Death in Palagonia

Thomas Jones

An elderly couple have been murdered in their home in Palagonia, a town of 16,500 people near Catania. The police have arrested an 18-year-old suspect, who was caught with the victims' phone, computer and bloody trousers on his person. He says he found them under a tree. The crime was probably gruesome enough to have made headlines for its sensation value alone: both corpses were naked; the woman was thrown from a balcony. There were no signs of forced entry on the doors or windows of their apartment. But it's still in the news because the suspect, an Ivorian national, arrived in Sicily by boat on 8 June.

The victims' daughter has said that Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, 'should come and give me an explanation, I don't know what to make of his excuses, my parents are dead, and it's also the fault of the state'. The leader of the xenophobic Northern League, Matteo Salvini, never shy of an anecdotal fallacy or making political capital out of personal misery, said: 'It isn't "also" the fault of the state; it is "only" the fault of the state.' He went on:

What war was this guy escaping from? If he's guilty, he should be given life imprisonment with forced labour. And the immigration centre where he was staying, a 100-million-euro hostel for illegals, should be closed immediately. I will go straight back to Sicily; the invasion must be stopped at any cost.

As if it weren't already illogical enough, Salvini's line of non-reasoning isn't even consistently applied, though the targets and exemptions are dismayingly predictable. When a car with three young Roma men in it killed a woman and injured eight other people in Rome in May, Salvini called for bulldozers to raze the Roma 'camps' in the city. (To put the incident in statistical perspective: in 2013 there were 181,227 road accidents in Italy resulting in death or injury, with 3385 people killed and 257,421 hurt.) But when Amanda Knox was accused of murdering Meredith Kercher, no one suggested that the Università per Stranieri in Perugia should be closed down, or that American students should be prevented from coming to Italy.


  • 1 September 2015 at 11:00am
    Alex K. says:
    "But when Amanda Knox was accused of murdering Meredith Kercher, no one suggested that the Università per Stranieri in Perugia should be closed down, or that American students should be prevented from coming to Italy."

    It must be said that to people familiar with the case, it soon became clear that the charges against Knox were ridiculous and could only serve as evidence of sloppy work or deliberate obfuscation by Italy's police and legal system (of whose general shiftiness Edward Luttwak has convincingly written in the LRB on several occasions). What is remarkable about the Palagonia case is the uncritical, near-automatic assumption of the Ivorian suspect's guilt. The case has not even gone to trial yet. The man might seem guilty but, having looked into the workings of Italy's criminal justice, I cannot understand how any sensible Italian could put much trust in a report by police officials without doubting and triple-checking every detail of it.

    Going back to the Kercher murder, the man who appears to have committed the crime alone and is serving a 16-year sentence for his part, Rudy Guede, is also of Ivorian origin. However, as he grew up in Perugia, speaks Italian like a local, and was, for a time, adopted by a rich and influential Perugian family, Guede's behavior did not provoke a similar outburst of anti-immigrant vitriol.

  • 8 September 2015 at 2:48pm
    G. Watson says:
    "[T]he uncritical, near-automatic assumption of the Ivorian suspect’s guilt" may well have been made because the Ivorian, Kamara Mamadou, was checked on his return to the refugee camp and found to be carrying a bag containing bloodstained clothes, a mobile phone and computer. When police, having traced ownership of the phone, went to the victims' home to enquire whether he or she wanted to report a theft, they discovered the crime scene. The computer was also found to have been stolen from one of the victims, and the Ivorian was found to be wearing the male victim's trousers, shirt and slippers, having changed and put his own, bloodstained trousers, in his bag. I suggest that may well be sufficient assumption of guilt at least to bring him to trial.

    As for the Meredith Kercher murder trial, Italy's highest court has just published its motivations for final rejection of the guilty verdicts on Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. And yes, the crucial reasons cited were several "glaring errors" in the prosecution case, as well as stress caused by the pressure of the international media attention.