A woman was fighting for life in hospital last night after being shot in the face - the victim of an attempted murder that has provided a horrifying insight into the archaic code of honour to which southern Italy's mobsters still cling.
Bruna Morabito, 32, was taken to hospital in Messina, Sicily, on Friday after being shot at point-blank range. As soon as investigators discovered her surname, they thought they knew why. Ms Morabito is the niece of Peppe ("Joe Go-ahead") Tiradritto, one of the most feared "godfathers" of the 'Ndrangheta, the mafia of Calabria on Italy's "toe".
Tiradritto - real name Giuseppe Morabito - was arrested in 2004 after 12 years on the run. The 72-year-old's locale, or gang, based at Africo, near the holiday beaches of the Ionian coast, is a key player in the cocaine trade with Colombia's drug cartels. His niece had chosen a different life, however. She had moved to Sicily and was working as an intern for a judicial officer of the state.
The investigators concluded that Ms Morabito had either been shot for being a renegade or as part of a feud with another locale. But that was until her younger brother turned up at the police station in Reggio Calabria and confessed.
Giovanni Morabito, alias "Ringo", is reported to have told police that he had set out to murder his sister to protect his family's honour. Bruna Morabito was separated from her husband, and she had been living with another man, a civilian working for the police.
Less than two weeks before the shooting she had given birth to his child. The newspaper, Corriere della Sera, said yesterday that the emerging details of the case had taken Italians back "hundreds of years to the days when people were killed as a matter of honour".
The last time an Italian court accepted a defence of honour as a mitigating circumstance in a homicide case was in 1981. That was on Sicily where a double murderer had his sentence cut from 13 years to six on the grounds that his victims were his wife and the man with whom he had caught her having sex. The idea that a female relative brings dishonour on her family by having an extramarital affair - and that the dishonour can be wiped away only with blood - has taken longer to die in the world of organised crime.
Italian media reports yesterday said that Bruna Morabito's new life with another man had been accepted by her parents and even by some of the members of her uncle's mob. She was, in any case, no longer in touch with her brothers. But 24-year-old Giovanni, who himself has a criminal record, was unable to come to terms with her decision.
Apparently, the discovery that she had had a child came as the final straw. He reportedly told police that he had tracked her to her flat in Messina where she offered to show him the baby. He refused, and asked that they continue with their conversation elsewhere.
They took the lift to the ground floor and as soon as they stepped outside, he began shooting. Her baby son, Francesco Maria, was being looked after last night by his father's parents.