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Court acquits two in murder of American boy on Italian highway

January 16, 1997

CATANZARO, Italy (AP) _ A court today acquitted two men in the 1994 shooting death of a 7-year-old American boy traveling with his family on a southern Italian highway.

The killing of Nicholas Green of Bodega Bay, Calif., shocked Italy and caused a wave of national soul-searching. The boy’s parents donated his organs, a gesture which saved seven lives and stirred a campaign to increase organ donation.

Michele Iannello, a 27-year-old admitted killer and mobster, and Francesco Mesiano, 23, were accused of mistaking the Greens’ rental car for a robbery target.

The two were acquitted of murder, attempted murder and armed robbery, court clerk Francesco Andreaccio said by telephone from the judge’s chambers. Two judges and six jurors delivered the verdict after an 11-month trial.

Prosecutor Maurizio Salustro had asked for leniency when he rested his case Monday. He cited Mesiano’s youth and clean record, and Iannello’s decision after his arrest to cooperate with authorities investigating organized crime.

Because of Iannello’s cooperation, authorities released him from jail in November. At the time of September 1994 Nicholas’ slaying, he was an emerging boss of the crime syndicate in the Calabria region, where the boy was killed.

Iannello admitted mob-related killings and his testimony led to the jailings of other mob figures. But he maintained his innocence in the Green murder, despite allegedly incriminating conversations secretly taped by police.

Prosecutors said telephone taps implicated the pair, but the defense disputed the meaning of the conversation because it was in heavy dialect.

In other evidence presented, the state said Iannello owned a car matching the description of the white Fiat hatchback used by Nicholas’s killers, and it contained gunpowder traces. A witness saw Iannello with the same model of gun used in the shooting.

Nicholas was killed as he rode in the back seat of a rented car his father was driving during a family vacation. Nicholas’ mother, Maggie, and his younger sister Eleanor were also in the car.

Robbers pulled up alongside to force them off the road. Nicholas’ father, Reginald Green, managed to elude them, but the bandits fired. A bullet lodged in Nicholas’ brain.

The boy fell into a coma and doctors declared him brain-dead. The family’s decision to donate his organs prompted an increase in organ donations in Italy. The family received many honors, including Gold Medals of Civil Merit, Italy’s highest civil decoration.

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