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Parents focus on Nicholas’ legacy after Italian court acquits two men

January 17, 1997

ROME (AP) _ Reginald Green hardly seemed surprised, just saddened, when two men were found innocent of killing his 7-year-old son while the California family vacationed in southern Italy.

He knew the evidence was mostly circumstantial, and he was unable to get a good look at the masked assailants who tried to run the Greens’ rented Fiat off a lonely Italian road and opened fire. In any event, Green said the trial that ended Thursday was a ``very minor part in the whole drama.″

``For us, the loss of Nicholas has been the overwhelming thing,″ he said from his hotel room after the verdict. ``Neither a guilty or a not guilty result would have affected that in any way.″

The ``whole drama″ lasted more than two years and turned the Green family into a symbol of generosity in Italy. Italians were shocked by the Sept. 29, 1994, shooting that left Nicholas brain-dead, and by his family’s decision to donate his organs. The act saved seven people in Italy and inspired a surge of organ donations in a country where doing so is rare.

``The main thing that has happened since Nicholas’s death is that it has inspired this outpouring of compassion all over world, and on a practical level the increase in donations in organs,″ Green said. ``Hundreds of people are alive because of Nicholas.″

The Green family, of Bodega Bay, Calif., was traveling on a remote stretch of highway in the Calabria region when the crime happened. Nicholas’ parents and younger sister, Eleanor, were unhurt.

Prosecutors said the assailants mistook the Fiat for a robbery target.

The two-judge, six-juror panel acquitted Francesco Mesiano, 23, and Michele Iannello, 28, of murder, attempted murder and armed robbery. It has 90 days to issue a written explanation of the decision.

Iannello had admitted to four gangland murders, but he and Mesiano denied involvement in Nicholas’ death.

Acquittals and convictions can be challenged in Italy, and prosecutor Maurizio Salustro said he would appeal.

Immediately after the verdict, Green said he was ``depressed″ and left the courtroom. The acquittals, he said, stemmed from a lack of ``clinching evidence.″

``They had masks on. That’s been the problem the whole time,″ Green said.

Green said Mesiano’s father told him he was sorry about Nicholas and that his son was not involved. Mesiano’s mother was there, too, Green said, ``and I put my arms around her and hugged her and held her hand. She was crying.″

Maggie Green, Nicholas’ mother, testified at the trial, but remained in California during its final days to care for Eleanor, now 7, and 7-month-old twins, Laura and Martin. She shared her husband’s attitude toward the acquittals.

``We think of Nicholas every day,″ Mrs. Green said by telephone. ``But I really can’t gain anything by sending these men to jail. It doesn’t help me.″

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