Saturday, April 30, 2011

Barbara Benedettelli: Campaigner For Victims And Families Says Italian System Denies Them Justice

Posted by Peter Quennell

You can see the problem. Many Italians now think that their justice and penal systems lean too far in the direction of perpetrators getting every possible break.

We have posted often on how tough things are for Italian police and prosecutions, and how many hurdles they have to jump through. There is great caution built into the process before cases ever go to trial, and then there are two compulsory rounds of appeal.

There are proportionally very few perpetrators in Italians prison by global standards, and when there in prison they are given quite a nice time, trained to perform usefully when released, and very often get out of prison early.

Seemingly very humane. But this does carry very high costs. There are often almost unbearable pressures on victims’ families, as Meredith’s father John Kercher has several times described. On top of all this, there is the growing western fascination with perps, and in many cases their elevating to popular cult-worship status.

Barbara Benedettelli is a writer and columnist and the editor of the popular “Top Secret” program on Rete4 TV…  Her latest book (only in Italian) is called “Victims Forever”. She talks of various prominent perps and the enormous and unrequiting pressures on victims’ families. In polls a large majority of Italians detest this. They want much less stress on “fairness” and MUCH more compassion for victims families and, if still alive, for the victims.

Barbara Benedettelli has been interviewed by Maria Rosaria De Simone for Italia Magazine

Barbara, tell me about your latest book, “Victims Forever.”

In this book, I put all my soul into it. I was completely absorbed, I have worked tirelessly. It’s the outcome of numerous interviews that I made with the relatives of those who were torn from life prematurely. Life is the greatest gift that we possess and it is important that we learn to respect it. We can not devalue it, treat it as waste paper. We can not despise it. Life must be defended. That ‘s what I tried to highlight.

Who are the ‘victims forever’ you speak of?

The victims are always the relatives of those who were killed. Killing a person is to kill an entire world, destroying the lives of family members who are sentenced to a life of pain. The murderer after serving his sentence can still have a future. Relatives of the victims do not.

They are sentenced to a life in pain. In the book I wanted to give voices to these victims. It covers eight stories.

I saw that the book contains interviews with relatives of the victims.

Yes, the book includes dialogues spoken in confidence, and the correspondence I received from relatives who live a life torn apart. They are trying to make their voices heard in order to receive justice, and instead they feel forgotten, mistreated and poorly tolerated by our justice system.

I approached them only to discover a world that I not even remotely imagined. I came into their lives on tiptoe, I saw their pain, the disillusionment of discovering that the murderer, in the process, is transformed from a ruthless criminal into a “poor victim” who is well treated, carefully supported, and spoiled to give him, after a detention not adjusted to the brutality of the crime, a new life, a new possibility for the future and a rehabilitation.

In the Italian criminal justice system, the victims and the relatives of the victims, who have lost their greatest asset, matter very little.

It cares far more for the wellbeing of the murderer, his recovery, his return to the social system. And with this mindset, I found that victims and their relatives do not receive justice.

We have a ‘system of rewards’ and if the murderer demonstrates a desire to involve themselves in re-education, we reduce by forty-five days every six months of the sentence. And we add a number of other benefits.

The book denounces a system that does not respect the victims in their need for recognition of their dignity, their value.

The penalties that are imposed on the offenders should be proportionate to the offense. A man who committed a murder, resulting in a final death, a road of no return, should receive an appropriate sentence, because what he did can not be erased, nor can there ever be reparation.

Instead, our Constitution, with the intent of an educational purpose and the rehabilitation of prisoners into society, has since 1975 triggered a series of benefits for good behavior, leading to numerous reductions of sentences for those convicted.

This is pervasive. It results in assurances for the inmate that leads to a serious imbalance. A murderer is often out of prison very soon, not having fully served his sentence, often emerging unaware of the seriousness of the crime he committed.

Relatives of the victims not only feel that their loved one is killed for the second time by a justice that they consider unjust, but often have to live with the terror of meeting the murderer on the streets of their country, proud and with the eyes of those who got away and without any gesture or sign of repentance.

In my book, the relatives of the victims complained that today in our justice system there does not exist any certainty of punishment.

Can you give some examples?

Take the case of four young boys, Alex Luciani, Daniela Traini, David Corradetti, and Eleonora Allevi.  In 2007, they were going to get ice cream.

A Rome boy who was drunk while driving a minibus mowed them down.

Well, consider how much pain, how many people were destroyed that night: the boys, their friends, their parents, their brothers, all those who loved them. Yet all this could all have been avoided. The murderer, Marco Ahmetovic, the previous year had attempted a robbery at a post office. Should he not have been in prison?

Of course, he should have been in prison. And how did it work out?

The taker of four young lives, Ahmetovic, was given six years and six months in prison. He was initially under house arrest in a residence by the sea with a friend, and then released because the house did not meet the standards.

There is no certainty of punishment, as you say. Not only is the sentence not appropriate for the offense that was committed, but even that is not properly served.

Yes, this is an insult to the relatives of the victims. I’ll give you another example. Remember little Tommaso Onofri? [The baby murdered near Parma, Sicily, by Mario Alessi.]

How could I forget? His case has been watched throughout Italy with bated breath ...

I interviewed his mother, Paola. She is a woman destroyed. The closer you get to her, the more you feel her pain and are overwhelmed. Paola calls for justice, justice before any thoughts of re-education, to punish, to emphasize that the life of a child has value.

Destroying that has a price: that of freedom. This price, the price of liberty, must be paid by the murderer. In 2006 Paul had a family and that now no longer exists.

Two men kidnapped Baby Thomas, who was seventeen months old, and they killed him without mercy. Mario Alessi and Salvatore Raimondi, these are the names of the killers.

And Antonella Conserva [Alessi’s wife and] was their alleged accomplice. Alessi was sentenced to life imprisonment. Raimondi, he was given twenty years, he has benefited from the fast-track trial [same as Guede’s] despite the brutality of the crime.

We keep waiting for the decision of the Court of Appeal in Bologna. [The Supreme Court of Cassation referred the wife’s case back to them.] The woman’s defense team seeks to demonstrate that she was not involved despite the evidence.

“I declare myself innocent,” she says. Meanwhile there is only one certainty, that the family will never see again Tommy Onofri that they killed.”

Mario Alessi had already had trouble with the law.

Indeed, this is another important point.

Alessi had a conviction for first and second-degree sexual assault. In 2000 a young couple in their rural home was attacked by two unknown men armed with a gun and a knife. The girl was brutally raped. And the rapist was the very same Alessi, who was arrested but released after only nine months after expiry of the period of detention.

After two convictions for rape, Mario Alessi was turned out and free to go and kill the little Tommaso Onofri.

This is the scandal of the Italian justice ...

Yes, a scandal and you could tell a long sequence of stories like that.

How did you feel to spend so much time with the relatives of the victims?

It ‘s hard. Their pain becomes your own, you’re totally involved.

However there is one thing you can say. Relatives of the victims asked for the certainty of punishment for the murderers through my book, but I have not read in them hatred, resentment and fury. Only pain and grief.

I remember that you entered into politics ...

I went into politics. I was full of projects, I thought I could change the world. I thought I could help those who are weakest, those who are less fortunate.

Unfortunately, I encountered the harsh realities of politics. I found myself alone in my battles. I am too idealistic, I do not go over well with this policy.

And in all this your husband Claudio Brachino [the host of Top Secret, image below] helped you?

Claudio is a wonderful man. Always over the years we worked together. He has always supported me. He’s also a loving father. He respects my work and my need to carry out my work in complete independence.

Claudio is not only a true professional, but he is also very sensitive and is proud of what I’m doing. Even my two sons are, who I love with all my heart, and who I have rather neglected during the writing of this book. Especially in the final stages. I was very busy and unbearable.


Maria Rosaria De Simone adds: I read her book, “Victims forever.” Barbara Benedettelli’s work is valuable not only for the way she conducted the interviews and the reflections of high compassion, but also she uses the Italian language fluently and is full of interesting styles. Very nice also is the foreword to the book by Rita Dalla Chiesa, who recalls the day when she learned of the murder of her father, Carlo Alberto. An excerpt.

This is for More Victims. A book in which the soul of the writer shows through and seems naked, stripped at times. Pages that reflect strong feeling, the passion of civil pain but also the love for life, interspersed with the complaints toward a system that allows double, triple, endless injustices. These make these people, in fact, Victims Still.

Not only once, but whenever a court fails to follow up, a murderer intrudes again in those lives that are torn, injured, deprived of any human right. Every time we, the people, public opinion, politicians, judges, writers, forget that the effect of a murder does not end with the death of a human being irretrievably “deleted”, but continues in those who survive the death. Because a human being is an entire world. A world full of meaning, history, and other people.


Barbara Benedettelli brings up a disturbing truth. Her book, “Victims Forever”, addresses the issue of why we don’t “Get tough on crime,” but instead “Get soft on crime”.

Why feeble punishments?

Is it the financial burden of keeping prisoners housed so many years? Yes. The softening of emotions due to time fading our memories and the horror of a crime? Yes. A trickle down effect of “catch and release” where criminals are given rehab for reentry to society more than punishment? Yes. Is it the strange philosophy that there is no right or wrong, only utility, what works, and that punishment is somehow revenge, or evil? Yes. Is it the false godliness of false forgiveness, making society think it is wrong to exact punishment, that “nothing is made better and the guilty party only made worse”. Yes.

Criminals should pay the cost of crime, not their victims. “Get tough on crime” gets its validation from simple justice: If you steal, you restore. If you tear down, you build back. If you take two things, restore two things.

Prisoners should be forced to accomplish something positive working a humane schedule.

Posted by Hopeful on 05/01/11 at 01:25 AM | #

You are spot on, Hopeful.

Posted by pensky on 05/01/11 at 07:53 AM | #

An image of Claudio Brachino and his wife Barbara Benedettelli is now added. This is a popular and glamorous couple who not only appear regularly on TV but are followed very closely by print media too.

Where Hopeful is (and also our Italian posters Commisario Montelbano and Cesare Beccaria) is where many readers tell us they are now as they observe the haywire effects of the Italian system in trying to be so careful and cautious and instead doing so much harm to the Kerchers.

The Knox cult would have been long gone but for that.

In the US and UK systems (1) this first appeal would almost certainly have been denied as the defense arguments were flimsy in the extreme; and (2) Amanda Knox would not be featured monthly in the news having a good time as she was the other day mingling with a popular Italian rock group at Capanne.

May Barbara and Claudio please take up Meredith’s case, as it is the very epitome of their concerns.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 05/01/11 at 03:19 PM | #

I think there are two basic reasons why the Italian system is so lenient, the financial burden of keeping prisones jailed for many years, and the principle according to which time served in prison is not to be considered a punishment for the crime committed, but it is intended to rehab inmates and return them to society as full contributors. This is a very illuminated and civilized principle,unfortunately,it doesn’t always work.Today I’ve read on the news that a man who had been sentenced for murdering his wife was freed after only 10 years-guess someone decided that he was ready to return to society-, but after living as a free man for 10 years,he shot and killed his current girlfriend a couple of days ago

Posted by Nicki on 05/01/11 at 09:44 PM | #

Yes, the question really is: what is rehabilitation? 

I think that with the ever-decreasing statistics in ‘religious belief’ and church attendance western society is losing the understanding of this concept and it is reduced to behavioural status i.e. outward appearances / good behaviour in prison / participation in the various programmes etc. 

In reality ‘rehabilitation’ must surely also mean a deep inner conviction, realisation and understanding and an outward acknowledgement of personal responsibility in committing the crime.  This coupled with a real desire to turn around, make amends (in whatever way is just) and really change. 

But yes, due to overcrowding, financial cost and an incomplete understanding of the true meaning of rehabilitation prisoners not-yet-ready to re-enter the world are nevertheless sent out into it hence the high rate of recidivism.

Posted by thundering on 05/02/11 at 03:55 AM | #

OT but huge:  Osama Bin Laden is dead!!! Yay!!! Yay, yay!!! Death to terrorist mastermind of 9/11 !!! He was shot in the head by U.S. Forces in Pakistan. Justice is sweet! I’m thrilled. In spirit I’m celebrating and flagwaving with the crowds in D.C. by White House and beautiful New York City. Go SEALS! Go Leon Panetta, go CIA! You got him, boys.

Posted by Hopeful on 05/02/11 at 04:12 PM | #

Hi Hopeful. Yeah the news is pouring out on the BBC News Channel etc and the op seems to have been very carefully planned. Those choppers came in low from Afghanistan. Chez Ben Laden was right next to the Pakistan military academy and the house had been specially built. Wow. That could make someone smell a rat.

Here in NYC people sure are pleased. Maybe a weight off our minds though we still worry about loose nukes. Many still miss the twin towers and I was often there. From across the Hudson I saw the second plane come in and the towers wobble and drop. I wondered every few weeks where he might be. Maybe half the people who died actually lived across the Hudson in New Jersey as there were Port Authority trains to Jersey from right under the towers. None were from the complex where I live.

Ben Laden gained traction in the moslem world till around 2006 but then I think largely lost it and the new Middle East democracy movement was maybe anathema to him. Important thing in the Middle East is to get some real growth going. Added together all those economies including Egypt and Saudi and Kuwait and Dubai are only the size of Netherlands. Erk.

That economic fact above affects no non-Middle-Eastern country more than it does Italy. To the extent crime is ticking upward in Italy, the major single driver is that maybe half of all drug dealers and a clear majority of all drugs come from across the Med.

It could also have been the indirect reason that Amanda Knox was there. She was a known druggie before she left Seattle, and some American students intent on having a good time away from home target Italy, and Perugia in particular.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 05/02/11 at 06:00 PM | #

Hopefully because of all the negative publicity eminating from Seattle and elswhere plus the absolute denial and lack of remorse by Amanda Knox she will be forced to serve the full amount of her sentence. Given the lenient system in place in Italy I suppose this would normally not happen but as I have pointed out before, the high profile of this international case has forced the Italian Justice System to make doubly sure they have all their ducks in a row. Also at some point in the future it is not impossible that a request will be placed to have her finish her sentence in the USA. I realise this is conjecture on my part but hopefully if this comes about the Italian government will deny the request.
Sincerely Grahame Rhodes

Posted by Grahame Rhodes on 05/02/11 at 06:38 PM | #
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