It’s likely that you are by now familiar with the names of Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone. The two Italian marines, who are now under house arrest at the Italian embassy in New Delhi, had been at the centre of a high-stakes diplomatic fracas between India and Italy. Arrested for the killing of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala, they had earned a month-long privileged sortie to go and vote in their country’s general elections on the undertaking of their ambassador Daniele Mancini. The Italian government, however, reneged on that promise, initially refusing to send them back. They did so only after the stern response of both the Indian government and the apex court.
You are less likely to know of Tomaso Bruno and Elisabetta Boncompagni—two other Italians languishing in the Varanasi district jail since February 2010. Unlike the marines who went to Italy to vote, they had to contend themselves with postal ballots delivered to them by a diplomat from the embassy. Far from the attention the marines have garnered, Tomaso and Elisabetta’s case has attracted no media glare.
The two backpackers had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in Varanasi in July 2011 for their alleged role in the murder of fellow Italian and co-traveller Franceso Montis. While the Allahabad High Court had in September last year dismissed the appeal their parents had filed against the decision, the Supreme Court has now accepted their plea to have this order reviewed. It will be heard in early September.
They were convicted based on circumstantial evidence and their failure to prove that they had been away from the hotel room in the early morning hours of the day Francesco died, presumably where and when he was attacked. Witness testimony from a hotel waiter even suggested that Elisabetta and Tomaso had developed a mutual liking and they were seen “hugging, kissing and cuddling” the evening before at the hotel restaurant “while the third tourist (Francesco, who Elisabetta was originally in a relationship with) looked subdued”.
However, the two tourists and their parents deny that Elisabetta and Tomaso conspired to kill Francesco. According to them, they had stepped out at 4 am on that day to watch the sun rise over the Ganga and returned at 8 am. They had left Francesco sleeping in the room, as he was not feeling well, and locked it from outside. On their return, they found him unconscious and Elisabetta called the hotel reception for help. The two took Francesco to a local hospital along with some staff. Francesco, the two claim, died on the way to the hospital.
Tomaso and Elisabetta
“The two had their passports with them,” says Tomaso’s mother Marina Maurizio. “They could have fled if they had killed him. Why would they take him to hospital instead?” A real estate broker in Albenga, Marina is in the city with her husband Luigi Bruno, an insurance agent, and Elisabetta’s father Romano Boncompagni, a retired army personnel from Turin. And she is the only one among the three to speak English.
A missing piece in the story is the hotel’s CCTV footage, something the investigating officers found to be “useless”. The hotel manager, based on his viewing of the CCTV monitor that night, testified that he saw nobody enter their room during those hours. The footage was not produced in court as evidence during the trial. The lawyers of Tomaso and Elisabetta did not make any request for the CCTV footage to be produced in court, but claim it may contain proof of their innocence. Gopal Chaturvedi, the defence lawyer for their appeal at the Allahabad High Court, told Outlook that the “best evidence (the CCTV footage) had been deliberately withheld by the prosecution”. However, Anil Kumar Singh, the public prosecutor at the trial court, says, “They preferred to keep silent and it was poisonous for them.”
The parents maintain that Francesco died of natural causes, something they say was a likely result of his heavy smoking and prior illness on the trip. They even question the two post-mortems—the first because it was done by an “eye specialist” and the second for being an “exact photocopy” of the first. “It doesn’t even make a mention of the rat bites that were caused while the body was kept at the hospital,” says Marina. But what about the external injuries around Francesco’s neck that were reported in the post-mortem? The defendants have claimed that they were inflicted while transporting his heavy body to the hospital.
Francesco’s parents, who live in Sardinia, have on the other hand never come to India. “They have refused to press any charges,” says Marina. “In fact, they are concerned for the two.” Negotiating their way through India’s judiciary and police, that too in a language they do not speak (Hindi), has proved to be a challenge. But this hasn’t necessarily soured their impression of India. “It could have happened in any other country,” says Marina.
The parents had also met Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi in January, who promised to follow the case with “personal interest”. (He resigned following the furore on the Italian marines issue). They have also been tracking the marines’ case closely, fearful of any adverse repercussions that could have arisen had they stayed back in Italy.
Even if the Supreme Court upholds the trial court’s verdict, their parents hope the two can serve out their remaining sentence in their country. This would be under a new prisoner exchange agreement between India and Italy, one that became operational in December last year. For now, it’s a thought they’d rather put aside. “We have full faith in India’s Supreme Court,” says Marina.
By Debarshi Dasgupta in Varanasi
Apropos The Other Italians (Apr 8), let’s hope the Italian backpackers arrested for murder in Varanasi jail fare well when the SC hears their appeal in September. It’s still bewildering, though, why the prosecution would be reluctant to admit CCTV footage as evidence in the court. Wouldn’t it only strengthen their case as the hotel manager says the cameras show no one else entering the room where the victim was asleep?
Elisebetta, in this story, in all probability, used Tomaso, to kill her previous boyfriend.
( You just need to understand a bit of how a female mind works, to understand that bit )
Most cases of 'whodunnit' murders involve females. Males usually get caught, because secrecy has never been their forte'. And the Indian police, lack the sophisticated investigations needed to crack murders involving women.
Let us hope for the best when the SC hears said Italian`s appeal in Sept.next . It`s strange why the defence councel is not insisting on CCTV footage which otherwise could save them from the charge of murder as the Hotel Manager asserts to have seen it and no person entered the said room where the victim had been sleeping during those early hours. Why the prosecution is avoiding to put CCTV footage as evicence in the court. Prosecution`s duty is not only to prove the charge with genuine evidences but at the same it needs also to ensure that no innocent is punished for the crime, not committed by him.
P.Gautampurkar,Sawai Madhopur,Rajasthan ..
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