Stefano Cucchi, 31, was arrested for minor drug charges in Rome, Italy, in October 2009. When he was taken into custody, he weighed around 95 pounds and was not injured in any way. After one week of detention, he was dead and severely malnourished. He was covered in bruises and had multiple fractures and internal injuries. Doctors, prison guards, and administrators blamed it on his epilepsy. Incredibly, no one has been held responsible for his sudden death, and the incident is one of the most egregious examples of Italian corruption in recent memory. This Stefano Cucchi wiki looks at his arrest and unexplained death.
Who Is Stefano Cucchi?
Born October 1, 1978, Stefano Cucchi was a 31-year-old architect living in Rome when he was arrested for drug offenses in October 2009. He died under so-called mysterious circumstances a week later.
While this is a tale of corruption, it also highlights the deplorable conditions in Italian jails. The prison system is vastly overcrowded and experiences an excruciatingly high number of suicides and unexplained deaths.
Most famously, banker Michele Sindona died in prison on March 18, 1986, after his coffee was laced with cyanide. Like so many deaths that occur in Italian prisons, this one remains unsolved.
The death of Stefano Cucchi is, sadly, just one story out of thousands where an Italian man finds himself on the wrong end of the law. And everyone in authority, it seems, manages to evade justice.
Stefano Cucchi Arrested for Minor Offenses
On October 15, 2009, Stefano Cucchi was arrested by police for dealing drugs. However, that may have been a stretch.
He had in his possession 21 grams of hash, three small packets of cocaine, and a pill for his epilepsy.
Local police took Cucchi into custody. He weighed around 95 pounds at the time of his arrest. Admittedly, he was well underweight, but he wasn’t injured in any way. Cucchi’s parents even said their son was in perfectly good health the day he was arrested.
His sister, Ilaria Cucchi, revealed that her brother went to the gym the night before his arrest, and said, “He was fine, he was skinny like me, but he did not have any health problems.”
But when he appeared in court the next day, it was a different story.
That night, Stefano Cucchi said he wasn’t feeling well and was transported to a hospital. It’s alleged he refused any medical care.
At around 1:00 a.m., the Carabinieri (military police) went to the Cucchi residence and rang the intercom. They had come to search the residence. The next day, Cucchi’s father went to court.
At the hearing it was noted that Stefano Cucchi’s speech and movement appeared to be impaired. He had black eyes and his face was covered with bruises, according to his father.
The judge hearing the case decided a further hearing was needed. He was transferred to the Regina Coeli prison to wait for his second hearing, despite signs of being in very ill health.
On October 17, after the initial hearing, Stefano Cucchi’s condition worsened, and he was sent to the prison hospital wing. His condition worsened further, and he was transported to the Fatebenefratelli Hospital.
There, doctors diagnosed Cucchi with injuries and bruises on his face and legs, a broken jaw, a ruptured bladder, injuries to his chest, and two fractured vertebrae.
The hospital requested that Cucchi be admitted for treatment. But again, treatment was allegedly refused by Stefano Cucchi himself. He is then sent back to prison.
Stefano Cucchi Dies on October 22, 2009
Fast forward to October 22, and Stefano Cucchi was dead one week after his arrest. His weight had plunged from 43 kilograms to 37 kilograms, or 81.5 pounds, at the time of his death. He lost 14.5 pounds over the course of one week.
The autopsy found that Cucchi was severely dehydrated, had two broken vertebrae, and ruptured internal organs. How could this happen?
Doctors at Regina Coeli said Stefano Cucchi had an accident. He allegedly fell down some stairs.
His parents, Giovanni and Rita Cucchi, were denied permission to see him while he was in custody and at the hospital. They were only permitted to see their son after he died. Even then, authorities were hardly forthcoming.
The Cucchi family was only allowed to look at their son’s body from a distance, and only his face was shown. A sheet covered the rest of his broken, bruised body. His sister said that Stefano Cucchi was unrecognizable.
“It did not even look like Stefano. His face was swollen, an eye out of his orbit, his broken jaw, the expression of his face marked by the suffering and loneliness in which he had died,” she recalled.
Devastated, his family released photos of his bruised and beaten body on the mortuary table and started an investigation.
The Weeks Following Stefano Cucchi’s Death
In the weeks following Cucchi’s death, the public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into “unknown persons” accusing them of manslaughter. For many, the idea of manslaughter was a bit of a stretch. It presumes the unidentified people did not cause the injuries to his eye sockets, lower back, legs, and internal organs.
The hospital at Regina Coeli prison, where Stefano Cucchi was first transported, released a second report highlighting “bruising of the coccyx, swelling of both eyes, pain when walking.”
A third report originating from Fatebenefratelli Hospital, where prison officers sent Cucchi given the severity of his injuries, stated, “Fracture of the L3 lumbar vertebrae, of the left side of the face and fracture of the coccyx vertebrae.”
However, the public prosecutor wasn’t convinced by what he read in the medical reports nor by statements provided by the Carabinieri and prison officers. It was later determined that the medical reports had been doctored to cover up abuse.
Not knowing that at the time, though, the public prosecutor ordered that Stefano Cucchi’s body be exhumed.
While this was going on, the supervising prison officer from Teramo Prison in Abruzzo was suspended from duty by Angelino Alfano, the minister of justice. His department was responsible for overseeing prisons.
The suspension had nothing to do with rigorous oversights. It was taken after an anonymous audio recording was sent to a local newspaper. In it, the chief prison officer is heard yelling at junior wardens.
“We could have had an uprising. A black prisoner saw everything. Prisoners are beaten up downstairs.”
Clearly, the chief prison officer is more concerned about being caught than suggesting guards should stop beating up prisoners.
Stefano Cucchi’s sudden and unexpected death had a polarizing effect on the Italian public. There were those who accused the police of murder and others who defended them.
While the odds of a conviction were low, the public was pleased to learn that in November of 2009, the public prosecutor’s office in Rome issued six notifications of investigation to three prison officials and three doctors.
Prison staff denied ever hitting Cucchi and claimed his death could be attributed to either falling down the stairs or drug abuse. Doctors said they couldn’t be blamed for his death since he himself refused their medical help.
However, it became pretty apparent which side the politicians were on.
Two government ministers had, somehow, been given a heads up on the outcome of the investigations. Either that or they just provided their own opinions, which were devoid of any facts.
Regardless, Ignazio La Russa, then the defense minister, stated emphatically that “the carabinieri behaved correctly.”
Carlo Giovanardi, a junior minister and former member of the Berlusconi government, was even more direct. He claimed that Cucchi died because he fell down the stairs and “was anorexic, a drug addict, and HIV-positive.”
Witnesses Come Forward
During the investigation, two inmates came forward to say that Cucchi confided in them that he had been beaten up. Another inmate said that she saw Cucchi being punched and kicked by prison guards.
These accounts confirmed what the prosecutor learned from the exhumation. It was found that Cucchi died from a combination of injuries resulting from physical abuse and a lack of medical treatment.
On November 14, 2009, investigators charge three prison guards with manslaughter. Three doctors faced charges of contributing to Stefano Cucchi’s death by not providing medical care.
First Trial Takes Place
At a trial of the first instance (there are three levels of justice in Italy), which ended in June 2013, four doctors from Sandro Pertini Hospital were found guilty of manslaughter. And another was found guilty of making a false statement.
The court acquitted six others—three nurses and three prison guards. They were found not guilty because the court said that Cucchi died of malnutrition and dehydration due to the doctor’s inaction.
No one was found guilty of the bruises, fractures, internal bleeding, or other injuries found on Stefano Cucchi’s body.
An appeal was lodged.
On October 31, 2013, the appealing hearing overturned the decision of the lower court and acquitted all of the defendants, including the doctors. Stefano Cucchi’s sister was outraged and announced an appeal to Italy’s highest court.
New Campaign Led by Cucchi Family
Despite the court’s decision, Ilaria Cucchi requested a new investigation. And one was opened in 2015.
This time, prosecutors took a different tact. Under investigation were the five police officers who arrested Stefano Cucchi.
Five Doctors Acquitted of Manslaughter Again
Meanwhile, in July 2016, the doctors involved with overseeing Cucchi were again put on trial for involuntary manslaughter. They were not charged because of the injuries that Cucchi sustained. Instead, they were considered culpable for not providing the required medical care.
However, the doctors were acquitted. The judge said there was no relationship between Cucchi’s severe beating and his death. He died as a result of different health issues which could not have been prevented by the doctors.
Sudden Death Due to Epilepsy?
Experts investigating the case believe that Cucchi died because of epilepsy. Even his injuries suggest he suffered “a sudden and unexpected death due to epilepsy.”
Cucchi’s epilepsy could have also aggravated his “long-standing drug addiction,” and explains away his dehydration and malnourished state.
The one thing that is not directly related to his death are the injuries he sustained after being arrested.
“The injuries sustained by Stefano Cucchi after Oct. 15, 2009 cannot be considered as related, directly or indirectly, with the event of the death.”
Prosecutors Now Say Stefano Cucchi Was Murdered
In January 2017, prosecutors said they believed that Cucchi had been murdered. They stated that the three members of Italy’s Carabinieri who arrested him are responsible for punching, slapping, and kicking him.
It is now thought that Cucchi died from a fall after being punched.
New Trial for Five Carabinieri
In July 2017, a judge indicted five Carabinieri officers from the Roma Appia station over Cucchi’s death. Alessio Di Bernardo, Raffaele D’Alessandro, and Francesco Tedesco were charged for aggravating personal injury and abusing authority.
Meanwhile, Vincenzo Nicolardi and Roberto Mandolini were charged for giving false testimony. But only Nicolardi was charged for providing false information to the public prosecutor.
Commenting on the indictments, Ilaria Cucchi said, “Finally those responsible for the death of my brother, the same people who for eight years hid behind their uniforms, will go to trial and will be called to answer for what they did.”
The trial started on October 13, 2017. But Italians got a heads up of what to expect.
In September, a new witness cited at a press conference ahead of the new trial said that Cucchi “couldn’t stand up” in his cell after his alleged beating.
Cucchi family lawyer Fabio Anselmo said the previous assertions that Cucchi only suffered “slight injuries” were “patently false.” Ilaria Cucchi added that the new trial would be “the real one.”
Witness Testifies Carabinieri Beat Stefano Cucchi
In March 2018, a witness testified that Cucchi told him in detention that the cops had “enjoyed themselves with him.” Luigi Lainà said he spoke to him at the medical center in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison on the night of October 16 and 17, 2009.
“He was so swollen he looked like bag-pipes, he should not have been taken to jail in that condition,” Lainà recalled.
“He was in bad shape, he was puffy, he had bruises on his face and cheekbones, he was purple, he was losing blood from an ear,” Lainà added. “I brought him a coffee but he didn’t even manage to swallow.”
“When I saw his back it was a purple skeleton: he looked like a beaten dog, stuff you wouldn’t even see at Auschwitz. I have never seen an inmate taken to a cell in that condition,” he observed.
Lainà went on to say that two plain clothes Carabinieri beat him in the first barracks they took him to. They were hoping he would tell them where his drugs had come from.
But Cucchi wouldn’t talk, and Lainà added, “He didn’t want to be a snitch.”
Ilaria Cucchi responded by saying, “The witness Lainà’s account is dramatic from an emotional standpoint, I see again my brother’s character and his way of being and above all his suffering, which was hidden for so many years.
“For years they spoke of slight injuries, but he was seriously ill, and that pain increased hour after hour until he died,” she added. “It was all abstract in all these years, it seemed as if my brother had died without a reason. From today we have started to understand what actually happened.”
Corrupt Police Alter Reports on Stefano Cucchi’s Health
In April 2018, it was learned in court that two Carabinieri significantly altered reports on the state of Cucchi’s health. Gianluca Colicchio and Francesco Di Sano wrote the fabricated notes.
One of the five accused is Carabiniera Roberto Mandolini. He is a veteran of several “peace” missions and was the precinct commander of the five carabinieri investigated for the beating of Stefano Cucchi.
Mandolini has been accused of subverting justice by going along with the “meticulous strategy.” He covered up the abuse and stonewalled the prosecution’s attempts to understand what happened before the preliminary hearing.
According to the papers, Mandolini personally wrote a comment on the bottom of one of the forged service orders, which read,“Well done! The carabinieri have done their duty: they have arrested a major drug dealer who sold his stuff to students just outside of a school in Rome.”
Recounting the day her son was arrested and seeing his body in the morgue, Rita Cucchi said, “I did not recognize him. What I saw was no longer Stefano. It was a skeleton, all bruised, one of his eyes outside of its socket, a broken jaw.”
There was a sort of omen the night before the arrest.
Rita Cucchi recalled, “My son told me: ‘hug me, sleep well, you will see, I’m okay now.’”
On July 17, 2018, the last hearing was held before the summer break. The trial resumes again in the fall.