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Gucci Trial Shows Italy’s Dark Side

June 25, 1998

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ Testimony at the Gucci murder trial is unveiling a dark side of life in Italy.

Witnesses are telling stories of betrayal and greed in a world where the rich resort to soothsayers and the poor strive for status, where the wealthy and powerful mix with lowlifes.

While the courtroom drama has its followers, the gloss is off the scandal and a month into the trial, the tale is merely tawdry.

A public jaded by years of seeing businessmen and politicians brought down by corruption probes, particularly in this city of fashion and finance, has turned its attention elsewhere, mainly to World Cup soccer.

On trial is the former wife of Maurizio Gucci, scion of the famous fashion clan. Patrizia Reggiani Martinelli, 49, is accused of arranging his slaying three years ago out of greed and jealousy.

She wanted all of Gucci’s fortune, not content with $860,000 a year in alimony, and feared he would marry his companion, Paola Franchi, police witnesses testified.

Commentators and lawyers have tried to cast the slaying as Italy’s version of the O.J. Simpson case, and some Italians are riveted.

``I’m really curious about these types, who kill people for money,″ said Antonietta Fedele, a bar owner who has been following it closely.

But most are no more interested than the passersby who take quick peaks into the building lobby where the 46-year-old Gucci was gunned down March 27, 1995.

Gucci was the grandson of Guccio Gucci, who founded the fashion company known for its leather goods and double ``G″ logo. After a long history of family discord, he was the last Gucci to have an interest in the company, selling out for $120 million in 1993, three years after the couple divorced.

News accounts reveled in describing their life.

There was the 215-foot yacht, the Creole; the $85,000 gift to daughter Alessandra to throw an 18th birthday party; the villa in St. Moritz.

No one disputes that Reggiani Martinelli wished her former husband ill, even complaining about her divorce settlement on a television talk show. But her lawyers argue that a brain tumor made her incapable of planning and executing the crime. And they say her co-defendants set up the hit to blackmail her, knowing her antipathy was no secret.

Now shorn of her usual heavy jewelry and thick makeup, Reggiani Martinelli cuts a drab figure in court, her hair unkempt and wearing simple T-shirts and slacks.

The main co-defendant is Giuseppina Auriemma, Reggiani Martinelli’s longtime psychic and a Neapolitan of humble background. Auriemma ``exploited″ their friendship and blackmailed her friend, the defense argues.

Gucci had his own psychics. Antonietta Cuomo testified Wednesday that he used to advise Gucci on business deals and defend him against evil ``spells″ cast by Auriemma.

The other defendants are the doorman of a seedy hotel in Milan’s prostitute zone, an indebted pizzeria owner and occasional drug dealer as well as the reputed triggerman, an unemployed auto worker from Sicily.

Then of course, there is the other woman, Paola Franchi. Hours after the murder, Reggiani Martinelli evicted her from the Gucci apartment.

On the stand, Franchi acknowledged that she flew the next day to the St. Moritz villa with a notary and photographer to inventory its contents.

Jealousy motivated her rival, she testified.

``I think that Patrizia was bothered above all that she couldn’t call herself a Gucci any more,″ Franchi said.

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