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Lawyer in Marine cable car incident beaten to death

Cable car wreckage
Aerial view of the cable car crash near Cavelese, Italy  

In this story:

March 6, 1998
Web posted at: 6:23 p.m. EST (2323 GMT)

PORDENONE, Italy (CNN) -- The lawyer representing a U.S. Marine officer being investigated in a cable car accident was beaten to death outside her office in what appears to be an unrelated case.

Police said a man believed to have used a hammer wrapped in newspaper in a daylight attack was in custody in the northeastern town of Pordenone. RAI state television reported that the victim, 43-year-old Francesca Trombino, represented the suspect's wife in a divorce.

Police Chief Raffaele Daniele said there was no indication that the attack had anything to do with the February 3 incident in which a Marine jet severed cables supporting a cable car and 20 people were killed.

Trombino was the attorney for Lt. Col. Richard Muegge, leader of the squadron of Marine jets stationed Aviano in northeastern Italy.

U.S. military and Italian prosecutors are both investigating why the EA-6B Prowler surveillance plane was flying low enough on a training run near Cavalese in the Italian Alps to slash the wires.

The Marines have acknowledged that the plane was flying too low. All four crewmen -- none of whom were hurt-- are being investigated, and a local prosecutor has also listed Muegge as the subject of another investigation.

More details of the disaster emerged Friday.

Strained relations between U.S. and Italy

According to the ANSA news agency, court-appointed experts determined that the plane passed between an upper and lower cable. One carried the gondola up, the other brought it down.

Each "cable," in fact, was composed of three individual strands. A wing of the plane severed two cables in one of the bundles, the experts found, causing the gondola to fall.

The experts told ANSA that the gondola was between 314 feet (95 meters) and 347 feet (105 meters) above the ground when the plane passed by.

The incident strained relations between the United States and Italy. Angry Italians accused the U.S. military of trying to hide information taken from the plane's flight recorder.

Italian Justice Minister Giovanni Maria Flick said last month he would ask Washington to forfeit the right to lead any criminal proceedings arising from the investigations.

And in a sign of the incident's political sensitivity, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright mentioned it during her first public remarks when she arrived in Rome on Friday.


Albright pledges 'full, open inquiry'

"We have made it clear to everyone in our own government we expect nothing less than a full and open inquiry," she told reporters at Rome's Ciampino airport just hours before Trombino's death.

"We are allies. We have responsibilities to each other. That's why our troops have been here with Italy's permission for so many years," Albright said. icon 97K / 9 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The secretary of state, who is on the second leg of a six-nation European tour, said she understood the investigation was in its final stages and that a report would be issued soon. icon 257K / 23 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"We will do everything in our power to find out the full truth and to ensure something like this will never happen again," she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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