- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

ROME Pleas for mercy gave way to a frenzy of anti-American outrage as Virginia prepared yesterday to execute Derek Barnabei for the 1994 rape and murder of a first-year college student.

Leaders ranging from Pope John Paul II to Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato pleaded with U.S. authorities to spare Barnabei's life. Barnabei was executed late last night.

A leading newspaper accused the United States of waging a "collective vendetta," and words like "genocide" and "torture" spring readily from the mouths of protesters gathered all week at Rome's Colosseum.

At the moment of Barnabei's death punishment for the slaying of Old Dominion University student Sarah J. Wisnosky just two weeks before her 18th birthday the Italians were to bathe the Colosseum in gold light in a final act of protest.

Barnabei's Italian roots made the case particularly poignant here. His mother lives in Italy. But Europeans in general and Italians in particular share a special disgust for capital punishment.

To historians, it reflects a nation and a continent haunted by a history of burning religious heretics at the stake, sending children to die during the Crusades and feeding Christians to the lions at the very Colosseum that provided one stage for this week's demonstrations.

"It's a kind of collective guilt that doesn't exist in the U.S.," said Rome-based historian and author Alan Epstein.

"It's no surprise that U.S. executions are held behind closed doors. Americans might view things differently if they had to witness what happens the way Italians watched for generations," Mr. Epstein said.

Italy was drawn to the Barnabei case in part because he was of Italian descent, and also on the belief that the case was flawed because of the mysterious temporary disappearance of evidence from a courthouse in Norfolk.

The evidence, which included fingernail clippings, was found later and new DNA tests supported the conviction, Virginia officials said.

But most Italian pleas for Barnabei's life didn't mention the details of the case, focusing instead on moral outrage over the death penalty.

Polls show about three in four Italians oppose capital punishment under any circumstance. About the same percentage of Americans support it.

At one pre-execution protest near Rome's Pantheon, 500 protesters gathered with candles in hand to call on U.S. authorities to spare Barnabei's life and ban capital punishment.

Several protesters carried a long sign with a quote from Jesus' Crucifixion: "Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do." Several people on hand cried.

"I am crying for his soul and for the souls of the [U.S.] leaders who think they can play God," said 32-year-old lawyer Maria Rivelli. "What is next in America? Genocide? Slavery? Torture?"

It's not the first time that Italy has fought for someone scheduled to die in Virginia. Three years ago, killer Joseph O'Dell was made an honorary citizen of Palermo, which led a national campaign to save him. After he was executed, his body was flown to Palermo and buried there. It's likely that Barnabei also will be buried in Italy, near where his mother lives.

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