Mysteries and Poisons
Just as the “long 1980s” became a crucible of violence, it also framed an intensified police-judicial crackdown on the mafia, the highpoint of which was the maxi-trial, known colloquially as the maxi, which began in February 1986 and lasted until December 1987. During this period, sometimes called the Palermo Primavera, or Spring, Sicilian prosecutors indicted 475 mafiosi, trying 460 of them in a bunker courthouse specially constructed for this purpose inside the walls of the Ucciardone, the city's massive nineteenth-century Bourbon prison. Most were convicted, and, to the surprise of many, the convictions were upheld several years later, in 1992, after the final stage of appeal.
This chapter traces three themes in the vicissitudes of the criminal justice effort. The first is its marked discontinuity. Prosecutors gathered momentum from the late 1970s into the years of the maxi but then were undercut by a public opinion backlash whose purpose, they believe, was to delegitimate them. From their perspective, the attacks opened the door to a series of imbroglios that prefigured the dramatic massacres of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992. The judiciary was revitalized in the aftermath of these terrible murders and the police action became effective again, yet the path remains bumpy, with the issue of delegitimation continuing to reverberate through the courthouses of Sicily and the nation.
Second, contributing to the discontinuity of the criminal justice effort are the intrigue and uncertainty produced by the relationship between