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The Shocking Case of Stefano Cucchi

Causing a stir in Italy at the moment is the controversial case of Stefano Cucchi who died while in custody after being arrested for dealing drugs in October 2009.

Cucchi’s sister Ilaria has been campaigning tirelessly in an attempt to reveal the truth surrounding her late brother’s sudden, unexpected, and seemingly unjustified death.

As an aside, there seems to be an attempt to keep Italians away from the Wikipedia entry on the Stefano Cucchi case. You’ll find more on this at the end of this article.

*** Update 17, January, 2017: Prosecutors are now saying Cucchi was unlawfully killed. It is believed three members of Italy’s Carabinieri police who arrested Cucchi are allegedly responsible for punching, slapping and kicking him.  There’s no news on when the Carabinieri concerned will appear in court, although the other officers appear to have lied to cover up for their colleagues violent treatment of Cucchi. The cause of death is now believed to have been a fall resulting from a punch.

This post will be updated when more comes to light. Update end***

*** Update 26 November, 2014: Hard to tell whether the attempt was deliberate and it looks as if what is described later in this article was probably not much more than technical issues relating to the renaming of the Italian Wikipedia entry on Cucchi’s death. Update end***

Initially, some of those deemed responsible for Stefano Cucchi’s death were found guilty, then, at appeal, all those accused of involvement in Cucchi’s death, including those previously convicted, were acquitted.

Shocked and disgusted at the decision of the appeal court, Cucchi’s sister Ilaria has managed to convince Italy’s authorities to take another look at the circumstances of her brother’s death.

How did Cucchi End Up Dead?

On October 15th, 2009, Stefano Cucchi was arrested by police for drug dealing. He was found in possession of 21 grams of hashish and three packets of cocaine and a pill for his epilepsy. In view of the illegal drugs in his possession, Cucchi was taken into custody. At the time of his arrest, he weighed 43 kilograms and was not injured in any way.

The day after his arrest, Cucchi was sent for trial. At his hearing, he was unstable and showed signs of having being beaten. The judge hearing the case decided that a futher hearing was necessary and Cucchi, despite signs of ill health, was transferred to the Regina Coeli prison to await his second hearing.

After the initial hearing, Stefano Cucchi’s condition worsened and he was taken to hospital. The hospital noted bruising and other injuries to Cucchi’s legs and face. His jaw had been fractured and a ruptured bladder had caused internal bleeding. In addition, two of Cucchi’s vertebrae had been fractured. In view of these injuries, the hospital requested that Cucchi be admitted for treatment. The request was refused by, it is claimed, Cucchi himself. Then, on October 22nd, a week after his arrest,  Stefano Cucchi died. He was 31. At the time of his death his weight had fallen from 43 kilograms to 37 kilograms.

Upon hearing of their son’s death, Cucchi’s family attempted, initially without success, to establish Cucchi’s state of health at the time of his death. Later, an official from Italy’s prison service approached the family to tell them an autopsy was to be carried out.

Prison staff denied subjecting Cucchi to violence claiming that the cause of Cucchi’s death could have been either drug abuse, Cucchi’s state of health or his refusal to be admitted to hospital. Italy’s then undersecretary of state Carlo Giovanardi stated that Cucchi died of a combination of anorexia, drug dependence and was HIV positive. Giovanardi later retracted his statement.

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Cucchi’s family published photographs of their dead son lying on a mortuary table. His state of malnutrition as well as signs of physical abuse were evident from the images.  The photographs, be warned, they are harrowing, can be seen here – Post Mortem Photographs of Stefano Cucchi. Here’s one of them:

Stefano Cucchi's condition at the time of his autopsy.
Ilaria Cucchi with a photograph showing her late brother Stefano Cucchi’s condition at the time of his autopsy.

During the investigations which followed, two other inmates said that Stefano Cucchi had told them he had been beaten up. Another inmate stated that she had seen Cucchi being physically abused by prison guards who allegedly kicked and punched Cucchi.

Investigators found that Cucchi died from a combination of injuries resulting from physical abuse and the absence of medical treatment. A total of 13 people were investigated in connection with Cucchi’s death.

On November 14th, 2009, three prison guards were charged with manslaughter and three doctors found themselves facing charges of having contributed to Cucchi’s death through the omission of medical assistance. Cucchi, it has been claimed, and as mentioned before, refused offers of treatment.

The Findings of the Court

At a trial of first instance  – there are three levels of justice in Italy – which ended in June 2013, four doctors from the Sandro Pertini hospital were found guilty of manslaughter and another was found guilty of making a false statement. The court acquitted six others, including nurses and prison guards, with the court finding that they had not contributed to Cucchi’s death. An appeal was lodged.

The Appeal Court Decision

The appeal hearing overturned the decision of the lower court and acquitted all those accused of wrongdoing in the Cucchi case. Stefano Cucchi’s sister was outraged by the decision and announced an appeal to Italy’s highest court. She also generated a lot of media attention for her late son’s case and has attracted the support of the speaker of Italy’s senate Pietro Grasso who has stated that those who know something should talk. Investigators who met will Ilaria Cucchi are to reopen the case.

In light of both the findings of the lower court and of the acquittal by the appeal court, Ilaria Cucchi is questioning whether Italian justice is just and public opinion is with her.

After her many media appearances, Italy’s prison guard’s union decided to sue Ilaria Cucchi for instigating hatred against prison guards.

Other Mysterious Deaths in Italy Prisons

Incidentally, since Stefano Cucchi died with within Italy prison system, the lives of 893 other prisoners in Italy have ended. Some committed suicide whereas other died in circumstances which are not wholly clear. The Cucchi case, which is damaging the reputation of Italian justice, appears to be the tip of a grim iceberg.

Wikipedia Mystery – Solved, Probably

Curiously, if one searches for information on the Cucchi case using “stefano cucchi” or “morte di stefano cucchi” (death of Stefano Cucchi) on Google.it, and decides to take a look at the Wikipedia entry on Cucchi’s death, one may well be faced with a Wikipedia page which reads “Questa pagina è stata cancellata” – This page has been cancelled.

Maybe one is being paranoid, but it does look as if persons unknown have attempted to hide the Wikipedia page from the curious. Alternatively, it could merely be a case of Wikipedia’s administrators who may have re-named the page but the redirect system has not yet started functioning. I’ll keep an eye on the situation. The page appears to have been named Morte of Stefano Cucchi – The Death of Stefano Cucchi whereas it was Omicidio di Stefano Cucchi – the Stefano Cucchi Homicide. Technically, in view of the legal position, it has not yet been proven that Cucchi’s death was caused by the actions of others. This may explain why the page has been moved and renamed.

Il Post journalist, Emanuele menietti, thinks I’m being paranoid over the Wikipedia issue. He may be right. Well, Machiavellian Italy can prompt attacks of paranoia!

The Wikipedia entry, in Italian, on the Cucchi case does still exist, and is here: Morte di Stefano Cucchi.

The case continues.

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