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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Monster of Florence

What follows is a letter from Douglas Preston, an American journalist and writer: Please read his story and blog about it.

Dear Friends and colleagues,

On April 7, my good friend and writing partner Mario Spezi, a well-known Italian journalist, was arrested and thrown into jail, in the worst abuse of state power I have ever seen in a Western European country.

This is what happened. Since the year 2000, Spezi and I have been researching and writing a book about a serial killer, dubbed the Monster of Florence, who murdered 14 people in the hills of Florence from 1974 to 1985. The case has never been closed and it has become one of the longest running criminal investigations in Italian history. Our book, Dolci Colline di Sangue, was published in Italian by RCS Libri on April 19, and will later be published in the U.S.

Our book is a counter investigation to the official investigation being conducted by the Pubblico Ministero (public prosecutor) of Perugia, Giuliano Mignini, and Commissario Michele Giuttari, the head of an elite police unit known as GIDES (Gruppo Investigativo Delitti Seriali). Several times Spezi appeared on popular television programs in Italy criticizing the official investigation, which claims that the killings were instigated by a Satanic sect. Our book also criticizes the Mignini and Giuttari by name, and it shows that their investigation is groundless and, frankly, absurd.

On November 18, 2004, policemen from GIDES searched Spezi’s apartment and took away his computer, our research, notes, computer disks, archives, and drafts of the book. The search warrant was signed by Mignini and it gave two reasons for the search: a) Spezi “had attempted, through the medium of television, to materially obstruct the investigation” and that Spezi “had displayed… a suspicious and unusual interest in the investigation.” In addition, Spezi was given an “avviso di garanzia” which listed that he was being investigated for 17 crimes, labeled A) through R). All of the crimes were marked “segreto” and neither Spezi nor his lawyer have been told what they are.

After PEN International wrote a letter, much of the material was returned. Although the police searched Spezi’s apartment a second time and seized more material, we were able to finish our book.

I went to Italy on February 14, 2006, with my wife and two little children for a vacation. On February 22, two detectives from GIDES called me on my cell phone and demanded to see me. They presented me with a summons to appear for questioning before Judge Mignini the next day. I appeared before Judge Mignini in his office in Perugia at noon on February 23. Present at the meeting were two detectives, a captain of the Polizia, and a stenographer.

Without a lawyer or a translator present, Mignini proceeded to interrogate me for almost three hours. He asked me about my relationship with Spezi, how long I had known him, and he asked many, many detailed questions about our activities as journalists and our sources. When my answers did not satisfy him, he became excited and aggressive, repeating the same questions over and over again, reading back my answers and seizing on every mispronounced or stumbled-over word as evidence I was lying. He played for me a telephone conversation I had had with Spezi a few days before which they had wiretapped, demanding to know what each word and phrase “really meant.” He threatened me with an indictment (an “avviso”) if I didn’t tell him what we were “really doing” as journalists. I asked him if he thought I had committed a crime and he said, yes—to whit: Spezi and I (he said) had planted or were planning to plant a gun in an attempt to obstruct a police investigation; that we intended to frame an innocent man for murder; and (most incredibly) that I was an accessory after the fact to murder. Judge Mignini then announced he was indicting me for perjury. (To be absolutely accurate, by “indictment” I mean that I was officially recorded as a suspect in the crime and became “una persona indagata” and so informed through an “avviso di garanzia.”) I was forced to sign a document which was an alleged transcription of my interrogation. Judge Mignini then informed me that my investigation would be temporarily suspended so that I could leave Italy, but that it would be reinstated later.

On April 11 I read in the Italian papers that Judge Mignini augmented the charges against me to include “calunnia” (criminal libel) and “depistaggio” (obstruction of a police investigation.)

A few days after I left, Spezi found in his car a GPS device, transmitter and microphone attached to the wires that had once powered his radio, which had been “stolen” just before I arrived. The police subsequently admitted to planting the device.

On Frida, April 7, Mario Spezi was arrested by GIDES. They lured him outside his apartment in Florence with a false story and put him in a car, where he was taken to GIDES headquarters, and then on to jail in Perugia. I spoke to his wife, Myriam, and she says the police refused to show an arrest warrant and refused to let Spezi call his lawyer.

The same day, Judge Mignini asked the Giudice delle Indagini Preliminari (GIP) of Perugia, Marina de Robertis, to invoke a special law against Spezi, normally used only against the most dangerous terrorists and Mafiosi. This law allowed the police to hold Spezi for five days in isolation without access to his lawyer and to undergo heavy interrogations without the presence of legal counsel, under the most extreme conditions allowable under Italian law.

The accusations against Spezi, according to press accounts, are “criminal libel” “disturbing an essential public service,” and “obstructing a criminal investigation.” He was, essentially, arrested for doing his job as a journalist. He was also charged with complicity in an unsolved murder that occurred twenty-one years ago — an utterly absurd charge, but one which allows the police and judiciary to act against him with great force. I was listed among seven others who were being investigated “in connection with” the same crimes.

I am a journalist who has written for the New Yorker, Harpers, the Atlantic, and National Geographic. I have published ten best-selling novels and four nonfiction books. I have taught writing at Princeton University, I am on the Governing Council of the Authors Guild. I mention these facts only to establish my credentials.

Please, all of you who receive this appeal, write a letter in support of Spezi. Below is information to where your letter should be directed.

Italians are extremely sensitive to American and European public opinion. The letter should convey the depth of our concern and should also hint at the amount of publicity this issue is already generating in America—with articles published in the Boston Globe, The Washington Post, several AP stories, an upcoming Dateline NBC story, and a piece I am writing for the Atlantic—among many others.

VERY IMPORTANT: To anyone writing a letter, be sure to email a copy to these three leading journalists in Italy:

Vincenzo Tessandori
Laura Montanari
Mario Porqueddu

If you are a writer yourself, I can almost guarantee you will be held up in the Italian press as great supporter of freedom of the press, and you will be helping an innocent journalist who has been unjustly accused and is even now being subjected to treatment beyond the civilized pale.

Letters should reference the Pubblico Ministero di Perugia Giuliano Mignini and il Commissario Michele Giuttari (“Michele” is a man, by the way) who are the two people behind this injustice. Here is where they should go:

Il Professore Virginio Rognoni
Vice Presidente
il Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura
Piazza Indipendenza, 6
00185 Roma, Italy
fax (011-39) 06-4457175

Rognoni is the head of the governmental department that supervises the magistrate judges of Italy and makes sure they are not corrupt and are conducting their business properly. This is the most important person to address letters to.

Dott. Giuliano Mignini
Il Pubblico Ministero di Perugia
La Procura della Repubblica
Via Fiorenzo di Lorenzo nr. 22/24
06121 Perugia (PG) Italy
Fax: (011-39) 075-572-3953

Mignini is the judge who interrogated me and who ordered the arrest of Spezi. A letter addressed to him should use his title, “Dottore,” as in “il Dottore Giuliano Mignini.” Or “Dott. Giuliano Mignini.”

11 Responses to “The Monster of Florence”

  1. analog says:

    nice and very informative information

  2. Michael says:

    Dear John,
    Could you tell me how you were able to access this letter? It’s very interesting, but is there any way to verify it’s authenticy?

    jb says: Take a look at this link, Michael. Then try Googling for Douglas Preston and Mignini and you’ll find another 4000 links.

  3. Diana Trimble says:

    And now the same guy, Mignini, has projected his lurid psycho-sexual fantasies onto the Kercher case and succesfully convicted two innocent people. Thanks for posting this as I now have addresses to write to, protesting Mignini’s role. He should be stripped of his position and prosecuted immediately for fabrication and malicious prosecution.
    Best wishes in seeing all miscarriages of justice perpetrated by this evil man finally corrected.
    Diana Trimble, writer, UK

  4. Julie says:

    I will be sending letters. I also wish to support Amanda Knox! Is there anything we can do about this man! He is a scary monster. I have certainly lost my respect for Italy. How can we help?

  5. Vlad says:

    I looked at the link you posted above and poked around the seattlepi website, but couldn’t find the letter anywhere. Also, I did a web search and the only other place I found the letter was here: Can you provide some more details please?

  6. citosol says:

    I’d prefer to see the other side of the coin before express a judgement.
    And @Julie: Mignini is a man, not a nation.

  7. Brian from Washington says:

    Mignini is the source of Italian difficiency. He lacks any ability to show common sense or provide unaltered evidence. Italy, salvage and regain what little respect the rest of the world has left for your legal system and rid yourselves of this Monster. He is your broken link.

  8. Kathy says:

    Mignini is outrageous. This man is a disgrace to the Italian justice system. The suffering he has brought upon innocent people, including Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, Douglas Preston, Mario Spezi and their families, has been enormous. I hope that the U.S. State Department will do something about this, since our own citizens are obviously in jeopardy from this man. Until Mignini is dealt with, boycott Italy as a tourist destination and boycott all products from Italy.

  9. Kathy says:

    The news today is that Mignini has been convicted of abuse of his office in the Monster of Florence case. He is appealing his conviction, but faces ten months in prison unless his conviction is overturned. Finally, the truth is starting to seep out from a cesspool of abuse, corruption and deceitful arrogance. May that process continue on to Free Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

  10. Ana says:

    Someone should investigate Giuliano Mignini as the monster of Florence since, if you go by his inept standard, he’s as good a suspect as anyone else.

  11. Rich Little says:

    Both the Italian judicial and law enforcement agencies seem to be bent on the suppression of the truth. The Knox family has been court indicted for libel concerning their statements about Amanda’s incarceration and interrogation. News reporters have been harassed by Italian authorities as they tried to determine the facts concerning interrogations, crime scene preservation, and DNA collection and testing procedures.

    What can we do to support the Knox and Sollecito families in their pursuit of justice?
    What can we do to help the Kercher family finally determine the truth?

    I offer the one possible solution to let the Italian government, their judicial system, and the Italian people know of our displeasure with the unprofessional methods that they have tried, convicted, and incarcerated two college students who, when the facts are examined, are in reality innocent.

    I’m asking everyone to consider avoiding purchasing products of Italian origin especially wine, beer and alcohol imports.

    I don’t suggest you stop purchasing wine; just avoid those from Italy until the Amanda Knox/ Raffaele Sollecito appeal process has been concluded. Please tell your friends of this effort; mentioned it to your local wine and liquor distributor. Please pass the word.