May 9, 1997
Rome, Italy
Marta Russo (22) is shot during a supposed “perfect pointless murder”

Russo was walking with a friend and fellow student at La Sapienza University’s Institute of Legal Philosophy when she suddenly collapsed, blood pouring from a head wound. She slipped into a coma and died five days later, never regaining consciousness.

Investigators were initially stumped by a lack of motive and the absence of a murder weapon. Several university staff and students were arrested in connection to the murder until student Francesco Liparota confessed to being involved with two other students — Giovanni Scattone and Salvatore Ferraro — in Russo’s killing. Liparota later recanted his confession but the investigation and prosecution against Scattone and Ferraro continued. The other evidence presented against the two men consisted primarily of weak alibis, a school secretary who testified to seeing Scattone holding a gun, and gunshot residue found on a window ledge of the room where Scattone and Ferraro were seen studying. Prosecutors suggested the trio, who were known “gun freaks,” were obsessed with committing the “perfect murder” and the concept of “übermenschen,” those whose superior intellect puts them above the law. (Leopold and Loeb had similar motives.)

During the course of the investigation and trial, corruption from both the university’s administration and prosecutors was exhibited. The university administrators allegedly pressured witnesses to be uncooperative with investigators, which the press alluded to as a “wall of silence” or “omertà” (the mafia’s code of silence.) On the other hand, jurors were shown a video of the prosecution threatening the school secretary with life imprisonment if she refused to incriminate Scattone and Ferraro.

Though prosecutors hoped the defendants would be sentenced to the maximum penalty of 18 years in prison, jurors convicted Scattone of manslaughter and Ferraro of aiding and abetting, sentencing them to 7 and 4 years respectively. (Italy does not support the death penalty. Life imprisonment is reserved for certain circumstances related to the murder, such as a murder during a rape, the murder of one’s child or parent, or the murder of a stalking victim perpetuated by the stalker. And, apparently, for refusing to incriminate defendants.)

Marta Russo

Giovanni Scattone

“Prison over fatal puzzle.” The Sydney Morning Herald. June 12, 1999
Willan, Philip. “Men jailed for ‘random’ shooting.” The Guardian [London, England]. June 2, 1999
Hooper, John. “Case of the ‘perfect pointless murder’ grips Italy.” The Guardian. February 13, 1999
Hooper, John. “Murder by philosophy.” The Guardian. December 11, 1997

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