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24-year sentence for dead man

It seemed quite a coup at the time. After more than four years of investigation and a number of inconclusive trials, Turin's appeals court finally managed tonail Tommaso Ceraudo last month for the murder of a rival in the Calabrian Mafia. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

But one small detail had been overlooked: Mr Ceraudo had been dead for two months.

Yesterday there were red faces in court as news of Mr Ceraudo's demise emerged. But true to the byzantine ways of Italian judicial bureaucracy, no one seemed interested in taking responsibility.

"Nobody told me, what was I supposed to do?" said Ernesto D'Ippolito, Mr Ceraudo's defence lawyer . "OK, so I went into court and pleaded for his acquittal. What's so strange about that?" Ginafranco Burdino, the state prosecutor, was similarly defensive."Once the accused has been certified as alive on receiving his indictment, we don't have any other duties," he said. "If he turns up for the first hearing he is considered to be present for the whole trial."

Mr Ceraudo, 29, had evaded justice since 1990 despite a criminal record including a 15-year sentence for heroin trafficking. Acquitted of murder in a lower court, he was freed pending the appeal court's decision.

Last November , enemies in the Calabrian Mafia dragged him out of his car near Milan and shot him. It was reported in the press but did not register with the authorities in Turin, despite rumours in the court.