Brusca, 64, was arrested in 1996, four years after the attack that killed Falcone, his wife and three policemen. After turning state turncoat he helped prosecutors in their crackdown against the Cosa Nostra clans.
The Falcone killing, followed two months later by that of fellow anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, was one of the most notorious episodes in Italy’s long and violent struggle against organized crime.
Brusca, known as the “people-slayer,” has confessed his role in over 100 murders, including the death of a 14-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, who was killed and dissolved in acid because he was the son of a mafia informant.
“He has collaborated with justice only to get the benefits, it was not a personal, intimate choice,” Rosaria Costa, the widow of a policeman who died in the Falcone bombing, told daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Maria Falcone, the sister of the judge, said she was “saddened” by the news but that the law gave Brusca the right to leave prison.
Brusca supplied investigators with information on several deadly Cosa Nostra attacks carried out in the 1980s and 1990s and testified in a trial over alleged negotiations between Italian officials and mobsters to stop the bombings.
Brusca — who had already been granted temporary leave from prison on several occasions — will be on parole for four years, Italian media reported.
“Regardless of what one may think of the atrocities he committed at the time, there was a collaboration… Let us not forget that he gave information on bombings both in Sicily and in mainland Italy,” chief anti-mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho told Reuters.
“Clearly, the judges believed this was the appropriate jail term,” he added.
Several Italian politicians condemned Brusca’s release.
“This is not the ‘justice’ that Italians deserve,” said Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing League which leads in opinion polls.