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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Motiveless murder - Attempt to commit the perfect crime
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 9, 1997
Date of arrest: June 14, 1997
Date of birth: February 7, 1968
Victim profile: Marta Russo, 22
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Rome, Italy
Status: Convicted to involuntary manslaughter. Sentenced to seven years in prison in June 1999

photo gallery


Murder of Marta Russo

Marta Russo was a 22 year old student at the Faculty of Law at the Sapienza University of Rome, was killed within the University grounds; her death was the centre of a complex court case that garnered huge media attention owing to the lack of substantial evidence and motive.

On 9 May 1997, at 11.35 a 0.22 calibre bullet hit Marta Russo while she walked with a friend on the university's grounds, in a driveway located between the faculties of Statistical Sciences, Law and Political Science. The girl was transported to the nearby Policlinico Umberto I, but she died on May 14 without regaining consciousness.

Forensic tests showed traces of gunpowder on the sill of a window on the second floor, a reading room in the legal philosophy department. The circle tightened around the 25 or so people who often used the room to consult textbooks or use computers. Telephone records identified one person, Gabriella Alletto, in the room, and that person after conflicting testimony, implicated Giovanni Scattone age 31, and Salvatore Ferraro, age 32, who were junior lecturers in the legal philosophy department of Rome's La Sapienza University. Neither had a criminal record nor a reason to murder Ms Russo.

In June 1999, Giovanni Scattone was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of Russo, and Salvatore Ferraro was convicted of aiding and abetting Scattone.

Media attention

The case gained huge attention in the media, owing to the apparent indiscriminate nature in which the victim was targeted. The public was so interested that court proceedings were broadcast live on radio. Campus killings were unheard of in Italy, leading to parents of students being so scared for their children that they insisted on them wearing motorcycle helmets while outside. More than 10,000 students attended Russo's funeral, joined by the Prime Minister and other dignitaries. The Pope sent a message of condolence.

Academics were banned from speaking directly to the press.

Perfect murder as a motive

Police could not find an ordinary motive for the killing of Russo. She had no history of drug abuse, no outspoken political or religious convictions and no jilted lovers in her past. Instead, they proposed the intellectual challenge of committing a perfect murder, a crime for which one could not be prosecuted partly because of its apparent lack of motive.

The media seemed to focus on the possibility that the killing had been a dare about committing a perfect crime, or that it was a Nietxchiean compulsion to to be a ‹bermensch, a Raskolnikov figure. This was denied by the accused. The court convicted them with light sentences of involuntary manslaughter. The Italian public has been divided on the guilt of the accused. The trial, which, lasted over a year, followed by long appeals, involved investigations into prosecutorial misconduct and possible threatening of witnesses, and questioning the credibility of the main witnesses for the prosecution.


It was the perfect crime. So who made the fatal error?

It was the sensation of the year in Italy. Two law researchers, students of Nietzsche, were accused of executing a motiveless murder. But something about the conviction has caused unease.

By Frances Kennedy -

June 8, 1999

At 3pm on a steamy June day, the high-security courtroom near Rome's Olympic stadium is packed. After a 13-month trial and nearly 30 hours deliberation, the jury is about to release its verdict and the tension is palpable. The accused, Giovanni Scattone 31, and Salvatore Ferraro, 32, junior lecturers in the legal philosophy department of Rome's La Sapienza University, chat nervously with their lawyers as the jury president steps forward. The court finds Scattone guilty of firing the shot that killed law student Marta Russo and sentences him to seven years jail. Ferraro is given a four-year term for aiding and abetting.

The two young men, pale and disbelieving, are escorted swiftly out of court by the police. At 8pm Scattone and Ferraro grant an exclusive interview to state television RAI for the main evening news bulletin. The interview, for which they were allegedly paid 100m lire (pounds 30,000) provokes rowdy protests from opposition channels. Critics say it's offensive to use taxpayers money to finance convicted killers. Both young men say they are the victims of a clamourous miscarriage of justice.

At 11pm the two young academics have parted company; Scattone is relaxing in his local pizzeria with friends while Salvatore Ferraro takes a stroll in Piazza Navona after a family dinner. Under Italy's Byzantine legal system, a sentence is only enforced once the defendants have exercised their right to appeal to two higher courts. For now the two convicted killers are free. After two years of preventative custody and house arrest they are keen to stretch their legs.

This sequence of events is nothing compared to the twists and turns that have marked the two years since law student Marta Russo was gunned down just before noon at La Sapienza.

The scene of the crime, a narrow lane between the law and statistics faculties, was busy that day. Yet not one person saw who fired the fatal shot and from where, nor was anyone spotted fleeing the area and no weapon was discovered. One minute Marta and her friend Jolanda Ricci were chatting about their exams, the next minute, Marta slumped to the ground unconscious. Only as blood began to seep from her friend's head did Jolanda realise Marta had been shot. She never regained consciousness and died four days later.

No amount of delving into her private life turned up a single reason why anyone should want to kill Marta. She was an averagely popular, averagely academic student who dreamed of becoming a successful lawyer. She lived with her father, a physical education teacher, housewife mother and student sister in a middle-class suburb of Rome. There were no disgruntled ex- boyfriends, extreme political views or drug problems.

Italians, accustomed to Mafia slayings and political killings, were deeply unsettled by the random nature of the crime. The terror of a serial killer on campus spread. The police complained that within the law faculty they were getting scarse cooperation.

Senior figures at the university feared for the reputation of La Sapienza. Despite having little to go on, the authorities assured the public that Marta's assassins would be caught. An autopsy showed that the bullet had entered Marta's head from behind and on the left. That corresponded with the direction of the toilets on the ground floor, frequented by hundreds of people per day. But then came the breakthrough, forensic tests showed traces of gunpowder on the sill of a window on the second floor, a reading room in the legal philosophy department. The circle tightened around the 25 or so people who often used the room to consult textbooks or use computers.

A month after Marta's murder, police arrested two junior lecturers. One, Giovanni Scattone, was accused of firing the fatal shot from the reading room. The other, Salvatore Ferraro, was charged with being an accomplice. Neither had a convincing alibi. The problem was there was no weapon, and no apparent motive. The two accused did not personally know Marta Russo. But the absence of a reason for the killing began to seem like a motive in itself. The investigators argued that the two young men, both from comfortable middle-class homes and with good career prospects, had tried to commit the "perfect crime": a crime impossible to prove because of the lack of any motive to link them with the dead woman.

The prosecution said the two, who taught philosophy of law and were described as academically brilliant, were swayed by Nietzsche's theories on man and superman, and that the killing of a 22-year-old law student they didn't know was an intellectual dare. The prosecution's depiction of the two accused as arrogant was reinforced by their behaviour in court. Giovanni Scattone, with big blue eyes and a fleshy baby face appeared indifferent, while his more talkative, preppy looking friend Salvatore Ferraro was described by the press as arrogant.

It was never going to be a linear legal case, but few were prepared for the dramatic twists in the inquiry since the pair were arrested in June 1997.

The Marta Russo case depended almost exclusively on eyewitnesses, in particular Gabriella Alletto, a 45-year-old secretary who testified that she saw Scattone at the window of the reading room with a gun in his hand and Ferraro putting his hands to his head in despair. The presence of the two junior lecturers was confirmed by two other witnesses. However some weeks after the crime, one said her recollections were "subliminal", another's account was punctuated with the phrase "don't remember" and the third retracted his statement, claiming he'd been threatened. Much of the case depended on the credibility of Gabriella Alletto who held her own well in face to face encounters with the two young academics. That was until the court was last year shown a video tape from a hidden police camera: in a break during a tough interrogation, Gabriella Alletto is shown despairing and in tears, swearing that she was not in the reading room at the time of the killing.

The video was shot three days before she signed a full declaration saying she had seen Scattone and Ferraro. Several of Ms Alletto's friends, called as defence witnesses, said she had told them she was being pressured to accuse. The magistrates' governing body has opened disciplinary proceedings to see whether the two public prosecutors abused their powers.

Then earlier this year the scientific evidence incriminating Scattone and Ferraro was called into question. A panel of independent experts appointed by the court ruled that the particles found on the reading room window ledge were "probably incompatible with gunpowder".

All that remained was the theory of the perfect crime. As the trial drew to a close, the public was divided between vocal "innocent" and "guilty" camps.

Giovanni Scattone and Salvatore Ferraro were convicted of Marta's killing by an eight-member jury. But in reducing the charge from murder to involuntary manslaughter for Scattone, and aiding and abetting for Ferraro, the jury has thrown out the perfect crime theory. Rather they saw Marta's death as a tragic error from playing with dangerous toys.

Marta Russo's father, Donato, said he had fulfilled his promise to her, that her assassins would be identified but admitted that it hurt to see them walk free pending appeals. "We live in a system where only the accused has his rights guaranteed," added Marta's mother Aureliana.

Scattone's defence lawyer, Manfredo Rossi, slammed the verdict as "a sordid compromise". Commentators and public figures also expressed perplexity about what looked suspiciously like a compromise, "a Pontius Pilate sentence".

One of the jurors, in an interview, defended their decision. "The fact is that we have not managed to understand the motive of this thing. For murder you need a motive and there wasn't one."

"I did not commit any murder, voluntary or involuntary," said Scattone in his highly paid television interview. "If I had done, I would have said so immediately and avoided a year and a half in jail. It was the first thing they proposed to me after my arrest."

"The investigating magistrates depicted us as monsters," said Ferraro after his sentence. "There are still people who believe in a non-existent diary of mine in which I supposedly wrote `the blonde passes by and off goes her head.'"

The court acquitted other defendants, star witness Gabriella Alletto and usher Francesco Liparota, of aiding and abetting, on the grounds that they had been threatened. The department head, Professor Bruno Romano, charged with obstructing justice, was also cleared, though police accusations that he urged his staff not to cooperate left a long shadow. The impression in the early stages was that academics at one of Italy's most prestigious institutions were more concerned about damage to their career prospects or the university's reputation than finding a murderer. The appeals court hearing is scheduled for this autumn, and meanwhile, the two men convicted of causing Marta Russo's death are free to go to the beach for the summer.



A perfect crime: Killer on campus

Two years ago student Marta Russo was gunned down at Rome University. It was a killing that baffled police, and shocked the nation. Now two law students are on trial, accused of trying to commit the perfect murder, a crime apparently without motive. As the case reaches its conclusion, the mystery is only deepening.

By Frances Kennedy -

March 27, 1999

Two dabs of green police paint mark the spot where Marta Russo fell. On a nearby wall hangs a marble remembrance plaque. Below it a cluster of grubby soft toys and some bouquets of wilted mimosa form an impromptu shrine. A note in childish handwriting reads: "Marta, we'll never forget you."

One sunny May morning in 1997, Marta and her fellow law student Jolanda Ricci were strolling along the broad alley that divides the Law and Political Science faculties at Rome's main university. Suddenly, Marta slumped to the ground.

At first Jolanda thought she had fainted. As she desperately tried to revive her friend, a passersby called for help. But Marta's skull had been pierced by a .22 calibre bullet. She died four days later without regaining consciousness. The 22-year-old was shot in broad daylight, at the centre of one of Italy's largest and most prestigious academic centres. The area was bustling with students, yet no one saw the assassin. Few even heard the fatal shot. Only later did some witnesses recalled a dull thud like the cracking of a plastic bottle.

Marta Russo lived at home with her parents in a southern Rome suburb, was in her second year in law school at La Sapienza University, drove a second-hand Fiat, had a regular boyfriend, was sporty and social. As Marta's father Donato pleaded for anyone who knew anything to come forward, police tried desperately to understand why she had been killed. There was no history of drugs, no jilted lovers, no particular political or religious convictions. Everyone described Marta as terribly normal.

In a country accustomed to mafia slayings and terrorist murders the death of Marta Russo nevertheless struck a deep chord. Campus killings were associated with America, a firearms culture and the breakdown of social values. At La Sapienza panic set in. Could a serial killer be at large in a seat of learning frequented by more than 100,000 young people each day?

Left- and right-wing students abandoned their traditional antipathy, to protest together. Anxious parents urged their children to wear motorbike helmets until they were inside the lecture halls. Tens of thousands of students turned out for Marta's funeral, along with the Prime Minister and numerous dignitaries. Even the Pope sent a message of condolence. The authorities promised that justice would be done, the Rome police chief vowed that his men would find the killer, and pressure from the media was relentless.

Nearly two years on, the trial of Marta's alleged killers is drawing to a close in a high-security court near Rome's Olympic stadium. But rather than setting her ghost to rest, the trial is raising more questions than it solves.

Finding the killer was always going to be difficult. The Italian press indulged in theories that ran from a settling of scores between cocaine dealers to a new terrorist destabilisation strategy. All the police had to go on was the location of the killing - a walkway between two four- storey buildings - and its time: a passerby called an ambulance on his cellphone at 11.42am.

Initial suspicions focused on a cleaning company with offices just yards from the murder scene. Among the workers were several arms enthusiasts, and modified toy pistols were found on the premises. But none of the weapons were compatible.

Attention then shifted to the ground-floor bathrooms in line with where Marta fell. But searches there revealed no clues. Identifying who was there on a busy day was impossible. No ID cards are needed at the entrance to La Sapienza so a killer from outside could easily pass unnoticed among students or workmen. Then there was the hypothesis of mistaken identity. Police thought the real target might have been Marta's friend, Jolanda, whose father is a senior official in the prison service and had been in charge of Rome's maximum security Rebibbia prison. There was even a possible mafia connection. A young Sicilian woman, whose father had rebelled against mafia demands for protection money, said she believed mob hitmen had mistaken Marta for her. They were of similar height, and both were law students and blonde.

The breakthrough came on 19 May 1997, 10 days after the crime. Forensic tests revealed chemical components compatible with gunpowder on the window ledge of Room Six, a reading room in the Department of Legal Philosophy. An experiment with laser rays on the trajectory of the bullet also pointed to Room Six.

Around 25 people regularly went there to use the computers or consult weighty reference books. All department employees were brought in for questioning. The investigators were expecting full co-operation, given that the department was dedicated to the study of legal principles. They couldn't have been more wrong.

Rome's police chief spoke of a climate of "omerta", the term for mafia silence. Those questioned were reticent and appeared more worried about protecting their jobs and the department's reputation than helping find the killer. This was confirmed by a telephone tap on the department head, Bruno Romano, who was heard discouraging his staff from giving evidence. A respected and popular academic, Romano was briefly arrested for obstructing justice, charges that were later dropped. The impression arose that there was a collective desire to keep the spotlight off Italy's much criticised university system.

Despite the lack of co-operation, the police got lucky. Telecom records showed a phone call had been made in Room Six at 11.44am, just two minutes after Marta was shot. The caller was Maria Chiara Lipari, assistant to the head of department. A self-assured young woman, daughter of a former Christian Democrat senator, Maria Chiara was considered excellent witness material. At first she recalled "at a subliminal level" only that there were other colleagues in the room, but not who they were. After lengthy prodding she put names to faces. As she entered Room Six she saw the department secretary, Gabriella Alletto, and an assistant librarian, Francesco Liparota: two researchers, Giovanni Scattone and Salvatore Ferraro, were leaving in a great hurry. At first Gabriella Alletto denied she'd been near the reading room that morning. But eventually she signed a statement confirming Maria Chiara Lipari's account. And, in a sensational development, she claimed: "I saw Scattone half hidden behind the curtain with a black revolver in his hand and Ferraro alongside with his hands in his hair in a gesture of desperation." She hadn't disclosed these facts until a month after the crime, Alletto said, because she had been scared for herself and her two children.

Both women agreed that a third colleague, library assistant Francesco Liparota, was also present. He initially denied this but was arrested as an accomplice. Liparota was freed when he agreed to testify against Scattone and Ferraro.

On 14 June, just over a month after the killing, the police arrested the two researchers.

Giovanni Scattone is 31, baby-faced with large, startling blue eyes, an uncool Seventies haircut, and a shy manner; Salvatore Ferraro, 32, is his clean-cut, extroverted and preppy-looking friend. Both declared their innocence, come from stable middle-class homes, have no criminal records and were described as "exceptionally intelligent with brilliant career prospects". Scattone is accused of firing the fatal shot. His close friend Ferraro was allegedly his accomplice. Both are now on trial and face a possible 20 years in prison.

But this is a trial without a weapon and a motive. The gun has never been found and no amount of police delving has produced a reason for Marta's murder. For the public prosecutors, however, the motive is the very absence of a motive. They argue that Marta was killed as an intellectual dare by two clever young men convinced of their own superiority and invincibility. It was, they argue, an attempt by two apprentice legal philosophers to commit the perfect crime.

Newspapers reported that the pair were obsessed with firearms and had conducted a seminar for students on the difficulties of prosecuting a motiveless crime. Both reports proved to be false. Nevertheless, the no-motive motive was considered sufficiently convincing to keep Scattone and Ferraro in jail before the trial for 18 and 16 months respectively. Both used their time behind bars to study: Scattone completed his PhD with a thesis on "The legal rights of future generations".

"I saw my father cry for the first time when we saw on television that my brother had been arrested," recounts Giorgio Ferraro, Salvatore's older brother. "But we were sure it was just some terrible mistake that would quickly be ironed out." Ferraro's bank manager father and French teacher mother, who live in a small town in the southern region of Calabria, have followed their son's troubles from a distance, but Giorgio has given up his job as a lawyer and has moved to Rome to support his younger brother. "The case against him didn't stand up from the start, so the prosecutors, echoed by the press, tried to depict him as a psycho," says Giorgio.

Prosecutors presented notes from Salvatore's diary which supposedly show his obsession with violence and his sense of omnipotence. One entry read: "They have killed Sasa Ferraro who exalts the private war. They found him on the footpath, his eyes rolled back in fear. He no longer looked like a God." Says Giorgio: "Those scribblings dated back nine years to a brief period in which Salvatore used to write down the contents of his dreams. From about 90 entries, they highlighted the three that spoke of gruesome things."

Like the Ferraros, 72-year-old Giuseppe Scattone, a retired engineer with a passion for art and languages, is convinced of his son's innocence. He believes Giovanni was framed because of the immense public pressure to resolve the case. "They homed in on the Department, then on those who used the reading room. The police knew Giovanni knew how to shoot as he had done his military service in the Carabinieri corps," he says, showing me a photo of his youngest son smiling proudly in full military dress. "They also knew he could not prove beyond doubt where he was at the time of the shooting."

Giovanni Scattone told the police that at around 1pm he had left the family apartment in the leafy dormitory suburb of EUR. He went to the Literature Faculty, which is not on the main La Sapienza campus, where he consulted a timetable, chatted to a professor - who cannot confirm the visit - and picked up a certificate. Earlier, at the time of the shooting, he says he was on his way to the main campus.

"He could easily have confessed that he was playing with a gun that went off by accident. The police would then be able to say the case was closed. Having no criminal record, Giovanni would receive a limited sentence. But he is innocent and determined to prove it," says Scattone Snr, who has sold a family property to finance his son's defence.

Salvatore Ferraro, known to his friends as Sasa, can only claim that he was studying at home all morning. His lawyer sister, Teresa, confirms that. Telecom records show a phone call to the apartment at 11.30. But it takes only 12 minutes to walk from there to the Law Faculty.

On 20 April 1998 the trial for Marta Russo's murder began at a packed Corte d'Assise in Rome. "I just want the truth," commented Marta's father, a quietly spoken physical education teacher. Interest in the proceedings has been intense and TV specials dedicated to the Marta Russo case have topped the ratings.

In the absence of hard evidence, the trial has inevitably become a credibility contest between the defendants and their accusers. One of the most dramatic moments was a face-to-face encounter between Gabriella Alletto, the secretary, and Scattone - who she claims fired from the window. Though nervous, a well-groomed Alletto held her ground as Scattone accused her of making it all up. But Alletto's credibility took a nose dive in September last year with the screening in court of a secret police video taken during a lengthy night-time interrogation.

Alletto swears on her children's lives that she was never in Room Six and sobs as she is told that she risks a murder charge herself if she doesn't confirm who was in the room.

The inquisitorial video was criticised by media commentators and politicians, even by the then Prime Minister Romano Prodi, and triggered a formal inquiry into the two investigating magistrates, Carlo La Speranza and Italo Ormanni. They defended their strong-arm tactics with the assertion that: "A murder inquiry is not a tea party."

Another blow to the police's case was the testimony last month by the library assistant, Francesco Liparota. In a hesitant voice he told the court that he wasn't in Room Six at the time of the murder. He claimed that when he was in custody police had terrorised him with the idea that he would end up in jail unless he confirmed the magistrates' accusations against Scattone and Ferraro.

While their witnesses vacillated, the prosecution could at least count on some solid scientific evidence. That was until last month. In a bombshell report, three court-appointed experts said the initial forensic tests that indicated gunpowder on the window ledge of Room Six were inaccurate. The chemicals found were not necessarily indicative of gunpowder and only one of the particles found in the bags and on the clothes of Scattone and Ferraro could be traced to gunpowder.

The experts also criticised the ballistics report that indicated the bullet was fired from Room Six, saying the fatal shot could have been fired from six other locations and that the most likely were the two bathrooms on the ground floor.

In April, a jury comprising two magistrates and six members of the public will be called on to consider their verdict on a case that has intrigued the nation.

Was it an imperfect crime committed by two arrogant young intellectuals who took too seriously Nietzsche's concept of the superman? Or a perfect crime committed by someone who has yet to be traced?



Case of the perfect pointless murder grips Italy

By John Hooper - The

February 13, 1999

It has become such a cause celebre that the proceedings are being broadcast live on radio.

For the past 10 months three men have been on trial in Rome, charged with a mystifyingly motiveless murder - the killing in 1997 of a university undergraduate. Marta Russo, a law student, was shot in the head as she walked through La Sapienza university. More than 18 months of police and journalistic probing has failed to uncover why anyone would have wanted her dead.

Until this week, one of the few apparent certainties in the case was that the bullet that felled her had come from - of all places - the Institute of the Philosophy of Law.

According to the prosecution, it was fired by a jurisprudence researcher, Giovanni Scattone, aided and abetted by two other men - Salvatore Ferraro, another jurisprudence researcher, and the institute's library attendant, Francesco Liparota.

All three men were gun enthusiasts and hints were dropped by the investigators that the two young academics had been intellectually fascinated by the concept of a 'perfect crime'.

But this week the prosecution's case suffered a sensational double setback. Mr Liparota retracted his earlier confession to the crime. And court-appointed experts said that the fatal shot was more likely to have come from the university's statistics faculty.

The prosecution's case rests primarily on the evidence of a secretary, Gabriella Alletto. She told the court she had walked into lecture room number 6 on the first floor of the building that houses the institute and heard a sound behind the curtains. She then saw Mr Scattone draw back from the window with a pistol and flee the room. His colleague Mr Ferraro followed.

The experts reported that the victim's entry wound, and results of a laser experiment - retracing the path Marta Russo followed in the seconds before her death as she chatted to a friend, Jolanda Ricci - showed that the fatal shot could have come from any one of six windows in the building. But, they added, there was a 'more accentuated probability' that the gun that killed Ms Russo was fired from the ground floor, where the statistics faculty is.

Doubt had already been cast on Ms Alletto's evidence: a video screened in court in September showed prosecutors threatening her with life imprisonment unless she incriminated the defendants; she was tearfully protesting that she had not been in the lecture room at the relevant time. The film caused an uproar.

The two prosecutors in the Russo case may yet face trial themselves. Last week it was learned that their professional body was looking at a press interview in which one of them said of the three defendants: 'They are the murderers.'



Murder mystery puts Italian prosecutors in the dock

The killing of a law student has exposed a legal system in crisis, reports John Hooper in Rome


September 21, 1998

The bizarre case of two young philosophy lecturers accused of an apparently motiveless murder has turned from a legal curiosity into a political controversy. Even Italy's prime minister, Romano Prodi, has stated his position.

The body responsible for the legal system - the equivalent of Britain's Lord Chancellor's office - is to meet this week to decide whether to take disciplinary action against the prosecutors in the trial in Rome, which resumes tomorrow.

A video, shown in court last week and broadcast on Italian television, captures the two lawyers threatening a witness with life imprisonment if she refuses to give evidence incriminating the defendants.

The role of Italy's immensely powerful prosecutors is a repeated theme in rows about the sorry state of the country's justice system. In this case they were helped by the secret service.

The two lecturers, Giovanni Scattone, aged 29, and Salvatore Ferraro, aged 30, are charged, together with a library attendant, of murdering a law student, Marta Russo, last May. It is alleged they shot her with a .22 weapon from a junior lecturers' common room as she walked across the campus at the Sapienza, Rome's largest and oldest university.

But the weapon they are alleged to have used has never been found, and no motive has been established.

It is known that all three men were gun enthusiasts. It is also suggested that the defendants were imitating a scene from the film Schindler's List in which the concentration camp commandant shoots at inmates from his balcony. The film was shown on Italian television on the night of the murder.

It is also alleged that Mr Scattone and Mr Ferraro gave tutorials discussing a crime that could not be successfully prosecuted because of the lack of a motive. But the mystery remains as to why the killer would have fired from a room which people were constantly entering.

The case against the two philosophers and their alleged accomplice, Franceso Liparota, rests on a secretary, Gabriella Alletto. She told the court last week that she had heard a noise and that, when she turned around, she glimpsed Mr Scattone, half-hidden behind curtains, pull back from the open window with a pistol in his hand. The other two men were with him.

However, the video shown last week showed her telling a different story - swearing that she was not in the room and tearfully denying she had seen either of the two lecturers that day. The recording also showed the prosecutors warning her, "You are guilty of murder" and "you will never again come out of prison".

Mr Prodi called it a "very serious matter". The video reinforced allegations repeated since the mass jailings of the anti-corruption drive of the early 1990s that prosecutors routinely use the threat of imprisonment to extract dubious confessions.

The opposition, led by Silvio Berlusconi, who is himself battling to stay out of jail, has called for a change in the role of the prosecutors, who enjoy the status of judges yet fulfil many of the duties that, in other societies, are fulfilled by the police.

The prosecutors were astonished by the outcry. They gave the video to the court to show that taped extracts from the interrogation had not been manipulated. The video had been made secretly, with equipment supplied by the intelligence services, because the prosecutors suspected Ms Alletto might be communicating by signs with her brother-in-law, a police inspector who took part in her interrogation.

A judge had refused to authorise the filming, and Ms Alletto's lawyer was not present when they questioned her, although she was apparently regarded as a suspect.

Yet when pressed about the apparent irregularities in court, one of the prosecutors burst out: "What do you think? That murder inquiries are carried out offering tea and little cakes?"

In a report to the justice minister at the weekend, the chief prosecutor of Rome exonerated his subordinates, saying he saw nothing wrong with either their methods or their procedures.



Eight indicted for student murder

January 19, 1998

EIGHT university employees have been indicted for the murder of Marta Russo, the 22-year-old student who was shot dead last year outside the law faculty buildings of Rome's La Sapienza University.

Two university researchers are accused of the shooting while the others are administrative staff and the dean of the law philosophy institute, who are all accused of complicity for allegedly withholding evidence or lying to the police.

The murder has prompted speculations on the prevailing climate at the faculty in particular and La Sapienza in general. Key witnesses remembered crucial evidence only a month after the event. Others contradicted themselves, while the investigating judge complained of difficulty in getting people to talk. Bruno Romano, dean of the institute, was put under house arrest for several days because investigators suspected him of ordering university staff to keep their mouths shut.

Critics were quick to accuse academics and staff of regarding the university as beyond the law. There were also unconfirmed rumours of corruption and malpractice which induced a climate of secrecy.

The investigating judge said Giovanni Scattone, with Salvatore Ferraro, fired the fatal shot with a .22 calibre gun from a lecture room window. Also there was Francesco Liparota, a doorman. All three are charged with voluntary homicide. Professor Romano and three staff, Gabriella Alletto, Maria Urilli and Maurizio Basciu, accused of having lied or withheld evidence, have been charged with complicity. The eighth defendant, student Marianna Marcucci, is alleged to have tried to provide an alibi for Mr Ferraro.

No explanation for the crime has emerged. The two researchers charged with the murder, who have already spent six months in prison, have protested their innocence. The evidence against them hinges on Ms Alletto's testimony - a month after the shooting she told investigators she saw the researchers come rushing out of the room from which the shot is supposed to have been fired.



'Accidental' shooter on campus

June 23, 1997

A 30-year-old research assistant at Rome's La Sapienza University, Giovanni Scattone, is being held by police on suspicion of having shot and killed Marta Russo, a 22-year-old law student, as she strolled early last month with a friend through the campus. Russo was shot in the back of the head with a .22 bullet fired from the law building.

Scattone was arrested on June 15, after Bruno Romano, a professor of law philosophy, and two of his assistants had been arrested and charged with "withholding information". According to investigators, Professor Romano told faculty staff not to tell police they had seen three people, including Scattone, rush out of the room from which the shot was fired.

Police believe the shooting may have been an accident.



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