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Sleeping murderer? New twist to Italian child death saga By Nicholas Rigillo

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Friday November 10, 2006

By Nicholas Rigillo, Rome- Experts suspect that an Italian mother convicted of murder may have killed her three-year-old son in her sleep. The hypothesis, published in a report by Turin-based daily La Stampa on Friday, represents the latest twist in a gruesome mystery that has gripped Italy for the past four years.

Two years ago, judges convicted Anna Maria Franzoni to 30 years in prison for the murder of Samuele, the youngest of her two sons.

The woman has always maintained her innocence and is currently free on appeal. In the meantime, she has given birth again and has been touring the country and appearing on television chat shows to promote a book recounting her version of events.

According to La Stampa, experts have studied an encephalogram exam and have discovered an irregular activity in her brain. One hypothesis now being considered is that she suffers from epilepsy and other behavioural disorders that may have led her to kill Samuele in her sleep, without even realising what she was doing.

Samuele was found lying in his parents' bed in a pool of blood in their chalet of Valle d'Aosta, near the Italian Alps, on the morning of January 30, 2002. Coroners at the time said he was bludgeoned to death with 17 blows to his head, at least two of which proved fatal.

Just hours before the crime, a doctor had visited Franzoni after she complained of suffering from a headache, but concluded that it was nothing serious.

The savage nature of the murder, the lack of a confession and the difficulties encountered by magistrates in discovering decisive evidence during their investigation, have all contributed towards turning Samuele's death into a publicly debated saga that has found ample coverage in Italy's glossy magazines.

The first-degree trial was characterized by a fierce legal battle involving high-profile lawyers, FBI experts and a flurry of scientific and medical tests.

In the absence of other suspects, the sleep-walking theory would explain why Franzoni has never admitted to killing Samuele.

But others remain sceptical.

"This hypothesis is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely," Francesco Bruno, one of Italy's leading criminologists, said in a telephone interview with Deutsche Presse Agentur dpa.

Professor Bruno, who has closely followed the case, points out that people with such disorders tend to have at least a sketchy memory of events.

"Instead, Mrs Franzoni insists she remembers everything very clearly. She doesn't even concede that there may be mistakes in her version," Bruno said.

Another reason why Bruno is inclined to dismiss the latest theory is that her family should have been aware of the fact that Franzoni suffered from sleeping disorders as they tend to recur.

"We can only draw two conclusions from this: Either Samuele was never killed, or Franzoni and her family are lying," he said.

Bruno believes Franzoni is guilty but concedes that she may be a "borderline" personality, a serious pyschological condition marked by instability of mood and behaviour.

"One thing is for sure, Franzoni wasn't feeling very well that night," he told dpa.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency