Kidnap killers should die, say angry Italians

ITALIANS - from politicians to football fans - were united yesterday in calling for the death penalty, as the country recoiled in horror over the murder of a kidnapped toddler. The accused men, apparently killed their victim because he cried too much.

For a month, the nation had hoped for the safe return of Tommaso Onofri, a curly haired 17-month-old snatched from his home on 2 March.

Pope Benedict XVI, who had appealed for Tommaso's return, was among those expressing revulsion.

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Late on Saturday night, state television interrupted its programming to report that police, guided by one of the two suspected kidnappers, had located the boy's partly-buried body near a stream close to his home outside Parma.

The two suspects and a companion are already in police custody.

"I saw officers cry," said Parma's police chief Vincenzo Stringone. "Until the end we hoped the child was alive."

News reports said the suspects told authorities the boy had been killed about a half-hour after he was kidnapped.

The kidnappers, with the child between them on the seat of a motorbike, had fallen over as they rushed from the boy's house. When the toddler started crying, they tried to strangle him, then hit his head with a shovel until he went silent, investigators said.

"Every Italian family is crying for the death of Tommaso," the president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, said. "Since last night, when we learned the terrible news, my wife and I have felt a bone-chilling horror."

State radio said the kidnappers, who had been working on the family's house, planned to demand about 1 million in ransom from the boy's father, who ran a post office.

Banners in football stadiums denounced the kidnappers as "brutes", with some demanding the death penalty.

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As an EU member, Italy does not allow execution. Its stiffest punishment is life in prison.

"I believe that if today we all weren't Christians, we would really be in favour of the death penalty," Christian Democrat politician Pier Ferdinando Casini told a rally in Bologna.

One suspect, Mario Alessi, a convicted rapist, led investigators to the body on Saturday but did not confess to the killing.

Last month, he denied any involvement saying children "are angels who come down from heaven".

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