Stolen Justice

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CATANZARO, Italy: When 7-year-old American Nicholas Green was murdered two years ago by highway bandits as he slept in the back seat of his parents' rented car, his family reacted in a stunningly gracious manner. In a move which won them Italy's highest civil honor, the Greens donated their son's heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas for transplant, saving seven lives and securing their place in the affections of this organ donor-poor country. But the ultimate compensation -- justice -- eludes them still. A court has acquitted the two men charged in the shooting death, agreeing with the defense's argument that a recorded conversation allegedly identifying Francesco Mesiano and Michele Iannello as the murderers was too chock full of regional dialect to serve as intelligible evidence. Police charged that the pair had mistaken the Greens' rental car for a robbery target, forced the car off the road and then fired into the vehicle, hitting young Nicholas in the brain. In the end, despite evidence linking Iannello to the car and the gun used in the shooting, even the prosecution favored leniency for the pair, citing the youth of 23-year-old Mesiano and the willingness by Iannello, a onetime local crime boss, to help out with official mob investigations after his arrest. The ruling has astonished Italians, particularly given the reputation of Callabrio, the region where Green was murdered, as the "Wild West of Italy," says TIME Rome correspondent Greg Burke. "Most people had been expecting these people to get nailed, " says Burke. "It wasn't one of these O.J. deals, where who knows how it's going to come off."