AN ITALIAN court yesterday ordered a retrial for a woman convicted over the 1995 death of her former husband, the fashion heir Maurizio Gucci, after her family claimed she was too brain-damaged to have committed the crime.
Patrizia Reggiani, dubbed the "black widow" by Italy’s press, was sentenced to 26 years in jail in 1998 for hiring a hitman to kill her estranged husband outside his Milan office in a Mafia-style hit.
Her family said she suffered the damage during surgery for a brain tumour many years ago, and it meant she could not have planned a murder. New medical tests show the extent of the brain damage, her defence said.
In addition to ordering the retrial, the court appointed four experts to write a new report on Reggiani’s mental health. The defence had argued that new medical tests not available in Italy during the original trial provided fresh evidence about her mental state.
"It’s a just and logical decision," the Reggiani’s lawyer, Danilo Buongiorno, said after the hearing in Mestre, near Venice.
Reggiani, who is serving a 26-year term, did not attend.
"We are partially satisfied," one of her daughters, Alessandra Gucci, said. "We are very worried for our mother, because she is not well. We hope she can come home soon."
It was not clear whether Reggiani would remain in jail pending the retrial.
Her first trial was the stuff of a Hollywood drama, from family feuds to clairvoyants and rumours of "cursed" evidence that gave court officials skin rashes.
Lawyers have said the retrial, requested by her daughters, Allegra, 22, and Alessandra, 29, will not question whether Reggiani ordered the murder, but whether she was sane after having a brain tumour removed in 1992.
In the original trial, the prosecution said Reggiani ordered the murder after her 12-year marriage to Maurizio ended and he moved in with a younger woman. The two allegedly fell out over the divorce settlement.
She had wanted 1 million but was given 650,000, which she labelled a "plate of lentils", and set about arranging the 180,000 hit on her husband. He was shot four times on his office doorstep.
Reggiani and three others, including a female clairvoyant, the hitman and getaway driver, were arrested and tried in 1998, three years after the murder in Milan.
The court heard a fascinating story of jealousy, hatred and betrayal that had eventually led to murder.
Prosecutors portrayed Reggiani as a gold digger who was furious after her husband dumped her for another woman.
She was once famously quoted as saying: "I’d rather cry in a Rolls-Royce than be unhappy on a bicycle," and the court heard how in her diary on the day of her former husband’s killing was written the word "Paradise".
Star witness at the original trial was Pina Auriemma, a clairvoyant to whom Reggiani turned to arrange the hit, but who turned informer at the trial.
In 2000, an appeals court in Milan upheld Reggiani’s conviction but reduced the sentence from 29 to 26 years.
Yesterday’s court proceedings in Venice come after a lengthy campaign by her daughters and will focus on new medical evidence.
When judges agreed to a retrial in May, the sisters issued a statement saying: "We want the truth. Our mother did not order any killing."
Mr Buongiorno said before yesterday’s court hearing he would present expert reports and X-rays of Reggiani’s brain to prove the mental damage she had suffered.
"An instigator must have lucidity," Mr Buongiorno told RAI state-run TV.
"How could an instigator have organised everything if she didn’t have mental capacity?"
Since she was jailed Reggiani’s health is said to have worsened. Three years ago she tried to hang herself with bedsheets in her cell at Milan’s tough Opera prison and had to be cut down by prison officers.
Maurizio Gucci was the grandson of Guccio Gucci, founder of the fashion company known for its luxury leather goods.
Maurizio had sold his controlling interest in the family fashion empire to an Arab investment company for 300 million three years before he was gunned down.