Judge frees the Florence 'monster'

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The Independent Online
ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

The 71-year-old farm labourer who became known as the "Monster of Florence" and was jailed for life two years ago for the murder of seven courting couples in the Tuscan countryside, was freed from his sentence yesterday in one of the biggest upsets ever to embarrass the Italian penal authorities.

With the prosecution wavering right up to the last minute about the safety of its evidence, the appeals court in Florence chose to annul every charge against Pietro Pacciani, thus wiping out more than 11 years' investigative work in one of the biggest and most expensive murder hunts ever launched in Italy.

"I'm so moved I don't know where my heart is any more, it's beating right, left and centre," exclaimed a jubilant Pietro Fioravanti, one of Mr Pacciani's three lawyers who has always claimed the evidence against his client was no more than circumstantial. Mr Pacciani was reported to have burst into tears on hearing the news in his cell.

The prosecution's embarrassment was made worse by the fact that the most ardent champion of Mr Pacciani's acquittal at the appeals hearing had been one of its own magistrates. A week ago, a public prosecutor, Piero Tony, demolished his own side's case, characterising his boss, Pier Luigi Vigna, as a "Pink Panther" figure who had bungled everything.

Yesterday it was Mr Tony who looked the biggest bungler. Overnight the police had arrested an alleged accomplice of Mr Pacciani, a postman called Mario Vanni, following the release of new testimony from four witnesses who had never before come forward.

In court, Mr Tony took back everything he had said the week before, and urged the judge to admit evidence from his new witnesses, whom he named only as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Alpha and Beta, he said, had seen one of the murders and could identify Mr Pacciani and Mr Vanni as the culprits.

The defence all but accused the prosecution of fabricating new evidence at the last minute to shore up its tattered case.

The judge, Francesco Ferri, sided with the defence, saying it was out of the question to introduce new testimony at this late stage, especially from witnesses who were not prepared to reveal their identity.

Last night the judiciary thus faced an absurd situation in which an alleged accessory to murder, Mario Vanni, was in jail awaiting trial, while the man he was supposed to have helped, Mr Pacciani, was absolved of all wrong- doing.

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