(May 20) -- A convicted Mafia boss said to be suffering mental and physical health problems was released from prison in Italy today on "compassionate grounds."
Convicted of murder three years ago, Salvatore "Vito" Vitale, 64, was serving a life sentence when his attorney went before a group of Pavia magistrates this week to ask for his release. According to British newspaper the Telegraph, Vitale's lawyer said his client was suffering from depression, diabetes and a heart ailment.
Photo released by Police of Vito Vitale, 39, a fugitive investigators suspect could be the Mafia's top bosses, arrested Tuesday April 14 1998.
Alessandro Fucarini, AP
Salvatore "Vito" Vitale was released from prison, where he was serving a life sentence, because of physical and mental health problems.
Upon reviewing the case, the magistrates ruled that Vitale should be freed on "compassionate grounds." Under the conditions of his release, he must live under house arrest at his residence in Palermo and is required to check in with officials three times a week.
According to court records, Vitale was a reputed member of La Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia) in November 1993, when the organization kidnapped 11-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo. Authorities say the gang was hoping to prevent the boy's father, former mafioso Mario Santo Di Matteo, from testifying against them in the 1992 killing of a judge.
The Mafia tortured and held the child captive for 26 months, during which time they sent grisly photos of him to his father. When negotiations failed, in January 1996, the gang murdered the boy and dissolved his body in a barrel of acid, authorities say.
In 2007, a Pavia court found Vitale, who was accused of supplying the acid used in the crime, guilty of murder, and sentenced him to life in prison.
Vitale's release has angered many victims' rights organizations, including the Association of Victims of Mafia Violence, which is calling it "shameful."
"Criminals who are condemned to life sentences, who then become sick, should be sent to [the] hospital for treatment and then, as soon as they have recovered, be returned to prison," the organization's vice president, Giovanna Maggiani Chelli, said in a press release.
Thomas P. Hunt, a U.S. Mafia expert who runs the website The American Mafia, which documents the history of the mob, is equally puzzled.
"The concept of 'compassionate release' seems entirely at odds with Vitale's life choices," Hunt told AOL News. "He was tried and convicted for participation in a completely callous crime. ... Given the circumstances, it seems to me more appropriate to treat Vitale's ailments as best as possible in a prison infirmary and let him serve the remainder of his life sentence."