Published: 14:00, 07 July 2014
Three men have today been convicted of murdering a young Italian waiter in an "appalling and sickening group attack" in Maidstone town centre.
The Lithuanian trio were convicted of killing 20-year-old Joele Leotta while behaving "like a pack of animals" at his bedsit over Vesuvius restaurant, where he worked in Lower Stone Street.
Aleksandras Zuravliovas, 26, of Beaumont Road; Saulius Tamoliunas, 24, of Union Street; and 21-year-old Linas Zidonis, of no fixed address, were convicted of murdering Mr Leotta and wounding his best friend Alex Galbiati, 20, with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
Tomas Gelezinis, 31, of Lower Stone Street, was cleared of both charges, along with manslaughter and the lesser charge of unlawful wounding of Mr Galbiati.
The guilty trio were convicted this afternoon after an 11-week trial at Maidstone Crown Court.
Mr Leotta's parents Ivan and Patrizia had returned to England from Italy for the verdicts.
"It makes us unable to breathe, it makes us powerless, it leaves us empty and lonely. Why did this happen...? - Joele Leotta's family
In a statement after the convictions, his family said: "Nobody can see the pain we carry inside ourselves.
"It makes us unable to breathe, it makes us powerless, it leaves us empty and lonely. Why did this happen?
"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.
"Joele was a kind, loving, respectful and determined boy. He would never sow hatred, violence or cowardice.
"The memory of Joele is our strength. The memory of his voice with the words - 'Everything is cool, see you tomorrow'."
Judge Philip Statman is expected to pass sentence tomorrow morning after hearing mitigation this afternoon.
Some of the seven women and five men on the jury wept on hearing moving victim impact statements from Mr Leotta's parents and Mr Galbiati.
Lawyers for the three convicted men submitted the starting point for the life sentences to be imposed was 15 years.
Ryan Richter, prosecuting, said Zuravliovas was jailed for 10 months in Lithuania in September 2005 for robbery. While under the influence of alcohol, he acted as a lookout as a mobile phone was stolen.
Zuravliovas also had convictions in his country for theft using the threat of weapons, public disorder, having a gas pistol in a public place and breaches of orders.
Mr Richter said Tamoliunas had no convictions in the UK or Lithuania and Zidonis had one driving conviction in the UK and none in Lithuania.
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The prosecutor said of the attacks on Joele and Alex: "This does have the hallmark of something not premeditated a long time in advance. It arose relatively spontaneously."Judge Statman replied: "It is the going back that troubles me more than anything. Once was not enough."Here, there is significant aggravation in forced entry into the room. Each defendant has admitted being under the influence of alcohol. There was a return to the scene. This was a sustained, brutal assault.
"It was a savage attack. It has to be reflected in the sentence."
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.
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.
Prosecutor Philippa McAtasney QC told the jury in her closing speech: "The two Italian boys did absolutely nothing to provoke such hideous, mindless violence. These defendants behaved like a pack of animals."
Det Insp Ivan Beasley, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, led the murder investigation.
Speaking after the verdicts he said: "Joele's death was an absolutely tragic waste of life.
"An innocent young man who came to England with his friend for an adventure, to work and to learn the language, was beaten to death.
"The whole investigation team would like to pay tribute to Joele’s family, who attended the trial and listened to very distressing evidence.
"Our thanks also go to Alex Galbiati who survived the attack and bravely took to the witness stand to give evidence along with other members of the public who gave evidence during the trial."
Zuravliovas claimed he remembered very little from the night. Tamoliunas and Zidonis claimed they acted in self-defence and Gelezinis said he tried to stop the violence.
The prosecution suggested Gelezinis waited nearby while Zuravliovas, Tamoliunas and Zidonis returned to the bedsit minutes after attacking the two boys and continued the assault.
Philippa McAtasney QC, prosecuting, told how the victims were "punched, kicked and hit with whatever came to hand" when intruders forced their way into their room.
She added: "It does not matter who cast which blow or blows upon which Italian. If you are sure that they were all acting together encouraging each other by actions or presence or words, then they are all equally guilty for the consequences.
"The intention was clear from the very beginning - it was to kill or to cause at least serious harm."
Mr Galbiati told the court how on the evening of the attack he heard thumping noises from the upper floors.
It is believed to have been a fight between Zidonis, Tamoliunas and Gelezinis' flat mate.
About 15 minutes later, someone hammered on the Italians' door and broke it off its hinges, he said.
Mr Galbiati armed himself with a metal wardrobe rail, but said an attacker grabbed the weapon and used it to strike him.
At times during the trial, Mr Leotta's parents had to hear some difficult evidence.
Video: CCTV footage shows police arresting suspects after Joele Leotta was beaten to death in Maidstone
They heard how after the initial beating Mr Galbiati was looking at his wounds in the bathroom, but the violence restarted causing Mr Galbiati to barricade himself in.
But two men forced the door and began to hit him with the metal pole.
Giving evidence, Mr Galbiati said the ordeal lasted up to three minutes and only stopped when he pretended to faint.
He emerged when everything went quiet and discovered Mr Leotta lying at the bottom of the stairs at the front entrance to the building.
The jury was played a distressing clip of Mr Galbiati's 999 call, in which he could be heard crying and struggling to speak English as he repeated the address and asked for police help.
The controller patched in a translator to help with the call but Mr Galbiati struggled to respond.
But it took officers took around 15 minutes to discover a fatal attack was unfolding just yards from Maidstone police station.
Officers reached the scene at about 11.30pm and made desperate attempts to save Mr Leotta’s life but the 20-year-old died hours later in hospital.
Mr Leotta went into cardiac arrest at 11.45pm and died from head injuries at King's College Hospital in London three hours later.
Aleksandras Zuravliovas claimed he knew nothing about the attack. He told police he went to flats at Lower Stone Street in Maidstone to see a friend and ended up being struck on the head.
In a prepared statement given to police, he said: "Last night I cannot recall much. I attended Lower Stone Street, and the next thing I know I received a heavy blow to my head and was rendered unconscious."
Childhood friends Zidonis, of no fixed address, and Tamoliunas, of Union Street, admitted fighting with the two Italians but insisted it was in self-defence.
Zidonis said: "I was only defending myself… They attacked me. I did not start to attack them."
Gelezinis told the court he tried to calm the men down after a fight with the two Italians.
He said: "They said they (were) going back to the flat… I heard 'going to beat up or kill', but because of the noise I'm not sure [who said it]."