Misheard word led to 20 years’ wrongful imprisonment for Italian man

A 51-year-old has been released from prison after being cleared of a murder for which he served over 20 years in jail.

Misheard word led to 20 years' wrongful imprisonment for Italian man
Italy's Court of Cassation, which finally reopened Massaro's case two years ago. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Angelo Massaro from Taranto in the Apulia region, was accused of killing a young man in 1995.

He was sentenced to 24 years in jail due to evidence from an intercepted phonecall and a tip-off from an informant.

A misinterpretation of a dialect word in the phonecall appears to be behind the wrongful conviction.

Massaro was recorded saying “tengo stu muert” on the phone to his wife a week after the murder, which roughly translates as “I've got this dead person”.

However, Massaro's lawyer, Salvatore Maggio, said he was using the word 'muert' in the dialectal sense of 'a dead weight', and was actually talking about a snowblower which was attached to his car.

Maggio was also able to prove that his client had an alibi for the time of the murder; he had been at the local health authority seeking advice about drug addiction.

The Catanzaro Court of Appeal has now ruled that Massaro did not commit the crime, and the 51-year-old has been released.

During his time behind bars, he achieved a high-school diploma and a diploma in surveying, and took a university law course which helped him put forward his own appeal.

He and his lawyer first asked for a retrial in 2011, but the request was refused by the local court. However, Italy's Supreme Court overturned this decision, reopening the case in 2015.

Maggio said that his client's “head was spinning” after his release.

“It's not easy after 21 years in a cell to see cars, bars, streets – the world has changed,” the lawyer told Italian media on Thursday. “He's really disorientated.”

But Massaro, who has spent time imprisoned in five different jails and was able to see his wife and two children only during supervised visits, says practising yoga enabled him to cope with his situation.

“Studying helped me a lot, but it was yoga, meditation and sport which stopped me going mad,” he told Il Corriere TV. “They allowed me to close a mistaken chapter of my life and to survive this persecution from the legal system which I would not wish on anyone.”

He added that “nothing will undo the suffering of these past 20 years”.

Astonishingly, this was the second time Massaro was falsely convicted of murder.

In 1991, he served the first year of a 21-year sentence for another killing, before being judged innocent and compensated by the Italian state.


Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

Italy commemorated the death of Italian judge Giovanni Falcone on Monday, thirty years after the brutal Capaci bombing.

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

The entire country paid tribute on Monday to anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by the Sicilian mafia 30 years ago in a car bomb murder that shocked the country.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese laid a wreath at the memorial at the site of the blast at Capaci, near Palermo, that killed Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort on May 23rd 1992.

Another ceremony in Palermo was attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose brother Piersanti, then Sicily’s regional president, was also murdered by the mafia.

In a statement, Prime Minister Mario Draghi hailed the legacy of Falcone, saying that thanks to his “courage, professionalism and determination, Italy has become a freer and fairer country”.

He said Falcone and his colleagues – one of whom, Paolo Borsellino, was killed by Cosa Nostra two months later – “dealt decisive blows against the mafia”.

“Their heroism had rooted anti-mafia values in society, in new generations, in republican institutions,” he added, saying the “relentless fight against organised crime and […] the search for truth” must continue.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogramme (1100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend. At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

READ ALSO: How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

On July 19th, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Falcone posed a real threat to Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by The Godfather trilogy, and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

He and Borsellino were later credited with revolutionising the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence for a groundbreaking ‘maxi-trial’ in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” anti-mafia prosecutor Marzia Sabella told AFP.