An Italian court sentenced Mehmet Ali Agca to life imprisonment today for his unsucessful attempt to kill Pope John Paul II on May 13. The jury deliberated for six hours.
The 23-year-old Turkish extremist, who admitted the shooting, received an additional 10-year sentence for wounding two American women tourists in St. Peter's Square at the time he shot the pope. That sentence was reduced to a year in solitary confinement.
Defense lawyer Pietro d'Ovidio said he would have to speak to his client about a possible appeal. Agca, who has challenged the Italian court's jurisdiction, has not appeared in court since Monday.
After the lengthy deliberation, the court's president, Magistrate Severino Santiapichi, announced the verdict, saying, "In the name of the Italian people, the court declares Mehmet Ali Agca guilty of the charges against him."
Santiapichi and one other judge sat with the six lay jurors during their deliberations.
Yesterday the public prosecutor, Nicolo Amato, called for the life sentence, describing the self-styled Turkish terrorist as a "salesman of death" and a "vile man of hatred" who fired to kill. Agca's attack on the pope, Amato said, was tantamount to "symbolic patricide."
The unexpected length of the jury's deliberation suggested that d'Ovidio's arguments today were persuasive to some jurors. D'Ovidio emphasized that the investigation of the shooting had provided no evidence of a conspiracy to kill the pope and said, "If he did it by himself the question is why." D'Ovidio's answer was that Agca is a "religious fanatic," a psycopath with a "twisted mind" and as such d'Ovidio said, should receive a lesser sentence that would give him the possibility of regaining his freedom.
Italian law states that in the case of the life sentence the only chance of early release is "supervised liberty" at the end of 28 years.
The verdict aroused strong differences of opinion among spectators and other Romans. Some felt that the verdict was just and in line with the article of the Vatican-Italian treaty that equates an attempt on the life of the pope with attempted assassination of the head of state and sets life imprisonment as an appropriate sentence.
Others found the sentence unusually harsh, in part because the pope was only wounded and not killed, in part because the pope himself has pardoned his assailant, and in part because they believe Agca appears unstabled enough for psychiatric tests to have been called for.