Published: 10:26, 08 July 2014
Three thugs have been jailed for life today after murdering a young Italian waiter in a sickening attack in which they behaved "like a pack of animals" in Maidstone.
The Lithuanian trio were yesterday convicted of killing 20-year-old Joele Leotta in an "appalling and sickening group attack" at his bedsit over Vesuvius restaurant, where he worked in Lower Stone Street.
Aleksandras Zuravliovas, 26, of Beaumont Road, was told he will serve a minimum of 21 years for murdering Mr Leotta. Saulius Tamoliunas, 24, of Union Street; and 21-year-old Linas Zidonis, of no fixed address, will serve at least 20 years.
The trio were each jailed for another 12 years - to be served concurrently - for wounding Mr Leotta's best friend Alex Galbiati, 20, with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
Zuravliovas put his head in his hands when the sentence was read out. The others showed no emotion. Several jurors looked visibly upset, especially as the judge addressed them and thanked them for their efforts.
Judge Philip Statman told the three: "During the 11-and-a-half weeks I have sat here with the jury I am satisfied none of you have shown a flicker of remorse.
"A death in circumstances such as this outrages and horrifies the collective conscience of our community. It leaves families devastated.
"I have listened to the profoundly moving impact statements – Joele Leotta, a young life cut short, his closest friend emotionally scarred by the events I am having to deal with."
The court heard Mr Leotta died after suffering 100 injuries during a brutal late-night attack on the evening of Sunday, October 20, last year.
Judge Statman added: "In October last year two young Italians came to Maidstone to work in an Italian restaurant and, no doubt, improve their English. They shared a humble bedsitting room at 26 Lower Stone Street. It was their home.
"Fuelled by alcohol, all three of you proceeded to beat both of these young men in what was a savage attack..." - Judge Philip Statman
"Within a week of their arrival Joele Leotta lay dying in the downstairs entrance having been savagely beaten. Outside on the pavement his friend Alex Galbiati was propped up barely able to comprehend what had happened in the short period before.
"Both of these young Italian men had on the evening of October 20 prepared themselves to go to bed. Neither of them was looking for trouble.
"A complaint had been made concerning noise in the rooms above where they lived. It is this complaint, in my judgement, which led to the three of you, suspecting these young men had had made the complaint, coming downstairs and breaking into their room.
"Having heard the evidence, I am satisfied this had nothing to do with the smell of cannabis. Within moments of your arrival on first floor the door of their home had been broken in by the three of you, kicking it so hard one of the panels came out.
"Fuelled by alcohol, all three of you proceeded to beat both of these young men in what was a savage attack. You used anything you could lay your hands on, including wood, a broom handle and metal bars.
"You also used your fists, and more significantly your feet. We have photos of the weapons that broke in the course of the attack."
Mr Leotta's parents Ivan and Patrizia had returned to England from Italy for the verdicts and release a moving family statement, describing how his death makes them: "Unable to breathe, it makes us powerless, it leaves us empty and lonely."
They added: "He did not deserve something so ugly to happen to him. Joele will no longer be able to taste or smell, see, feel pain or feel joy and live his life. We will never be able to accept this."
Mr Leotta had arrived in the UK six days before from his home in the Lecco province of Italy with childhood friend Mr Galbiati.
The prosecution alleged the men forced their way into the Italians' room, above the restaurant where Mr Leotta worked as a waiter and Mr Galbiati was a pot washer, at about 11.15pm.
It was claimed they were attacked because it was wrongly assumed they had complained to the landlord about loud noise from the top floor.
Judge Statman added: "I am satisfied that all these two young men did was to try to protect themselves from the onslaught. Their respective demeanours can be heard on the 999 tape with Joele saying 'We don't want any trouble' and again later begging for the assistance of the emergency services.
"After you had administered this first brutal beating each of you left the premises while Joele struggled for consciousness. But this didn't satisfy your desire for violence.
"Approximately eight minutes later you returned to the scene. There was absolutely no reason for your return, save for the fact that you had within you a murderous intention.
"You then proceeded in the course of a second attack to deliver more of the same to these two young men."
A consultant pathologist found 100 injuries to Mr Leotta.
"Your attack showed no mercy from start to finish, the judge added. "You destroyed their bedroom. You destroyed the next door bathroom.
"Despite the arrival of the emergency services – the paramedics and police – none of those individuals, together with the skill of doctors and surgeons, was able to rescue Joele."
Richard Barraclough QC, for Zuravliovas, told the judge: "This was on the evidence a drunken and ferocious attack divided into two parts. The second part was more planned than the first.
"A decision must have been taken to return to the building, otherwise the attack as a whole doesn't fall within the premeditation category. It may have started as a reaction to the first blow."
Judge Statman said: "These two young lads were in their home in their bedroom. The door is broken in. In my judgement, they are perfectly entitled to protect themselves in the manner they did."
Mr Barraclough said whatever might have been said about returning to kill, the likelihood was that a severe beating was intended.
He added that Zuravliovas had just become a father.
Eleanor Laws QC, for Zidonis, told the judge: "You will have to consider the intent to kill." She added: "They will be serving their term of imprisonment in a foreign jail."
Judge Statman said he had to bear in mind that Zidonis and Tamoliunas were of previous good character, while Zuravliovas had a number of convictions in Lithuania and a caution in December 2011 in this country for assault while drunk.
"It beggars belief that for an offence of that kind you were cautioned, but that is the state of affairs I am faced with," he said.
For all three, 258 days on remand will count towards the sentence. They will not be released until the parole board decides it is safe to do so.
Speaking after the sentence, Chief Crown Prosecutor Jaswant Narwal said: "This was a senseless and completely unprovoked attack of drunken violence on two innocent students, who had only just arrived in the country.
"The violence seems to have stemmed from a mistaken belief that they had complained about noise in the building. They were both brutally attacked in their room and badly injured, so much so, that Joele sadly died.
"Our thoughts are with Joele's family, who have conducted themselves with great dignity throughout the entire legal process. We hope the verdict brings some small comfort to them. We have worked extremely closely with them throughout the case, ensuring they were kept updated with its progress."
She added: "As the judicial system in Italy is very different to the one we have in England and Wales, we have also held meetings with them by video and at court to explain the process and we hope this has helped them during what must have been an exceptionally difficult time.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Alex, whose account of events was so important in helping to bring the defendants to justice.
"Giving evidence in court and reliving such a traumatic experience can be daunting enough for anyone, but especially so when it is in another country. It is a credit to him that he came back from Italy to come to court and give his evidence."
Tomas Gelezinis, 31, of Lower Stone Street, was cleared of murder, an alternative charge of manslaughter, as well as wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.