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Over the past few days there have been reports in the media about Marco Pantani’s case being reopened ten years after his death because of suspicions of murder. The Italian journalist Andrea Rossini (Corriere di Rimini) is the writer of a book called L’Ultimo Kilometro, which is the most detailed account of Pantani’s final hours. Outside the police, the investigating magistrates and the forensic consultants, he knows most about the rider’s sad demise. In this article, Rossini refutes those claims that others killed the 1998 Tour de France and Giro d’Italia champion.
RIMINI: Who killed Marco Pantani? The incontrovertible truth is written in the concluding paragraphs of the autopsy report: he died of “acute cocaine intoxication whose consequences, at the cardiac and pulmonary level, were compounded by preexisting myocardial infarction caused by prolonged abuse of the aforementioned substance.”
Murder was ruled out on the initial inspection of the body by the two forensic scientists who attended the scene: according to the statement given by the porter, the door was locked from the inside. This and no other evidence steered the investigators of Rimini’s serious crime unit towards the overdose theory, which was confirmed when the dealers were identified (no small achievement on the part of the police) and by the reconstruction of the Pirate’s habits in his last days, dominated by his substance addiction (known at the time only to his family members and immediate entourage). Never had so many men and so much equipment (especially telecommunications technology) been deployed in Rimini to investigate an overdose.
The investigation was neither hurried nor superficial. The arrest of the dealers 55 days later illustrated its thoroughness, even if, after the fact, loose ends can be identified, as they can after any police investigation. Yet, the facts remain: the dealers confessed and the subsequent trials confirmed that the final delivery was made on the threshold of the Residence Le Rose. Indeed, the judgment issued after the first trial, in Rimini, reads:
“No evidence has emerged to suggest that any kind of scuffle took place in the apartment, or that Pantani was induced by force to take cocaine. This hypothesis, in the light of the evidence, is quite unfeasible. It is to be underlined that the expert witness ruled out definitively the possibility of death resulting from any trauma produced by external mechanical force. It should be added that none of the hotel employees reported having heard noises, fighting or arguments coming from the room on the morning of February 14. [This was the judge’s conclusion after hearing evidence in court].Pantani complained about the presence of strangers that no one else saw and whose voices no one else heard. However, hallucinatory experiences are characteristic of the sensory disturbances triggered by cocaine abuse. Similarly, the utter disorder in which the room was found is entirely compatible with the aggression, paranoid delusions and extreme anger caused by excessive cocaine use in its acute phase.”
It reads like a response to the perfectly legitimate questions that have been raised in recent days, except that it was written six years ago.
Two small triangles were apparent on the neck close to the jugular, as if someone had pressed at that point with the fingers: however, they were only cadaverous spots. There were eleven lesions in all, all superficial, almost all to the face (the blood loss from the head was a consequence of the fall following the final crisis), attributable to psychomotor agitation. Only two were more serious: one, triangular in shape, in the region of the left parietal bone, and a haematoma around the nose, with no bone fracture – not the result of a struggle (there were no lesions consistent with active or passive defence) but, more probably – bearing in mind the complete disorder of the room in the residence – the consequence of accidental bumps sustained one after the other, including the fall to the ground at the moment of his collapse. There were no trauma or bone injuries.
The position of the body as it was found by police forensics was not the original one. The ambulance crew moved it before using the defibrillator. This explains the signs that the body had been dragged across the floor.
No marks to the mouth, lips, or gums suggest forced consumption.
When the body was found, the door, as already stated, was closed from the inside, according to evidence regarded as trustworthy from the porter, in a fifth floor room with locked windows. After using the master key to unlock the door, the porter had to push back objects behind it. Pantani had barricaded himself in on other occasions: for example, in his house at Saturnia, Tuscany, when he hid himself from the world to consume huge quantities of drugs.
There has been talk of fingerprints. It is true that they were not taken. However, the room was cordoned off for three weeks. Had there been any cause, early in the investigation, to suspect murder, they would have been taken using the only technique known ten years ago to detect latent prints on any type of surface: the cyanoacrylate fuming method, a destructive procedure that would not have been appropriate to carry out immediately, as it would have wiped out, for example, the small residues of cocaine that were discovered behind the bedside table at the time of the second (of three) crime scene analyses.
And the ball of food, mostly bread, mixed with cocaine found beside the body. The investigators ruled out the theory that it had been deliberately placed there: it had been sucked, and showed signs of chewing. Witnesses close to Pantani mentioned that, as well as sniffing it and consuming it as crack cocaine, the Pirate, towards the end, ate cocaine directly. It would have been impossible to force him to do so without a struggle.
As for the disordered room, it was more the result of meticulous work by a man haunted by fantasies than a struggle with a real individual: the sheets had been knotted to the bannister of the stairway, the television aerial lead tied to the mezzanine, the central heating unit pulled off the wall, the sofa-bed mattress removed from its cover, and the various bathroom facilities had been dismantled and the parts piled up on the toilet. Not a single seat had been knocked over. Or was it staged? If the killers had wanted to suggest an overdose, there was no need to simulate any of this disorder.
Another source of controversy is the call for help. Step by step: the autopsy placed the time of death between 11.30am and 12.30pm on 14 February 2004, preceded by a cocaine-induced delirium, during which the higher, critical powers of the mind were clouded.
There were noises in the room. In late morning, the cleaner tried to open the door with the master key, but heard the client’s voice and closed it. This is the context in which Pantani used the fixed telephone (he did not have his mobile phone with him) and called the lobby to say, in a confused manner, that someone was disturbing him, and to ask them to call the Carabinieri, and then, that there was no need. Had there been genuine danger, he could have called the Carabinieri directly from his room.
Lastly, the fatal dose: an astonishing quantity, greater than the 30 grams mentioned in the dealer’s ‘confession.’
However, in order not to worsen his own position, he had every incentive to play down the amount of the final ‘re-up’: he was accused of constructive manslaughter as a consequence of supplying the final dose. It is easy to talk of mysteries: for investigations and trials, only facts will do.