Prosecutors in northern Italy are blaming the mysterious murder of a 92-year-old priest on the cleric who read him his last rites -- claiming the younger priest decided to kill after he was caught stealing relics.
Monsignor Giuseppe Rocco was found strangled on the floor of his room in Cleric’s House in Trieste on April 25, 2014 -- with a broken bone sticking out of his neck and blood under his body.
Two years later, prosecutors are claiming the murderer is 52-year-old Father Paolo Piccoli -- the priest called to give Rocco his last rites after a housekeeper discovered his body on the floor.
In the weeks before his murder, Rocco had reported the theft of a set of religiously significant statuettes from his cell, news.com.au reported. Then other items suddenly disappearred: the Madonna, horse and ship figurines.
Rocco suspected housemate Father Piccoli — once accused of stealing relics from another parish — as the culprit and alerted church authorities, who then sent Piccoli a warning letter over the alleged theft.
Local media reports that Piccoli had a fetish for sacred objects -- and court documents claim he ran huge debts on his father’s account in order to dress up in authentic priestly vestments as a boy, according to news.com.au.
Piccoli denies any involvement in Rocco's death, telling investigators there were many other people inside the residence the night Rocco was killed.
But Italian police say they were able to link the two spots of blood found under Rocco's body to Piccoli, according to local media reports.
When interrogated, Piccoli allegedly told police that he had a condition that weakened his skin and caused open sores. The blood on Rocco, he claimed, must have gotten there while he was administering last rites.
Rocco was found at 7:30 a.m. on April 25, 2014, by the housekeeper, Eleanora Dibitonto, who had come to make sure the elderly monsignor was awake for morning mass.
Upon finding Rocco fully dressed on the floor, she called an ambulance and asked Piccoli to give him his last rites. Paramedics immediately notified police after seeing the body, and the cause of death was ruled suffocation by strangulation.
Prosecutors allege that Piccoli confronted Rocco about the theft accusation on the morning of April 25. The two men argued, prosecutors claim, before Piccoli strangled Rocco and left him on the floor of his cell-like room.
Piccoli faces aggravated murder charges in the case. In December, a secular court will determine whether to put him on trial, according to Italian media reports.