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Stefano Cucchi

Stefano CucchiThe incident

Stefano Cucchi died aged 31 on 22nd October 2009 in the secure ward of the Sandro Pertini hospital in Rome. Cucchi had been arrested late in the evening on 15th October for being in possession of a few grammes of hashish, cocaine and antiepileptics and taken to the Carabineri police station in Via del Calice. He spent that night in two different Carabinieri police stations and was taken to court the morning after for the validation of the arrest. His state of health was already a cause for concern, and at the end of the hearing he was examined by the court doctor. In the hours to follow he went through the prison admission procedure. He was given a standard medical examination in the Regina Coeli prison infirmary and, as a consequence, was ordered to be transferred immediately to the Fatebenefratelli hospital accident and emergency department for further tests.

In the twelve times that Stefano Cucchi came into contact with twelve different public and governmental institutions and procedures not a single person did anything to stop what was happening. His family had no news of him for six days and didn't see him again until he was dead. On Thursday 29th October 2009, in a press conference organised by A Buon Diritto, a folder was given out containing photos of Stefano before the autopsy, sent to A Buon Diritto by his family. These photos, sadly, became famous: the incredibly thin body, the bruises on his face, one eye open, the other closed, a black bruise on his coccyx and marks and bruises all over him. The picture that emerged from the autopsy performed on Stefano's exhumed body by Vittorio Fineschi and Cristoforo Pomara, the forensic pathologists engaged by the Cucchi family, was that his death was the result of a series of interrelated actions and events.
Stefano Cucchi's death, according to the family-appointed experts, was “attributable to a condition of polytraumatised and immobilised acute pulmonary edema”. They emphasise the fact that Cucchi had never suffered from heart problems, as confirmed by the nurses on duty, who declared that the patient had a “normal heart rate and sinus rhythm”. Thus, when he entered the hospital, Cucchi had no functional disorders of any significance. He only had fractures – somatic fractures of the bodies of the third lumbar and the second sacral vertebrae – as a result of the violence he had been subject to. What he needed was treatment and assistance, bed rest and immobility. What happened, though, was that in one week his weight fell from 52 to 37 kilograms.
Right from the start, Stefano's sister Ilaria Cucchi has been in the front line in the fight for justice. She and her family have been vilified on several occasions (accusations of causing an “intolerable media uproar”, internal family questions open flaunted, etc.), just as Stefano has been vilified from all sides – accused of being a “drug addict”, described as “anorexic” and physically “weak” – to the point of attributing his death to his own physical weakness. This, for example, is what Carlo Giovanardi, then Under-secretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, attributed it to during a Radio Mattino broadcast on Radio 24. And it is also what the Public Prosecutors attributed it to in their summing up on 8th April 2013, when they heavily criticised members of the victim's family and stated that “the blows were coincidental to the cause of death”.

The trial

In the initial arraignment for the investigation into the death of Stefano Cucchi, three doctors from the Pertini hospital were charged with manslaughter and the three prison officers who held Cucchi in custody in the cells of Rome Court before the validation hearing were charged with voluntary manslaughter. By the time the investigation ended in April 2010, the counts of indictment had been radically transformed into aiding and abetting, abandonment of incapacitated person, malfeasance in office and falsification of documents for the doctors and nurses, and bodily harm and abuse of power for the prison officers.
Right from the start, the trial was marked by discrepancies between the reports of court-appointed and family-appointed experts. In an attempt to resolve the disproportionately excessive differences between the findings of the initial examinations, the Rome Court of Assizes, in 2012, asked six university experts to ascertain the exact cause of death of Stefano Cucchi. On 13th December 2012 their “super-expert report” was submitted, and the conclusion they came to was surprising: “On the basis of the unequivocal convergence of clinical-anamnestic data and anatomopathological findings, the cause of Stefano Cucchi's death can be identified as inanition syndrome, [i.e.] a syndrome sustained by the lack (or great scarcity) of nutrition and fluids”. Stefano Cucchi, according to the experts of the Labanof Institute of Legal Medicine in Milan, died of hunger and thirst. This reconstruction, however, did not convince the Cucchi family and its lawyers, who have constantly insisted that the cause-effect relationship between the injuries that were – definitely – inflicted and the subsequent death should be acknowledged, and that this should be done by changing the indictment of the police officers concerned from grievous bodily harm to voluntary manslaughter.
On 5th June 2013, in the Rebibbia “bunker” courtroom, the sentence of the court of first instance was pronounced. The prison officers were acquitted because it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they had committed the act in question, in that the evidence of their guilt was either insufficient or contradictory (Article 530 Clause 2 of the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure); the six doctors were sentenced for manslaughter whereas the nurses were acquitted for not having committed the act in question.

The appeal proceedings began on 23rd September 2014. Attorney General Mario Remus requested that all the defendants – including the prison officers and nurses acquitted in first instance – be convicted. As regards the police officers, the Attorney General argued that Cucchi bore no signs of aggression and violence before the arrest validation hearing and thus maintained that the beating took place after the hearing and before being transferred to prison by the officers holding Cucchi in custody. The Attorney General then requested that the conviction of the doctors accused of “inadequate care” be upheld, on the same grounds as those stated in the request for the conviction of the nurses. On 31st October the Rome Court of Appeal decided to acquit all the defendants: the nurses because there was no case to answer, the prison officers because of insufficient evidence and the doctors, after being convicted of manslaughter in first instance, because of insufficient evidence and there being no case to answer. The Cucchi family will appeal to the Court of Cassation, because still, five years after the death of Stefano, it has not been ascertained who was responsible.

Published: Wednesday, 18 February 2015 18:59

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