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Pantani homicide case capturing Italy’s attention

Investigators say that the crime scene was not carefully examined and that there is evidence of foul play

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MILAN (VN) — Marco Pantani, whether in life or death, is front page news in Italy. Cycling’s last Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double winner, died in 2004 of what an initial investigation showed was a cocaine overdose. Ten years later, however, a new probe into the possible murder of Pantani sees the Italian back in news headlines.

Rimini’s head prosecutor, Paolo Giovagnoli reopened the case in September. Now, hearings are proceeding and videos are leaking to the press with a Christmas deadline looming.

Pantani died February 14, 2004, due to what investigators determined was a cocaine overdose. The 34-year-old had problems with performance enhancing drugs on the bike and with cocaine off of it prior to his death.

He became one of only seven cyclists to win the both the Giro and Tour in one season, 1998. Soon after, however, his life unravelled. In 1999, a high hematocrit reading that indicated EPO use forced him out of the 1999 Giro while he led the race and wore the famous pink jersey.

In the 1999-2000 period, he had four car accidents. In one, he collided with eight cars in one hour and came to a stop down the wrong way of a one-way street with his Mercedes SUV on top of another car.

He overdosed on cocaine twice previously. The third time, at the Hotel Le Rose in Rimini was lethal, according to the 2004 investigation.

Pantani’s parents Tonina and Paolo argued foul play over the last 10 years and paid lawyer Antonio De Rensis to look into it. De Rensis collected information, presented it to Giovagnoli and convinced him to reopen the case with a focus on the voluntary homicide of Pantani.

His theory, according to reports by Italian newspapers in August, is that Pantani let known men into his room early in the morning on Valentine’s Day. The men hit Pantani, forced him to drink cocaine diluted in water and carried his body down the stairs of the bi-level room.

De Rensis’ work identified a water bottle in the hotel room that was never analysed. Francesco Maria Avato, a legal medical expert the Pantanis hired, identified a high amount of cocaine in Pantani’s body and wounds that appeared to be from others, not caused by a fall.

According to the Wednesday edition of Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport sports daily, Giovagnoli is hearing from several who knew Pantani. Doctor Giovanni Greco and on-and-off friend Michael Mengozzi already spoke to Giovagnoli. Former manager Manuela Ronchi should be next.

“Pantani had a compulsive behavior when it came to cocaine,” Greco said in the 2004 case.

“He’d isolate himself for days, consuming impressive quantities, smoking it and inhaling it.”

Mengozzi’s moves raised eyebrows, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. He arrived to the hotel at 10:15 p.m., but that was 15 minutes before the news agencies or TV reported the death.

A video of the crime scene released Wednesday casts a longer shadow over Pantani’s death. De Rensis could use it in his case as it shows “little care” toward the investigation.

Mediaset television aired the video with the interviews of journalist Davide Dezan and Luciano Garofano, the head of police scientific investigation unit until 2009 in nearby Parma.

“There are people walking in the room with no gloves and no protection, and they touch everything,” Dezan said. “We enter the bedroom, there is a [water] bottle that has never been taken into consideration and that could have been used to force Marco to drink a lethal amount of cocaine as has been suggested.”

“These images show, unfortunately, that there was little attention when entering the scene,” added Garofano. “The doctor that wants to touch an object without gloves, that worries me. It shows little care about contaminating the scene.”

Regardless of his drug problems and checkered cycling career, Italians are still enamored by ‘Il Pirata.’ The case should keep him in the headlines at least until Christmas, when Giovagnoli expects the initial rulings.

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