— -- One of the two American students who accused two Italian police officers of rape in Florence appeared on "Porta a Porta," a much-watched Italian late-night TV news talk show on the Rai Uno channel Thursday night.
Introduced to the audience by the alias Mary, her face appeared digitally blurred and her voice was dubbed into Italian. The first half-hour of the program was dedicated to the case, which revolves around the alleged Sept. 7 assault against a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old studying abroad in Italy.
On the program, the 20-year-old student answered a number of questions with short, calm answers about what she says happened that night. Asked if they drank a lot that night, she answered "not that much." She said they met the officers that night as they couldn't get a taxi and had asked a group of six Carabinieri -- members of a national paramilitary police force -- for help.
The officers tried to phone for a taxi, according to the 20-year-old. Two of the officers stayed after the others left and these two offered to give them a lift home, she said.
She remembered that the ride took about 20 minutes and that the two officers spoke to each other in Italian, which the two students didn’t speak. She said once they arrived at their home, the two officers offered to "continue to help us" and "after we had said thank you very much we tried to leave them."
When asked whether she found the officer who allegedly raped her sexy, liked him, or was interested in him, she said he reminded her of her grandfather and "not even in hell would I have let him touch me."
She did not describe the alleged rape but said it took place on the third-floor landing. She declined to answer if the officer got violent with her but says he made her do things she didn’t want to do. It took about 20 minutes before she could get into her apartment, she said. She grabbed her friend, who she said was also crying and "dragged her into the apartment."
"I ran away before they could say anything," she said. "Then I went to my friends and called my father in America. He told me to stay calm and call for help." She said she called her school's emergency number and they sent someone to her apartment. Asked at the end of the interview if she would come back to Italy, she answered that she loved Italy and doesn’t blame the country for what happened.
Yesterday, the two American students returned to Florence to repeat their accusations in a pretrial, closed-door hearing.
The hearing lasted for 12 hours, ending well into the night. During the hearing, in which the two women faced extensive questioning posed via a translator by the officers' defense lawyers, prosecutor and judge, they alleged the two uniformed officers offered to accompany the students home in their patrol car that night after meeting them outside a nightclub and then raped them in the lobby and elevator of the house, where they were staying during their semester abroad in Florence.
Lawyers for the two women said it had been a long, tense and difficult ordeal for their clients. The 21-year old student answered questions for seven hours and the 19-year-old for more than five. One of the officers' defense lawyers had prepared over 250 questions for each student but only about a third were allowed by the judge.
As is the case for most rape cases in Italy, the pre-trial closed hearing took place in a special secure courthouse in which the two American students, along with the judge and translator were shielded and kept apart from all others in the courtroom. Neither of the two students could hear each other’s testimony. The prosecutor, lawyers for the defense and the two American students along with just one of the police officers -- the other one chose not to be present -- were in another room and could communicate via audio and video link. The need for translation added to the length of the proceedings.
Lawyers for the two Americans, Gabriele Zanobini and Francesca D’Alessandro, told reporters once the hearing was over that there had been “dramatic moments” during both the depositions. Zanobini, who represents the 19-year-old student said "It was an exhausting day for the two women which I would never have expected to assist. My client nearly fainted afterwards and the other cried. Most of the questions posed by the defense lawyers were irrelevant and did not change the accusations but reinforced them."
Giorgio Carta, the lawyer for one of the accused police officers was adamant that his client along with his patrol-car superior had no reason to apologize to the two women as he insisted that the sexual intercourse in both cases had been consensual. He said that two off-duty officers "were silly to put the students into their patrol car to accompany them home."
Lab tests taken in hospital a number of hours after the alleged rape still showed both women with very high alcohol levels in their blood. Both students have admitted to consuming alcohol that night.
Ahead of the hearing, the two women, along with their relatives, were driven into the bunker area around the courtroom in darkened vans via a secondary entrance far from the media which was kept away from the building and on the street throughout the whole hearing. The lawyers said only a few brief pauses were granted during the hearing which ended at 10.30 p.m.
Both students are believed to have already left Florence.