Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation has dismissed a final appeal against a ruling that Marco Pantani was not murdered, and ordered his family to pay the costs of their appeal. The court described the verdict of the latest investigation carried out by Rimini police, which showed Pantani's death was caused by a cocktail of cocaine and anti-depressants, as being "solid and like granite".
Pantani died on 14 February, 2004 after barricading himself in a hotel room in Rimini under the effects of cocaine and anti-depressants.
He had suffered greatly with substance abuse and mental problems since being disqualified from the 1999 Giro d'Italia due to a high blood haematocrit. In the previous year he won the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France but was investigated several times for doping and never returned to the level of success that earned him the nickname of 'Il Pirata' and global admiration for his daring attacks in the mountains at Grand Tours.
Pantani's mother Tonina has always defended her son's honour while admitting that he may have used blood-boosting EPO during his career. She hired high-profile Italian lawyer Antonio De Rensis to investigate all the circumstances of Pantani's death and managed to spark a new investigation in 2014 that was fuelled by media reports in Italy that played on the heartstrings of Pantani's enduring popularity among the tifosi.
In August 2014, La Gazzetta dello Sport filled its front page with the headline "Pantani was killed" as they openly backed Tonina's position. The Italian sports newspaper has now accepted the Supreme Court verdict, and on Thursday published a small story entitled "Pantani was not killed".
Pantani's family and lawyer tried to argue that someone may have somehow entered Pantani's room and forced him to consume a lethal dose of cocaine. They questioned every part of the original 2004 police investigation that resulted in the drug dealers going to jail. They even backed wild claims by a famous Italian mobster Renato Vallanzasca that Pantani was killed by the mafia to avoid paying out on massive illegal bets on his eventual victory at the 1999 Giro d'Italia.
New investigator Paolo Giovagnoli responded to every doubt raised by De Rensis with new medical evidence, which led judge Vincio Cantarini to confirm that Pantani was killed by "serious acute heart failure, a toxicological effect caused by [the anti-depressants] trimipramine and venlafaxine, and cocaine".
Cantarini added that the last months of Pantani's life had been characterised by "a compulsive and increasing use of cocaine". He dismissed claims that Pantani was murdered as "a fantastical hypothesis, mere conjecture".
Despite that verdict, the Pantani family appealed to the Supreme Court but a final appeal was thrown out, ending 13 years of doubts and suspicions about Pantani's death.