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16 December 2013, 17:52
A rent boy dubbed The Artful Dodger has been jailed for 18-and-a-half years after being convicted of killing a man who he bled dry financially.
Ricardo Pisano, 36, killed Michael Polding, 62, whose body was found by police neatly positioned and wrapped up in bedding at his home on July 16 last year.
Mr Polding, who lived in a rented two-bedroom basement flat in St George's Road, Brighton, East Sussex, died nearly two months earlier from "blunt force trauma'' to his chest.
Pisano, labelled The Artful Dodger after escaping from a New Zealand jail, claimed he found openly gay Mr Polding hanging from a banister in an apparent suicide, then fled.
A jury at Lewes Crown Court convicted Pisano of manslaughter and wounding Mr Polding at the end of a five-week trial, Sussex Police said.
Pisano - who used several different aliases - was found not guilty of murder. He had previously admitted preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body.
Pisano evaded capture for nearly a year amid international efforts to trace him, until he was arrested at a house in Southampton on May 7 under a different name.
In court, Pisano claimed he fled the flat after finding Mr Polding's body because he feared deportation to South Africa where a "fatwa'' had allegedly been issued against him.
Pisano told officers that the controversial vigilante group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) had ordered his death because he was deemed "troublesome or a threat'' in South Africa.
Pisano claimed that if he was deported to South Africa he would be "dead in a week'' and that he also feared for the safety of his family.
Prosecutor Philip Katz QC told the jury of nine women and three men: "The prosecution say that really from the word go (Pisano) lived off Michael Polding financially.
"He had no job and no income, and when Mr Polding decided to sell up in Croydon and move to Brighton, this defendant moved with him.
"The Crown's case is that this defendant and other friends of his effectively bled Mr Polding dry financially and this defendant, while in this period, pretended to act as his carer and even godson.
"In fact, we say he abused and assaulted Mr Polding, resulting in a serious assault. We say that he eventually killed him, and having killed him, left him to rot.''
Mr Polding, who came from a large Scots family, had previously been in a long-term relationship but had been drinking heavily and suffered health problems, including osteoporosis.
Relatives of Mr Polding said they missed him "every hour of every day''.
Mr Polding's sister, Mary McKeown, said following the case: "As a family we are pleased that the trial is over and that justice has been done for our brother, Michael.
"The time since we were told of Michael's death has been a rollercoaster for the family, with far more downs than ups. We have managed to get through the weeks and months only by supporting each other.
"Today's verdict means that we have justice for Michael although that is little comfort against the thought of how we lost him.
"Michael was a happy, loving and gentle person, always ready to help others when needed. He was fun and always enjoyed the company of family and friends.
"When you were with him you knew you would have a great time and would spend the day laughing and enjoying yourself.''
Detective Chief Inspector Jon Fanner, from Surrey and Sussex Major Crime team, said Pisano - who refused to disclose his true identity - had heaped anguish on Mr Polding's family by leaving him dead for weeks.
Mr Fanner said: "Michael Polding was a vulnerable man who trusted the defendant to care for and look after him. That trust was breached and the defendant was responsible for Michael's death.
"After he had died, the defendant abandoned the body of the man he claimed to care for and left Sussex in order to avoid detection and to save himself.
"The fact that Michael's body lay undisturbed for several weeks before he was found has meant further anguish for the Polding family, on top of their loved one's death.
"The defendant has refused to reveal his true identity throughout the investigation and trial.
"I would like to pay tribute to Michael's family for their strength and the assistance they have given to me and my officers during the investigation.
"Nothing is going to bring Michael back or fill the hole in their lives left by his absence but at least today's verdict means they have justice for Michael.''