Italian court frees journalist held after writing about serial murders

New York, May 3, 2006—Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist whose new book raises questions about a serial murder investigation, was released from a prison in the central city of Perugia on Saturday, according to local and international press reports.

An appeals court that day ordered that Spezi be released immediately, but it did not issue an explanation as to why it overruled the judge who authorized the imprisonment. Spezi, 60, spent 22 days in prison after being taken into custody on April 7. News reports said that he was under criminal investigation for allegedly obstructing an investigation into the 1968-85 “monster of Florence” murders. Spezi was initially denied access to a lawyer.

Although free, Spezi must still undergo questioning in the obstruction case. Spezi’s lawyer, Antonino Filasto, said his client must report to Perugia prosecutors on May 6, The Associated Press reported.

Spezi’s arrest came just days before he and American writer Douglas Preston published a book in Italy criticizing the “monster of Florence” investigation conducted by Perugia public prosecutor Giuliano Mignini. Spezi, a freelance reporter for the Florence-based daily La Nazione, has long reported on the murders of the eight couples. He has written articles in the Italian press and appeared on television shows about the murder investigation, which remains open.

Spezi’s arrest drew international attention, which played a significant role in the court ruling ordering the journalist’s release, Preston said in a telephone interview with CPJ today. CPJ sent a protest letter to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on April 19 about Spezi’s arrest.