Appeals Court Upholds Acquittals Without Full Exonerating
ROME (AP) _ An appeals court on Saturday upheld the acquittals of three Bulgarians and two Turks on charges they plotted to assassinate Pope John Paul II, but declined to rule in the case of a third Turk.
As the lower court did in 1986, the panel found there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendants.
In appealing, the six defendants had hoped for a ruling of complete innocence. Under Italy’s judicial system, there are two kinds of acquittals - one of complete innocence, the other for lack of evidence.
The original trial was based largely on accusations by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk convicted in a separate trial of shooting and severely wounding the pope in St. Peter’s Square in 1981. He is serving a life term in an Italian prison.
Prosecutors alleged there was a Soviet-backed conspiracy to kill the Polish-born pope.
An explanation for Saturday’s appellate decision will be made public later. Defense lawyers were expected to await the explanation before deciding whether to appeal to Italy’s highest court for criminal matters, the Court of Cassation.
Appealing the first court’s verdict was Sergei Ivanov Antonov, former Rome station chief for Bulgaria’s state-run airline, and Todor Ayvazov and Yelio Vassilev, two former Bulgarian Embassy employees who refused to attend their trials on grounds of diplomatic immunity. Also appealing were three Turks, Musa Cerdar Celebi, Omar Bagci and Oral Celik, a fugitive.
The appeals court refused to rule on Bagci because he was not extradited on the conspiracy charge.
″It’s a disappointing verdict and proof that the Italian justice system did not have the courage to clarify such an important trial,″ said Giuseppe Consolo, who represented Antonov.
″Unfortunately, when politics enter courtrooms, these are the results, because there was juridically no reason not to completely acquit″ the defendants, Consolo said.
The appeal process consisted of eight sessions and drew scant public interest, in contrast to the first trial, which lasted 10 months and won much attention, especially with Agca’s frequent courtroom outbursts.