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Hunt on for serial killer after 'legitimate' leave

Scandal threatens prison reforms

19 December, 19:02
Hunt on for serial killer after 'legitimate' leave (By Emily Backus) (ANSA) - Rome, December 19 - The search continued Thursday for a fugitive serial killer who took advantage of a good-behavior leave from prison to take flight to Genoa earlier this week.

Police called Bartolomeo Gagliano, 55, ''very dangerous''.

Gagliano was convicted of three murders and an attempted murder in the 1980s, and served a number of years in a criminal psychiatric ward. His criminal past includes robberies, extortion, narcotics and arms possession, and fleeing from psychiatric hospitals, authorities said.

Gagliano had a year and a few months left of a sentence for attempted extortion when he failed to show up after a leave as scheduled at the Marassi prison, in the periphery of Genoa, on Tuesday morning at 9:00am. Twelve hours later, he was officially declared a fugitive.

"Gagliano had left prison with permission last Sunday. His brother came to pick him up at the exit, as happened the previous time. Monday morning at noon, he presented himself at the Savona mental health department as planned for a therapy session. (Tuesday) morning he decided not to return," said the Marassi Prison Director Salvatore Mazzeo.

Early Tuesday, Gagliano threatened a bakery delivery man at gunpoint in Savona, and forced a trip to nearby Genoa. Once in the city, Gagliano forced the bakery worker to get out, and then disappeared in the stolen Panda delivery van. The bakery worker said his captor showed good manners.

"With me he was a gentleman. He behaved well. During the trip he always kept his pistol in his pocket," the bakery worker said. The judge who authorised Gagliano's prison-leave permit said Thursday that her decision had been legitimate.

"The permit was issued on legitimate foundations, after a long study of reports that said for some time there had been a balancing of the psychiatric disorder, lucidity, capacity to cooperate, tranquility and no signs of being psychopathic," said judge Daniela Verrina.

Gagliano's lawyer and his nephew separately urged him to turn himself in.

"My uncle must have lost his head after he was refused permission to return to Savona for Christmas," said Gagliano's nephew, Andrea Gagliano, on Thursday.

"I spent two years with my uncle, from June 2011 to September 2013. We were in the same cell in Marassi (prison).

Him for his things, me for mine. One thing I want to say - he's not the way he's portrayed in the papers. He's not the type he was 30 years ago. He put his head together and fixed mine too.

He made me understand during that period that I should be good," the nephew explained. Gagliano was convicted of killing two prostitutes and a transsexual, and of gravely injuring a third prostitute in the 1980s. Authorities say his trademark was a shot through the mouth.

In April 1990, Gagliano shot his girlfriend in Florence in the chin and fled the scene after having escaped from a psychiatric hospital in the Emilia-Romagna region a month earlier. She was found lying nude on a bed, with underwear at her neck to try to stop the bleeding, surrounded by pornographic material. Two nights later Gagliano presented himself back at the psychiatric hospital. News of Gagliano's escape put sex workers in the Liguria region on the alert. They have reportedly have been refusing to take unknown clients in since news broke of Gagliano's disappearance.

"This is an extremely grave episode that requires a very rigorous examination," commented Italian Justice Minister Annamaria Cancellieri on Wednesday, the day before she had been scheduled to present to the cabinet a package of justice reforms aimed at reducing Italy's severe prison overcrowding.

"There is no denying that this risks being a hard blow for what we are doing to make prisons a more civil place that is able to fulfill its rehabilitative function," said Cancellieri. Cancellieri will debrief parliament on the Gagliano case on Friday, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.