This is the second (and final) part of the post on Falcone and Borsellino. The entire article is a collaboration with my friend, Jean Perloff, who is an attorney and italophile. The first part ended with a conversation between Giovanni Falcone, magistrate, and Tommaso Buscetta, a mafia informant, who warns Falcone on the dangers of interviewing him.
Falcone interrogated him, and Buscetta talked. The result: In September 1984, 366 arrest warrants were issued. Later, Falcone emphasized the importance of Buscetta’s confessions: “Before this we only had a superficial idea of the mafia. Now we had a look inside. He furnished so much information on the structure, the recruitment methods, and the workings of Cosa Nostra.”
The Maxi Trial, as it was called, took place between 1986 and 1987 for the first phase (the appeals lasted until 1992). Beginning in 1984, it was a magical time for “the pool.” It had human and financial support throughout the ministry. For example, the fortified holding cell in which the Maxi Trial would take place was constructed within a year.
In the meantime, in the shadows, Totò Riina was planning “a summer of blood.” Several officials were murdered, and fear was rampant. Falcone and Borsellino (and their families) were moved in haste to an outpost in Sardinia to complete the preliminary proceedings of the Maxi Trial, which were filed the same year.
With 475 indictments, the Maxi Trial was the greatest attack ever achieved against the mafia in Italy. It ended in 1987 with 360 convictions and 114 acquittals. In the meantime, Borsellino was appointed prosecutor of the republic at Marsala in Trapani. Caponnetto considered his experience in Palermo to be finished and was sure that his post would be taken by Falcone. But the political climate had changed, and Falcone was rejected from several appointments; it seems that seniority and politics conquered competence. Antonino Meli, the new head of the magistrates in Palermo who had little experience in mafia matters, began to dismantle the anti- mafia pool. He assigned investigations of the mafia to magistrates outside of the pool and gave to Falcone and his colleagues pickpocketing and purse-snatching cases.
The clash between Meli and Falcone was intense, and finally Falcone left Palermo for a position in the Ministry of Justice in Rome. His work against the mafia did not ease up. With a decree that Falcone conceived, many Mafiosi were returned to jail who had been released through a sentence by Corrado Carnevale, the president of the first penal section of Italy’s Supreme Court. To defuse the possible influence of this move on the outcome of the final appeals of the Maxi Trial, Falcone came up with the idea of rotating the judges on the supreme court. In this way, Carnevale was assigned elsewhere, and the court confirmed the sentences. In the meantime, Borsellino returned to Palermo as a prosecutor with a direct role in mafia investigations.
Defeated in the Maxi Trial that led to life sentences for many Mafiosi, Totò Riina vowed revenge beginning with those who had been guaranteed impunity. There was a hit in March of 1992. Then the fateful day of May 23. A huge explosion ripped apart the autostrada that connected the airport of Punta Raisi to Palermo near the exit for Capaci. With an impact like an earthquake, 500 kg of TNT destroyed 100 meters of asphalt and sent flying the armored car. Giovanni Falcone was dead, along with his wife and 3 others.
Wounded deeply by the death of his friend, Borsellino worked frenetically in the ensuing weeks. Behind the scenes, a document was circulating in which Riina proposed 12 requests/demands to the State, from the revision of Maxi Trial sentences to the annulment of the law that provided tough jail sentences for the mafia, to the reform of laws on informants. Borsellino was opposed, in effect, signing a death sentence for himself.
Disconsolate, Borsellino declared on July 13: “I know that the TNT awaits me,” and to his wife he said, “The Mafia will kill me when they decide to.” And on July 17, to the amazement of everyone present, he greeted his colleagues, one by one, to say goodbye hugging them.
July 19 was a very hot day in Palermo. Borsellino decided to visit his mother. Two minutes before 5 pm, the explosion of the auto bomb could be heard throughout Palermo. Five other men in the escort were killed along with Borsellino.
Today Totò Riina, 86, is still in jail. In the last years of his life, Caponnetto toured schools throughout Italy to tell the story of the 2 heroes: “The battles in which you believe are never lost battles.” As youngsters, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino played together in the ancient Arab quarter of Palermo. As adults, they worked together on a dangerous anti-mafia mission. Then in 1992 they died 57 days apart as heroes.