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Ex-Getty Antiquities Curator Appears at Italian Court Session

Marion True says little at a hearing in her trial on charges of trading in stolen artifacts. 'She is frightened,' one of her attorneys says.

November 17, 2005|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

ROME — Looking drawn and subdued, former Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True was whisked into a courtroom here Wednesday where she faced charges of illegally trading in stolen artifacts.

It was her first appearance in the much-watched trial, and came as something of a surprise, since the proceedings were largely technical and her presence was not required. Her attorneys have been encouraging her to attend as a show of respect for the Italian judiciary.

True wore an elegant black suede coat and large pearl earrings as she sat stony-faced in the courtroom for nearly four hours. During a half-dozen recesses, she never left the defendants' table and avoided a throng of journalists and cameras outside.

Only toward the end of the hearing did she speak, rising when Judge Gustavo Barbalinardo asked her to stand to hear the charges. She stared straight ahead and, in a barely audible voice, acknowledged the court's reading of her name and address.

The trial, the product of a decade-long investigation by Italian authorities, has revived questions over how the world's leading museums acquire antiquities. For years, authorities have suspected that smugglers and disreputable art dealers were working with top curators to traffic in artifacts looted from archeological digs in Italy, Greece and elsewhere.

Museums complicit in "negligent or fraudulent" acquisitions "must stop doing this," lead prosecutor Paolo Ferri declared.

True's trial marks a rare prosecution of an official of an institution as prestigious as the Getty. The museum itself was not indicted.

True, 57, is accused of criminal conspiracy to receive stolen goods and illicit receipt of archeological items. Italian authorities have identified 42 allegedly looted objects, including ancient Roman statues and Greek vessels, currently or at one time in the Getty's possession.

True, who has maintained her innocence, was forced out of her curator's job last month after revelations that she bought a Greek vacation home with financial help from an antiquities dealer.

Two associates of True also have been charged. Co-defendant Robert Hecht, 86, a Paris-based American art dealer, did not appear in court on his attorney's advice. The third defendant, Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici, was convicted in December and is appealing a 10-year sentence.

On Wednesday, minutes before the hearing began, True arrived in a flash, her attorneys running interference for her through a crowd outside the courtroom. She left in similarly dramatic fashion, under escort of paramilitary police, and only after police ordered all television cameramen and photographers to clear the court corridors.

The judge granted True's request that cameras not be permitted in the courtroom.

"She is frightened. She is terrified," said one of True's attorneys, Francesca Coppi, who sat at her client's side Wednesday. Coppi said True decided only at the last minute to attend the session. The court, caught unaware, could not provide a translator for her, causing a brief delay in the proceedings. Eventually, True's lawyers waived the need for a translator for this session, since most of the discussion centered on procedural matters.

True's lead attorney, Franco Coppi, said it was important for his client to be present to show the court her regard for the proceedings. "We did not want to create the impression that, as we say in good Italian, she didn't give a damn about this court," said Coppi, considered one of the country's most powerful and talented lawyers. Franco Coppi is Francesca Coppi's father.

"Marion True acquired these objects in absolute good faith," Coppi said in professing his client's innocence.

Italian authorities say this case is the beginning of a wider campaign to recover illegally excavated objects from several U.S. museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Officials here also want museums to stop buying looted art.

"The most important thing here is to send the message that they must stop illegal trafficking. We must crush it and make sure the museums stop buying these items," said Maurizio Fiorilli, a prosecutor representing Italy's Culture Ministry in the trial.

Last week the Getty returned three pieces to Italy: a bronze Etruscan candelabrum, a carved gravestone from the 6th century BC and a painted bowl by the Greek artist Asteas dating to 340 BC and dug up in southern Italy.

Prosecutors said the trial, which began in July, could last a year. The next session is to be held Dec. 5.

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Maria De Cristofaro of The Times' Rome Bureau contributed to this report.

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