Culture Club: Cold-blooded Murder Cases
Taking note of Caruso's Sicilian heritage and lack of formal education, they variously described him as "dull-eyed and expressionless," an "ignorant father" given to speaking "broken English. Once the testimony got under way, the defendant's own words were chilling. My wife stood in the doorway and saw it all. The jury rejected the defense's argument that Caruso was suffering from temporary insanity and concluded that his actions had been deliberate and premeditated.
On April 7, Caruso was convicted of first-degree murder, which carried an automatic death sentence and sent to prison. View all New York Times newsletters. Then the tide turned. A campaign to spare Caruso's life picked up momentum among Italian-American friendship societies. A defense committee was organized by a press agent named Alexander Marky, and thanks to him, Caruso's wife and daughter were able to make appeals for mercy over the radio.
The defense committee recruited renowned lawyers, including Walter Pollak, who would later help defend the young African-Americans sentenced to death in the Scottsboro Boys case.
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The committee's most prominent member was Clarence Darrow, the defender of evolution in the Scopes "monkey trial," who came out of retirement to help draft Caruso's appeal. On Nov. The court's chief judge, Benjamin Cardozo, would go on to join the U. Supreme Court. Caruso's new trial began two months later, and this time, matters took some curious turns.
A jury was impaneled in a brisk two hours; the next day, Jan. The prosecutor, on record as saying Caruso should face the first-degree murder charge again in the second trial, also did a turnabout, agreeing to the manslaughter plea. The judge then sentenced the defendant to a maximum of 20 years. In the end, Caruso served only six years. Returning to his family, he fathered another son, Dom, and lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity.
He died in , at age For decades, Dom Caruso had a troubled relationship with his father, who, in the son's eyes, despised him because he could never replace his beloved brother. One morning in , when Dom was 16, his father sat him down and, already drunk on red wine, as was his custom, began to tell an extraordinary story.
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According to Dom, his father said that Pendola was not the first man he had murdered. The father said that he was a longtime "made man" in the Sicilian Mafia, and that, through beatings, knifings and shootings, he had served as an enforcer for Salvatore D'Aquila, an Al Capone associate and the capo di tutti capi of the New York Mafia.
So, Dom recounted, when Cheech Caruso found himself facing the electric chair, he was not abandoned. Al Capone and Salvatore D'Aquila helped to set up a defense fund, hire top-flight lawyers to work on his appeal, and orchestrate the abrupt denouement of the second murder trial by pressuring Governor Alfred E. Smith or one of his top lieutenants. The governor, who would run for president that year, enjoyed huge support from Italian-Americans.
The father's tale is almost impossible to substantiate.
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As for the involvement of Smith's administration, the best evidence is very unspecific. Thomas Reppetto, author of "American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power," said that the governor was undeniably under the sway of powerful party bosses, who would not have hesitated to seek a favor from the Mafia. But, Reppetto also said, he knew of no proof that Al Smith had ever done favors for the Mafia. On the other hand, there are some facts that lend weight to the father's story.
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Then there are the turnabouts of the judge and prosecutor at the second trial, and the question of how the costly appeals effort on Caruso's behalf was financed. For Dom Caruso, whose profound sadness over what happened that wintry night in extends to the Pendola family as well as his own, the primary concern remains how the outcome of the case must have affected the doctor's widow, Helen, and daughter, Catherine, even though he was never able to ascertain their fate.
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Sign Up. He saw her go in and out. He admitted to setting the fire, learning from a book how to create a delayed fuse from a cigarette and matchbook attached to a gasoline can full of holes. He said he did it to cover for the murderer, which Brown took to mean his wife. Then, he said, he videotaped the person exiting, and buried the tape, the gun, and the table leg in the desert. Imbordino showed a picture of that shirt to the jury. Prosecutors can put Hanley at the scene of the crime on the day of the murder and have DNA evidence that suggests he started the fire, plus his own shifting admissions.
Brown and prosecutors had told one grand jury that Hanley liked violent domination sex. He needed to tie up women to get aroused. That was important because Hanley drove the same RV when he found a young mother on the side of the road in Mesa in March He grabbed her, cuffed her, put a gun in her face and raped her, a jury found.
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He got 30 years and is still in state prison, with the earliest release date in two years. Prosecutors had charged Hanley with attempted sexual assault in the murder case. The theory was that he was motivated by his kinky, sadistic streak. Defense attorneys filed a motion to throw out the whole case because, they argued, prosecutors were trying to mislead grand jurors by conflating the murder and rape cases.
Plus, they argued, the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence and lied about it. In questioning, Brown told the grand jury that no semen was recovered from the crime scene. But there was some on the bedsheets. Prosecutors and Brown had told the grand jury only that a 0. On Tuesday, Boncoskey gave the jury of 10 women and six men in the criminal trial a competing theory.
He said the evidence would show that the boyfriend Gibson was, in the weeks leading up the murder, increasingly abusive and violent toward Shipton. Boncoskey said detectives never connected physical evidence from the crime scene to evidence taken from Gibson's locker in a search warrant, when he was still the prime suspect.
He laid out the investigation into two chapters, one from the initial probe in and , and the other after the DNA hit came back in This is true. But only with respect to the arson. That may be hard for a jury to accept. Prosecutors often tell juries that the odds of the DNA belonging to someone else are one in billions, trillions, or quadrillions.
They will have to ignore that he is a convicted rapist, found guilty of a very similar type of attack four months after the murder. There in court he sits, hunched over in his dark gray suit, barely looking up. You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter s - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in! But then, to convict, they will have to make sense of why the photos presented in court showed no blood around the bullet holes.
Prosecutors made no mention Tuesday that anybody saw Hanley in the apartment at the time of the shooting. In the end, this case will hinge on trust and mistrust and whether DNA and fingerprint evidence is enough to put a man in prison for life, when case files went missing and in the absence of a motive or a murder weapon.
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