Updated: 08:57 AM EDT
Killing of Abducted Toddler Roils Italy
By MARIA SANMINIATELLI, AP
ROME (April 3) - Prosecutors in the slaying of a toddler that has horrified Italians said Monday investigators had believed until the bitter end that the boy might be alive and said his death constituted a "moral defeat."
The killing of 17-month-old Tommaso Onofri - apparently because he was crying too much - haunted the nation and prompted some politicians and citizens to call for the death penalty. For a month, Italians had hoped for the safe return of curly-haired Tommaso, snatched from his home on March 2. Hopes were crushed when his body was discovered late Saturday.
"Our objective was always winning the child's freedom, and that was a hope that didn't leave us until the end," Bologna Prosecutor Enrico Di Nicola said at a news conference that was televised on Sky Tg24 cable news. "Today it is with regret that we must say that we feel a moral defeat because of what happened."
Prosecutor Silverio Pirio said conversations overheard from telephone taps had led investigators to believe that the child was alive. Only on Friday did they learn that he was dead.
The boy's case has received daily and aggressive media coverage. Newspapers reported Monday that Tommaso's suspected kidnappers are accusing each other of killing the child. Di Nicola told the press to stop reporting details of the investigation, and said public officials found leaking information to the media would be arrested on the spot.
"This media pressure is excessive," Di Nicola said.
Authorities - guided by one of the suspected kidnappers - located the boy's body Saturday under some dirt near a stream close to his home in the countryside outside Parma in northern Italy.
Police said the two suspected kidnappers and the female companion of one of them were being interrogated in a Parma jail on Sunday night. Italian news agencies reported Monday that investigators had identified a fourth suspect - a master mason - accused of aiding and abetting a crime.
Di Nicola said two of the suspects are accused of participating in a murder.
According to newspaper reports, suspects Mario Alessi and Salvatore Raimondi have been accusing each other of killing the child shortly after the kidnapping.
Raimondi has claimed that the two abducted the child and ran off on a scooter. He said he then dropped Alessi and the child off by a railway crossing, where they were supposed to be picked up by Alessi's girlfriend, who also is a suspect.
"I heard of Tommaso's death the next day from Alessi," Raimondi allegedly told investigators, according to comments published in Rome daily La Repubblica. The newspaper did not cite sources.
However Alessi, a construction worker and convicted rapist, said the two of them "did everything together." He said they got spooked when they saw a police car light in the distance, and Raimondi slammed a shovel in the boy's face, killing him, La Repubblica reported.
State radio has said that the kidnappers, who had carried out remodeling on the house of the boy's family, had planned to demand about $1.2 million in ransom. The boy's father managed the local post office; many Italians keep savings accounts at the post office.
Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on Sunday: "We are all touched by the case of little Tommaso, barbarously killed."
In a statement, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said the death had touched every Italian family.
"Since last night, when we learned the terrible news, my wife and I have felt a bone-chilling horror that took our breath away," Ciampi said.