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Douglas Preston

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

Breaking news from Douglas Preston re: an arrest and a plea.

I got a note today from NY Times best-selling author Douglas Preston and cc’d to Italian journalist Mario Spezi hoping that maybe some of my readers can help. I’m going to post the note in its entirety (minus the salutations) and I hope someone out there will be inspired to help however they can.

Dear Susan,

______ mentioned you might post something on your blog. Here is a statement that you might find useful.

For the past five years, I have been working with an Italian journalist, Mario Spezi, on a book about the case of a serial killer known as the Monster of Florence, who murdered fourteen people in the hills of Florence from 1974 to 1985. The Monster has never been caught and the case is still open. It has become the longest-running and most expensive criminal investigation in modern Italian history. Our book, which will be published in Italian in Italy in April and later in America in English, faults the investigation and specifically criticizes the chief Examining Magistrate of Perugia, Giuliano Mignini, and the chief prosecutor, Michele Giuttari, who are in charge of one branch of the investigation.

I went to Italy on Feb. 14 with my family on vacation and to do some work with Spezi on the book. I was taken into custody by the police on Feb. 22. I was brought before Giuliano Mignini. There I was aggressively interrogated for three hours by him and three police detectives. I was asked about my relationship with Spezi and questioned in great detail about our journalistic activities, our theories, thoughts, and beliefs in the case. When I explained that my activities as an investigative journalist were privileged, Mignini shouted that this wasn’t about freedom of the press, but was about a criminal matter of the “utmost seriousness,” and that if I didn’t answer the questions fully I would be arrested and charged with perjury. I was forced to answer the questions under the threat of arrest — which I did.

Mignini then proceeded to play back telephone conversations I had had with Spezi, which they had wiretapped.He played the same passages again and again, demanding to know what we were “really” talking about, demanding that I explain the “real meaning” behind every casual word we had exchanged. They had also recorded conversations we had had in Spezi’s car, which had been broken into and bugged–Spezi found the bug yesterday. When I asked if I was being accused of a crime, Mignini said he believed I had committed not one but several serious felonies–to whit: planting evidence to frame an innocent man, obstruction of justice, and being an accessory to murder — all utterly false accusations.

Despite answering their questions fully and truthfully, in the end they charged me with “reticenza” and “false testimonianze” — two serious crimes of perjury — but said the charges wold be suspended to allow me to leave Italy, to be reinstated later. In other words, it seems their goal was to get me out of Italy — never to return.

The timing of this is not surprising. Our book will be published on April 19. The police had earlier obtained a draft of the book which they had seized in a search of Spezi’s apartment, and so Mignini and Giuttari know well what we have written about him. This was a naked attempt to use the power of the state to intimidate and silence two journalists, and it may be a prelude to a legal action in Italy to block publication of the book.

After the interrogation, the police raided Spezi’s apartment (for a third time–he’d been raided twice before) and took away many documents. They also broke into Spezi’s car and planted a microphone, which he later found. Following that, the police apparently leaked details of their investigation to the press, and articles in Corriere della Sera, La Nazione, and Il Giornale, about my interrogation and the search and seizure of Spezi’s papers. The police also leaked out the information that Spezi was suspected of involvement in several murders and that he may be connected to the Satanic sect which the police believe was behind the Monster of Florence serial killings.

We desperately need to publicize this attack on journalistic freedom. I’m back in America and safe, but Spezi is at grave risk. His financial health, his career, and his very freedom, are at risk. Yesterday he wrote to me: Io sono molto depresso, per avere fatto il nostro dovere, mi ritrovo in questa situazione. “It is very depressing that, for having done my duty as a journalist, I find myself in this situation.”

Please — something must be done as soon as possible. Anyone wishing more information about the case may contact me at dpreston@tidewater.net.

Some background on myself — I’m a journalist who writes for the New Yorker magazine, and I’ve published fourteen books and won numerous awards. I’m on the board of the Author’s Guild. I mention these details only to establish my credentials. In my entire journalistic career I have not experienced the kind of abuse of prosecutorial power as I witnessed in Italy.

Douglas Preston

Some updates on Douglas Preston’s story: First of all, thank you for those of you who offered help (from blogging, to talking to European higher-ups and contacts in the press. Regardless of how those leads pan out, it shows a real sense of community and a belief in the importance of journalistic freedom. So thank you!

These specific things are in motion: the New York Times’s bureau chief in Rome, Ian Fisher, says he will probably write something but it may be a while before he gets to it. The Committee to Protect Journalists has turned out to be a very helpful organization–this is based on a tip by Dorothy Wickenden, the managing editor of the New Yorker.

Another hint re: tomorrow’s Mystery Guest; Preston on MobyLives.

If you’re here to read the note from Douglas Preston… please click here. And thank you for the interest in his story.

I need to get a little of my own writing done today and catch up on a backlog of email. Tomorrow I will announce my mystery guest. The clues so far: Fiesty. Stilettos. Double life.

The first person to guess correctly will win a prize, but I won’t announce the winner until I’ve also announced my guest.

Thank you to my fellow Carnegie Mellon person, Dennis Johnson, for delving into the Douglas Preston case. Be sure to tune in to MobyLives on Saturday.

Big congratulations to Gina Frangello on the birth of her new baby boy! Have you read her book, My Sister’s Continent..? If you’d like to review it for my blog, please drop me a note.

Okay, stop in tomorrow and get your first look at my mystery guest!

Breaking news: Mario Spezi is released from jail!

Just received a most welcome letter from author Doug Preston regarding the saga of Mario Spezi’s arrest. Read on:

My dear friends,

This morning, unexpectedly, an independent three-judge panel annulled the imprisonment of the Italian journalist Mario Spezi and ordered his immediate release. He was set free unconditionally, not even under house arrest. The judges clearly did not think very highly of the evidence–or rather the lack thereof–that Judge Mignini and Chief Inspector Giuttari had presented against Spezi. While Spezi’s legal problems are far from over, at least he is finally out of the grim Capanne Prison.

My friends in Italy tell me that the enormous publicity surrounding the case, in Italy and in America, was an important reason why the panel took the unusual step of overruling a fellow judge and annulling Mignini’s order of imprisonment.

My deepest appreciation to all of you. Together, you struck a major blow for freedom of the press. Thank you very, very much.

Doug

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jmr June 20, 2007 at 11:59 pm

I find nothing worse than someone in power, with money, with influence, using what they have to bully anyone.
What have the held offices in this world come to. Instead of welcoming a fresh view. Or small complaint as growing tools, it’s considered a personal attack, and what they end up doing is always worse then what upset them in the first place. What a travisty. May this world be more blessed than what see happening everyday.

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RON SMITH June 21, 2008 at 9:26 pm

WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY IS ITALY? MY WIFE AND I WENT TO FLORENCE IN JULY 2007,WE HAD NEVER HERAD OF THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE. I AM A CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY IN CLAYTON COUNTY GEORGIA. NEVER HAVE I READ SUCH A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE, SUCH AN ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFFICE. IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT KIND OF PERSON SOMEONE IS, JUST GIVE THEM A LITTLE POWER,OR A WHOLE LOT. MR PRESTON, STAY OUT OF ITALY FOR YOUR OWN SAKE AND YOUR FAMILY. I MUST KNOW WHO DO YOU THINK THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE WAS OR IS?
ANTONNIO VINCI? JUST YOUR OPINON.

Reply

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