Italians mourn for murderer turned martyr
A bizarre media campaign has elevated a US killer (right) to national hero, reports Andrew Gumbel
Thursday 31 July 1997
O'Dell was executed by lethal injection last week as the Governor of Virginia, Richard Allen, resisted an Italian media campaign of rare passion. Never mind the seriousness of the crimes for which he was convicted: O'Dell's name is now indelibly linked in Italian minds with the campaign to end the death penalty.
Yesterday, Pope John Paul offered words of comfort to the woman O'Dell married hours before his death, the legal assistant Lori Urs. Today's ceremony will be attended by the mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, as well as Helen Prejean, the nun at the centre of the film Dead Man Walking, who stood by O'Dell in his final hours. Mr Orlando has already made O'Dell an honorary citizen of Palermo and plans to erect a monument to him.
As the body was flown to Sicily via Rome yesterday, two nagging questions still remained. Why Italy, when O'Dell was not Italian and had no obvious link with the place? And why, out of the hundreds of prisoners on death row, should O'Dell be singled out?
The explanations are many and complex. Even if the US Catholic church has remained silent on the issue, the Vatican has been campaigning energetically against the death penalty in recent months.
That, in turn, has had a profound effect on the Italian political establishment, which is still heavily influenced by the church despite the demise of the old Christian Democrat Party.
What's more, Italy - diplomatically irrelevant Italy - loves to have its voice heard in the world and remembers all too proudly how its influence brought about a stay of execution in 1989 for a teenage woman from Indiana, Paula Cooper, who had murdered her religious education teacher at the age of of 15 and was sentenced to death once she reached adulthood.
If the O'Dell case captured the public imagination, it was partly because of doubts about his guilt. He was originally convicted after choosing - unwisely - to act as his own defence counsel in court.
Subsequent DNA tests showed that blood found on his clothing did not belong to his victim, Helen Schartner. A legal battle ensued to have further DNA tests performed on O'Dell himself, but the request was ultimately turned down.
These facts did not reach Italy or the Vatican by magic, however. They became the object of a strange journalistic war between the country's various correspondents in the United States. Il Giornale first brought O'Dell to public attention. Then the Corriere della Sera blew it up into a huge scandal. Finally, the veteran correspondent for La Repubblica, Vittorio Zucconi, went into overdrive and refused to let a week go by without an interview with O'Dell's lawyers, or with O'Dell himself.
All of them wrote as though O'Dell was as innocent as a lamb, brutalised by a heartless judicial system that refused to hear his side of the story. I met one of the journalists involved a couple of weeks ago and asked him about the O'Dell case. "He's guilty, of course," he said, without blinking. So that's the answer: O'Dell was just a good story blown up to keep Italian readers on the edge of their seats for a few months. That's show business, folks.
The Microsoft mogul told fans a few home truths during his Reddit AMA
- 1 Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
Woman falls to her death as she celebrates marriage proposal at the edge of Ibiza cliff
Boris Johnson claims porn-obsessed Islamic jihadists are 'literally w*****s'
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Teenager brandishing fake gun taken down by police after demanding airtime on Netherlands' NOS TV station
Ball pool for adults opens in London
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...
£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...
£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...