Mafia Killer Who Became a Turncoat Is Released From Prison in Italy

Giovanni Brusca completed 25 years in prison for murder, including the killings of Giovanni Falcone, an anti-mafia crusader, and a 14-year-old boy he dissolved in acid. He later became an informant.

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Giovanni Brusca, an Italian mobster turned informer, has been released after serving 25 years in prison for murder and associating with the mafia, rekindling memories of the country’s battle against organized crime in the 1990s.

Mr. Brusca, known as the “People Slayer,” was arrested in 1996 and later admitted to involvement in more than 100 killings before becoming an informer and helping the authorities identify and arrest dozens of fellow mobsters from the mafia families of Sicily.

“This is what the law says, a law that my brother wanted and that we respect,” said Maria Falcone, the sister of Giovanni Falcone, an anti-mafia judge who was among Mr. Brusca’s victims. Mr. Falcone was killed with his wife and three bodyguards escorting him in 1992 when Mr. Brusca detonated an explosive that blew up the highway that their cars were traveling on near Palermo, in Sicily.

“But the pain, the anger and the fear that an individual capable of doing so much evil can return to offend,” Ms. Falcone said in a statement posted on the Facebook page of the anti-mafia Falcone Foundation.

Among the crimes committed by Mr. Brusca was the killing of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 14-year-old son of a mafia informant. After kidnapping the boy and keeping him in hiding for two years in retaliation for his father’s confessions to the authorities, Mr. Brusca and his brother strangled Giuseppe and dissolved him in acid. At a public hearing years later, Mr. Brusca said that tears rolled down the boy’s cheeks while he was dying.

Mr. Brusca will still have to serve four years’ probation, and he will be provided with a new identity in an undisclosed location under Italy’s witness protection program.

His release from prison was condemned by many Italians who felt that his collaboration with justice was not completely genuine. That sentiment was similar to the one that greeted the early release from prison in 2003 of Mr. Brusca’s brother, Enzo, also a mobster who became an informant. He had been serving a 30-year term, but was released from prison to complete it under house arrest.

“Brusca could have said much more than what he said, and he didn’t,” Claudio Fava, president of Sicily’s anti-mafia commission, told the Italian news channel RaiNews24, said of Giovanni. “It is not normal that, 30 years later, the truth of the massacres is still hostage to silence, cowardice and lies.”

In an interview with the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on Tuesday, Rosaria Costa, the widow of a 27-year old police officer who died with Mr. Falcone, echoed Mr. Fava’s concern and argued that Mr. Brusca collaborated with magistrates “only to get the benefits.”

“It was not a personal, intimate choice,” she said.

Tina Montinaro, another widow of a victim in the 1992 bombing, also condemned Mr. Brusca’s release.

“We don’t know the truth about the massacres after 29 years, and Giovanni Brusca, the man who destroyed my family, is free,” Ms. Montinaro told the Adnkronos news agency.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, wrote on Twitter, “This is not the ‘justice’ that Italians deserve.”

But Pietro Grasso, an Italian senator and a former magistrate who worked with Mr. Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, another prominent anti-mafia prosecutor who was murdered in Sicily in 1992, said that in Mr. Brusca’s case, the state “won not once, but three times.”

Authorities recorded a victory when they arrested him, he wrote on Facebook, “because he was and remains one of the worst criminals in our history for the number of crimes committed and for the brutality.”

The second victory was convincing him to collaborate and testify, and the third was when he was released because it was then that “a very powerful signal” was sent “to all the mafia mobsters in jail who will never have freedom again, if they do not collaborate,” Mr. Grasso said.

The law allowing for shortened sentences for informants who reveal information leading to significant arrests was passed in the 1990s. Intended by magistrates to eradicate the mafia, the legislation has had some successes, although they have often been met with public outrage.

Mr. Brusca is not the first mafia informant to enjoy freedom. In 1995, Tommaso Buscetta, the first top mobster to break with the organization and testify in the 1980s, allowing Italian police to convict hundreds of people affiliated with the mafia in Italy and in the United States, was photographed on a cruise ship with his family while under the witness protection program. Mr. Buscetta died in 2000.

Ms. Falcone said she was concerned that Mr. Brusca had managed keep some of his wealth, which was supposed to have been confiscated by the authorities, and she urged them to monitor his life style.

“It would be an insult,” she wrote, “that he could go back to enjoy money that drips blood.”

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