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Gucci Killing Suspect Denies Guilt

July 15, 1998 GMT

MILAN, Italy (AP) _ The man charged as the hitman in the Maurizio Gucci slaying denied in court Wednesday that he shot the fashion scion.

``I never had anything to do with the Gucci murder,″ said Benedetto Ceraulo. ``I never discussed it (with the other defendants). I have always led a normal, correct life. I’ve always worked for a living.″

Gucci’s ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani Martinelli, is on trial along with Ceraulo, her former confidant Pina Auriemma, and two other men. Reggiani Martinelli is accused of planning the killing to gain control over Gucci’s multimillion-dollar estate.

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Ceraulo admitted that he knew Ivano Savioni, a hotel doorman accused of procuring the killer, and Orazio Cicala, a pizzeria owner charged with driving the getaway car.

Cicala confessed last week to driving the killer to the scene of the crime and picking him up afterward, but he denied that Ceraulo was the person in the car with him on March 27, 1995, the day Gucci was killed.

Cicala has declined to name the killer, saying the person is still on the loose and he fears for his own family.

Savioni testified last week, however, that Ceraulo had admitted to him he was the killer and wanted more money for his work. When prosecutor Carlo Nocerino asked Ceraulo about the admission, Ceraulo replied:

``Savioni must have made it up. The name Gucci has never been a part of my life, not even in terms of fashion _ I have other things to buy.″

When asked why he hadn’t declared his innocence earlier, Ceraulo testified he was ``beaten ferociously″ by police after he was arrested.

``When you and the preliminary hearings judge showed up to interrogate me, I was told measures would be taken″ against the police officers who carried out the alleged beating, ``but from that day I haven’t heard anything,″ he added.

Nocerino said after the hearing that he wasn’t aware of Ceraulo’s complaint. Filippo Ninni, head of police at the time of Ceraulo’s arrest, denied in a telephone interview that Ceraulo was beaten.

Reggiani Martinelli will take the stand again Thursday for more prosecution questioning. Cross-examination has been set for Friday.