`Monster of Florence' set for retrial

Pietro Pacciani, the Tuscan peasant who was convicted two years ago of being the serial killer the "Monster of Florence" but then acquitted on appeal, was ordered to stand trial all over again last night as the Italian high court ruled that the decision to release him had been ill-considered and illogical.

One of Italy's most notorious postwar murder cases was thereby brought back to square one, to the acute embarrassment of the judicial authorities in Florence which has spent the past 28 years trying unsuccessfully to crack it.

Pacciani, a notorious Peeping Tom once jailed for sexually abusing his own daughters, is only the latest in a long line of suspects believed down the years to have been responsible for murdering amorous couples camping out in the countryside around the Tuscan capital.

At the time of his original trial, in 1994, much of the evidence which was presented against him was considered by legal experts to be circumstantial, and the conviction was much criticised both in Italy and abroad.

By the time the appeal hearing rolled around in March this year, even the prosecution was pushing for his release after admitting their case against him didn't hold water. But then, in an extraordinary courtroom scene on the morning that the appeals verdict was due, dramatic new evidence came to light pinning Pacciani four-square to the most recent of the murders.

Prosecutors begged for more time, saying they had eyewitness testimony linking Pacciani and an accomplice to the murder of two French tourists outside the hamlet of San Casciano in 1985. However, the judge turned down the request and set the sextuagenarian peasant free.

Last night's decision to put Pacciani back on trial was greeted with delight by the Florence prosecutor's office.

"It seemed unreasonable to me that all the new material collected should fail to be examined by a court," said the city's chief prosecutor, Pier Luigi Vigna, who has been personally involved with the case since the first of the eight double murders in 1968.

Pacciani, who at his original trial compared himself to Christ suffering on the cross, was said by his defence lawyers to have barricaded himself in his house last night and was refusing to answer the telephone. "They're persecuting me all over again," he was quoted as saying. A date for the new trial has yet to be set.

Rome (AP) - A key witness in the state's case against Giulio Andreotti told a hushed courtroom that the Mafia's "boss of bosses" Baldassare Di Maggio, once bestowed a kiss of respect on the former Italian premier. Mr Andreotti has been on trial, accused of aiding the Mafia, since September 1995