orestes to murder her wayward fiance Pyrrhus. But when Orestes obliges he finds himself showered in insults.

According to Patrizia's lawyers, she may have said she wanted Maurizio dead, but she certainly didn't mean it. And this is where her memoir comes in: its breathless, over-dramatic tone and ridiculously stagey retelling of events are a clear sign, the lawyers say, that she was not living in the real world.

"This memoir is a desperate testament to her love for Maurizio," argues Giovanni Maria Dedola, one of her two legal counsels. One wonders, however, if it is not the lawyers who are a bit desperate. In the memoir, Patrizia describes Maurizio as "the classic weakling who decides to play the bad guy and becomes insufferable". Is that a declaration of thwarted love, or the sign of an unquenchable hatred?