Court: Once-fearsome mafioso could be released


Once-fearsome Sicilian Mafia boss Salvatore “Toto” Riina has the “right to die in dignity” and could be released from prison on health grounds, according to a ruling by Italy’s top appeals court.

Riina, now 86, whose brutality earned him the nickname “The Beast,” was the mastermind behind several high profile murders in the 1980s and 1990s, including the assassination of top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino as well as Sicily’s then-governor Piersanti Mattarella, whose brother Sergio is now president of Italy.
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Behind bars and on trial: Riina was convicted of more than a hundred counts of murder, including sanctioning the slayings of top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Once considered the “boss of all bosses”, he was arrested in 1993 and is serving multiple life sentences in solitary confinement.

In its ruling, Italy’s Court of Cassation struck down lower court ruling that refused a release request, the ANSA news agency said. The judgment will not result in Riina’s immediate release, but clears the way for another lower court to authorize it, said ANSA.

According to testimony in the release appeal, Riina suffers from severe kidney and brain problems and is at risk of “fatal and unpredictable” heart attacks. The court heard that while his crimes are undisputed, he can no longer be considered a menace to society.

The man who replaced Riina as mafia leader, Bernardo “The Bulldozer” Provenzano, ended up behind bars in 2006. He fought unsuccessfully to be released on health grounds and died last year at the age of 83.

Another infamous assassination ordered by Riina was Carabinieri General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the newly appointed prefect of Palermo, who was killed along with his wife and driver in 1982 by motorcycle-riding gunmen. His daughter Rita Dalla Chiesa, a TV presenter, was among those who criticized the recent court ruling.

“I don’t think my father had a dignified death — they murdered him, his wife and driver, leaving them in the car without even a sheet to cover them,” she said on Italian TV.

Italy’s association of criminal lawyers came out in favor of clemency, saying “the goal of detention cannot be revenge.”

The head of the parliamentary anti-mafia commission, Rosy Bindi of the ruling Democratic Party, said “there is no need” to move Riina because he has all the treatment he needs in the prison hospital.