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'Black Widow' Won't Leave Web

The widow of the slain Gucci fashion scion sits in her prison cell, refusing to show up at her murder trial. A co-defendant, a high-society psychic, shows, but leaves in an hour after throwing a tantrum in front of TV cameras.

The trial of five strange bedfellows, a doorman, two alleged hit men, the victim's ex-wife and a psychic charged with murder in the 1995 slaying of Maurizio Gucci promises to be one of the longest-running and closely followed dramas in Italy, even though the judge has banned live television coverage.

It's also expected to write the final chapter in the saga of a family feud that ended a fashion dynasty, internationally renowned for its luxury leather products decorated with the double-G logo.

The fortune of Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of the company founder, has been estimated at more than $150 million following the sale of his stake in the Gucci group in 1993. Maurizio, 46, was the last family member to sell his shares.

He was shot dead March 27, 1995, as he walked into his office building in downtown Milan.

Following the Gucci tradition of bitter discord, Milan prosecutors allege his murder was a family affair. They say Patrizia Reggiani Martinelli, Gucci's ex-wife, planned the killing because her annual alimony was halved to $900,000.

Pina Auriemma, a longtime friend of Reggiani Martinelli and a fashionable psychic, allegedly hired two hit men for Martinelli, with the help of a hotel doorman.

In a television talk show before her ex-husband was killed, Martinelli bitterly criticized the divorce settlement for "leaving my children without a future."

Martinelli, a 49-year-old dubbed the "Black Widow" by Italian media, has refused to talk to investigators since she was jailed in January 1997 in Milan.

Like many other defendants in Italy, she also exercised her right not to appear in court since trial opened May 9, skipping Wednesday's session as well. It's not clear why.

Her absence from Milan's Court of Assizes disappointed the curious, but did little to cool public attention. Many have followed the case in the media, while others have tried to get a ringside view.

"I must confess, I came here to see the ex-wife. I'm disappointed she's not here," Roberto Maggi, a pensioner who likes to attend criminal trials, said Tuesday.

The Guccis were married in 1972 and separated 12 years later. Their two daughters, Alessandra and Allegra, are 21 and 16, respectively.

Only the two alleged hit men, Benedetto Ceraulo and Orazio Cicala, have appeared regularly at the trial, standing inside the steel bars of the defendants' cage.

Hotel doorman Ivano Savioni appeared briefly at the opening session. Auriemma showed up Tuesday at the second session, but got angry with TV cameramen and asked to be taken back to her cell.

By Piero Valsecchi. 1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed