John Giuca: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Tonight, ABC News’ 20/20 will investigate John Giuca, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 death of Mark Fisher. Despite the fact that his conviction was unanimously overturned in 2018, Giuca is still being held behind bars at Riker’s Island.

Man’s conviction for college student’s murder was overturned last year, but he remains behind bars

May 15, 2019: ABC News

During Columbus Day weekend in 2003, John Giuca had an impromptu party on the night of Oct. 11.

Mark Fisher, 19, was a sophomore at Fairfield University in Connecticut, where he was on the dean’s list and studying to become an accountant.

That weekend, he was hopping from bar to bar on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, when he ran into a girl he knew from school, and was immediately attracted to one of her friends.

(MORE: A college student’s murder, a jailhouse confession and one mother’s crusade to free her son)
Fisher and the woman later met up with another group that included Giuca.

After some members of the group were unable to get into bars because they were underage, Giuca, then 20 years old, invited everyone to his parents’ house in Brooklyn, New York.

According to witnesses, Fisher was intoxicated, didn’t have a lot of money on him and had no way to get back to New Jersey, where he had been staying at a friend’s house that weekend, according to witnesses.

Watch the full story on “20/20” Friday, May 17, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, including a new jailhouse interview with John Giuca.

Antonio Russo, aka “Tweed,” is said to have supplied the marijuana at the party that night, according to authorities.

Police investigate the killing of Mark Fisher
What happened in the early morning hours as the party broke up is unclear, but somehow, Fisher’s body ended up on Argyle Road, two blocks from Giuca’s home. He had been viciously beaten and shot five times.

“I can tell you that our detectives, when they arrived at the scene, they found a male — white, prone — obviously the victim of several gun shots. There was some trauma to his face,” retired New York Police Department homicide squad Lt. Robert Casazza told “20/20.”

Giuca, who was in college studying criminal law and wanted to become a police detective, became a prime suspect in the murder.

Russo, then 17, was also under investigation, especially after some suspicious behavior.

John Giuca goes on trial for murder
The murder remained a mystery after most of the people at Giuca’s party retained lawyers and weren’t forthcoming to investigators. The investigation stalled for months.

Prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi was assigned to the case and forced witnesses — including Giuca’s friends — to testify before a grand jury.

Eventually, the wall of silence cracked as some of Giuca’s friends began to turn against him. Giuca and Russo were eventually arrested and charged with murder. Others who had been questioned, including Albert Cleary, were cleared of suspicion.

At Giuca’s trial, which began on Sept. 12, 2005, the prosecutor argued that Giuca was a neighborhood thug and head of the so-called “Ghetto Mafia,” out to get street cred by having Fisher killed.

Lauren Calciano, Giuca’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, and Cleary were both witnesses for the prosecution, implicating Giuca in the killing.

John Avitto, who said he’d met Giuca while both were incarcerated at Rikers Island, also testified at the trial. On the stand, Avitto said that Giuca had told him that he had pistol-whipped Fisher before someone else then took the gun and shot him dead.

It took a jury two days to convict Russo. For Giuca, it was just a couple of hours. Both were found guilty of murder by a jury in Brooklyn, New York, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

A mother’s outrage
Irate over the verdict, Giuca’s mother, Doreen Quinn Giuliano, immediately focused on the jurors who had quickly convicted her son.

She went undercover to find out as much as she could about one juror in particular: Jason Allo, juror number 8, whom she learned had known some of her son’s friends. For months, Giuliano staked out Allo’s every move on a corner in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.

(MORE: Rikers Island Officer Describes What a Day Is Like for Him at the Jail)
Five months into her sting, Giuliano finally got his attention. She bought a burner phone and a fake business card. She went by the fake name “Dee Madison Quinn” and rented a bachelorette pad for more than a year.

She wore a recording device and recorded many of their conversations. Slowly, Giuliano gained Allo’s trust, turning their conversations toward her son’s murder trial.

“You could have got excused. There’s a million and one reasons to get excused,” Giuliano is heard saying in the recording.

In the recordings, Allo is heard saying that he’s prejudiced and also revealing that he didn’t disclose that he knew some of Giuca’s friends during jury selection.

Giuca’s lawyer submitted a motion alleging juror misconduct to the judge, citing the recordings Giuliano made undercover with Allo.

The judge denied the motion, however, ruling that the recordings were unreliable and that there was no evidence Allo had intentionally lied during jury selection. He also denounced Giuliano for her “reckless” and “vigilante” behavior.

In a 2009 interview with ABC News, Allo said he had told the truth in court, and he and his attorney Salvatore Strazzullo denied what Giuliano claimed she had caught on tape.

Mom continues crusade for her son’s innocence
Allo insisted that he did not commit perjury or withhold information during jury selection.

After Giuca’s motion was denied, Giuliano and her son’s attorneys turned to private investigator Jay Salpeter, asking him to investigate Avitto, the jailhouse informant.

At Salpeter’s first meetings with Avitto, he stuck to the story that Giuca had been involved in Fisher’s killing. But in a later conversation, Avitto said he’d completely fabricated his account of Giuca’s involvement in the murder.

“The whole thing was a lie,” Avitto is heard saying on a recording made by Salpeter during their conversation.

Avitto said that in exchange for his testimony, prosecutor Nicolazzi and detectives had helped him stay out of jail when he violated his probation.

“I [had] gotten into violations of the program and stuff. And, they helped me get out of those,” Avitto is heard saying in the recording. “Just to keep me so I can testify.”

Avitto followed up his conversation with Salpeter with an affidavit filed with the court in which he acknowledged he had “testified falsely” at Giuca’s trial.

(MORE: New York man’s conviction overturned after discovery of ‘false confession’ for murder in botched robbery)
Two more witnesses for the prosecution — including girlfriend Calciano — also recanted their testimony. In a sworn affidavit obtained by ABC News, Calciano said she’d lied on the stand after Nicolazzi and police put “relentless” pressure on her, threatening to “make this hard” for her father who was in jail at the time.

Pace Law School professor Bennett Gershman was retained by Giuca’s family to help file a petition with the Brooklyn district attorney seeking review of Giuca’s conviction and alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

“All I can say is that in any dealings that I had or the detectives had, I think we always found [Nicolazzi] to be of the utmost integrity,” said Casazza, retired New York Police Department homicide squad lieutenant.

Where Giuca’s case is today
The District Attorney’s Office said it found no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and Giuca’s petition was denied.

Giuca’s legal team then filed a motion in court to vacate his conviction based on prosecutorial misconduct. On the witness stand at a hearing, Nicolazzi denied she’d done anything wrong in the case.

Avitto also took the stand, recanting his testimony and apologizing to Giuca. Still the judge denied Giuca’s motion. Giuca filed an appeal to get the judge’s decision overturned.

In February 2018, after a 13-year-long crusade by Giuliano, Giuca’s conviction was thrown out by an appellate court. The four judges said in their opinion that the prosecutor had erred by not telling the defense that she and police had helped jailhouse informant Avitto, which might have affected the jury’s verdict. The judges added that a new trial was necessary.

On March 22, 2018, New York police detectives sent by the Brooklyn district attorney interviewed Russo, Giuca’s co-defendant who had also been found guilty in the murder and imprisoned. He allegedly confessed that, using his own gun, he had shot and killed Fisher. In a police report of that interview obtained by ABC News, he did not implicate Giuca but did not clear him either.

Regardless, prosecutors contested the appellate court’s decision. On April 30, 2019, they argued before a panel of seven judges on the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, to have Giuca’s conviction reinstated. Giuca’s attorney, Mark Bederow, countered that the lower court had decided to throw out his client’s conviction, and that his client is entitled to a new trial.

A decision from the New York Court of Appeals is still pending.

If this court decides to reinstate Giuca’s conviction, he will be back in prison to serve out the rest of his sentence. But if it decides Giuca is entitled to a new trial, it will be up to prosecutors to decide if they want to go through with it.

In the meantime, even though his conviction was overturned, John Giuca remains in jail on Rikers Island. Even though his conviction was overturned, a judge denied him bail while the appeal process continues.

The system on trial, too late: John Giuca’s conviction was overturned; how can he go back to prison?

May 5, 2019: New York Daily News

John Giuca’s life took a turn for the worse last year, after an appellate court overturned his murder conviction, ruling that the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, then led by Joe Hynes, had used “knowingly false or mistaken material testimony” to convict Giuca in 2005 for the 2003 murder of 19-year-old Mark Fisher at a house party in Brooklyn.

The decision came nearly after 15 years of failed appeals — including a judge all but throwing Giuca’s mother out of his courtroom after she’d taken on an assumed identity to secretly record an anti-Semitic juror boasting about how he’d lied to get on the jury and help lock up JEW-kah

In that 2005 trial, prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi offered in her opening argument a theory of the murder she said would be borne out by Giuca’s former girlfriend and best friend. When those two witnesses instead offered conflicting accounts, each suggesting the other was a liar, Nicolazzi produced her final witness, a junkie who’d been in Riker’s with Giuca and overheard him confess to a completely different account of the murder.

In her closing argument, she told jurors they should believe the junkie. No one other than prosecutors — not the judge, or the defense attorney, or the jurors — knew that the surprise star witness had just been helped out of a serious jam by Nicolazzi (who quietly left the office during Giuca’s final appeal to work as a true crime cable host).
Yet Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, despite his impressive promises about undoing Hynes’ legacy and bringing a fairer justice system to Brooklyn, has stood squarely behind Nicolazzi’s work, vowing to retry Giuca and appealing the appellate court’s decision to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court and one that rarely considers criminal cases.

Why a de Blasio candidacy could be a good thing: More focus on poverty is more than welcome »
They chose to consider this one, and after oral arguments last week from the DA’s office and Giuca attorney Mark Bederow, a decision should come later this spring.

Last fall, Janet DiFiore, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals and of New York State, issued a system-wide “Implementation of New Measure Aimed at Enhancing the Delivery of Justice in Criminal Cases” intended “to help prevent wrongful convictions and enhance the delivery of justice in criminal matters” by requiring trial judges to “issue an order to the prosecutor responsible for the case to timely disclose exculpatory evidence favorable to the accused.”

That’s a fancy way of saying prosecutors need to play fair and share potentially relevant facts — like, say, a homicide prosecutor showing up at at a junkie’s drug court case to speak privately with the judge just before the junkie testifies at the prosecutor’s murder trial.

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The reminder was needed because New York’s exceptionally weak disclosure laws had left each county’s DA with vast discretion to decide what justice would look like on their watch. That’s supposed to change, now that Albany’s newly all-Democratic state government passed a reform package including a law finally requiring timely and complete disclosures — overdue in a system where few cases even make it to trial and, as The News reported last week, even completely innocent people framed by a dirty drug detective will plead guilty rather than risk years in prison with little idea of what they’re up against.

About that turn for the worse: Giuca — now presumed innocent — is in his second year back at Rikers, where he is being held without bail awaiting a new trial in conditions worse than those he survived in state prisons. I can’t imagine a new trial actually happening all this time after the first one nearly collapsed and after the DA’s office — perhaps playing for time now — insisted in appeals that the junkie who salvaged their “win” there is a habitual liar.

I don’t know whether or not Giuca is a murderer; I do know his trial was a farce. Fifteen years and counting too late for him, fairer discovery in New York can’t begin soon enough.

NY Court of Appeals Set to Eye Alleged Withholding of Evidence

Attorneys for Giuca have argued, and continued to argue in a brief to the state Court of Appeals, that a key witness who testified against him at trial only did so to avoid incarceration for violating the terms of a drug treatment program.

The state’s highest court will hear arguments next week on whether John Giuca, a Brooklyn man convicted more than a decade ago of murdering a New Jersey college student, should be granted a new trial based on arguments that prosecutors withheld evidence…

Read rest here: New York Law Journal, April 26, 2019

Brooklyn man convicted in 2003 ‘Grid Kid’ slaying of college football player granted retrial

Feb. 7, 2018 : Daily News

The man convicted in the “Grid Kid” killing of a Fairfield University football player in Brooklyn 15 years ago is getting a new trial.

A state appellate court sided with John Giuca Wednesday in his longtime bid to have another jury hear the evidence related to the 2003 murder of Mark Fisher, 19. Fisher was a Fairfield University football player who was shot and killed near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a few blocks from Giuca’s home, after a night of partying with Giuca and some friends in Manhattan.

Lawyers for Giuca, 33, who is currently serving 25 years to life in prison, argued that that Giuca should have his murder conviction overturned and receive a new trial because of unreliable testimony from one of the prosecutor’s witnesses.

The argument centered around John Avitto, a cooperating witness, who Giuca allegedly confessed to the shooting while on Rikers Island.

Avitto, an admitted substance abuser and diagnosed bipolar schizophrenic, avoided up to seven years in prison for a 2004 robbery when a prosecutor placed him into a substance abuse program in exchange for his testimony at the 2005 trial.

Avitto recanted his testimony and apologized to Giuca at a hearing years later.

Even so, a lower court denied Giuca’s motion to overturn the conviction because of its belief there was insufficient proof of an agreement between Avitto and the prosecution.

Giuca was also convicted of robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.

“Prosecutors must not only disclose exculpatory for impeaching evidence but must also correct the knowingly false or mistaken material testimony of a prosecution witness,” the appeals court said in its ruling, adding that there was “a reasonable possibility that the prosecution’s errors affected the jury’s verdict.”

“It has taken 13 plus years too long, but justice finally has been served in this case,” said Giuca’s attorney, Mark Bederow.

“The trial was a disgrace and the trial prosecutor knew it was littered with false testimony and undisclosed material. We are ecstatic that the Appellate Division agreed and unanimously reversed this conviction in a strong opinion. We have every expectation that John will be home soon.”

A spokesman for the Brooklyn DA’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Star Prosecutor Turned TV Commentator Just Got Caught Doing Some Dirty Tricks

Feb. 12, 2018 : Law & Crime

Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, a tough, seasoned Brooklyn prosecutor claimed she tried over 50 cases and never lost.  She was chief of the Homicide Bureau when she left the office to become a celebrity TV commentator on the Discovery channel. The network blurb promotes her as having a “flawless reputation for exposing the truth.”

One of Nicolazzi’s most sensational trials was a 2005 murder case, styled by the media the “Grid Kid Slaying,” in which two young men, John Giuca and Antonio Russo, alleged members of a Brooklyn street gang, were charged with killing a young college football player, Mark Fisher, after a night of drinking and partying in the city. Russo was the actual shooter and the proof against him was strong. The case against Giuca was weak.  It rested in part on the testimony of two friends who claimed he told them he put Russo up to it and gave Russo the gun, but their stories contradicted each other’s, their credibility was suspect, and Nicolazzi, had to change her theory of the case several times to accommodate their shifting accounts. One of these witnesses has since recanted, claiming that if she did not give the prosecution what it wanted they would destroy her career.

It was the third witness, John Avitto, a drug addict with a long criminal record who faced seven years on a burglary charge, whose dramatic testimony convicted Giuca.  Nicolazzi called him at the last minute without any notice to the defense.  Avitto testified that while he and Giuca were in jail together in Rikers Island, Giuca told him he killed Fisher. Avitto’s story was bizarre, and strikingly at odds with the testimony of the other witnesses. According to his testimony Giuca said he killed Fisher. Avitto, at Nicolazzi’s urging, told the jury that he did not receive any benefits for his testimony and just wanted to do the right thing for the first time in his life.  Avitto has since recanted his testimony, claimed he testified because Nicolazzi interceded for him and helped him stay out of jail, and he apologized to Giuca, but the harm was done.

Now, after over a dozen years fighting for his freedom, Giuca has been awarded a new trial by the appellate division in Brooklyn. The unanimous decision found that Nicolazzi engaged in flagrant misconduct by hiding substantial evidence that likely would have changed the jury’s verdict. As the court’s opinion meticulously describes, Nicolazzi failed to disclose evidence to the defense that Avitto had violated conditions of his drug program; that a warrant had been issued for his arrest; that he had violated the conditions of his plea agreement; and that he met with Nicolazzi and the investigating detectives several times during which they tacitly agreed that if Avitto helped the prosecutor convict Giuca, the prosecutor would help Avitto stay out of jail.

In her jury summation, Nicolazzi not only reinforced Avitto’s false testimony but compounded his lies by representing to the jury that Avitto received no benefits for his testimony and acted selflessly in contacting the authorities because, as she argued to the jury, “for once he tried to do something right.”

Why did it take so long for the truth to come out? How is it possible that Nicolazzi for so many years could have lived with the knowledge that she had violated her legal and ethical duty and deprived Giuca of a fair trial? And how is it possible that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s prominent unit that reviews questionable convictions, and has already exonerated over twenty defendants convicted under the tenure of District Attorney Charles Hynes, failed to flag this case, even though Giuca and his dogged defense team repeatedly pleaded with the office to review the case? Is it because that unit did not want to taint the reputation of the office’s star prosecutor?

What Nicolazzi did in hiding favorable evidence from the defendant might shock some people unfamiliar with criminal prosecutions. But in fact such conduct is commonplace. One federal judge characterized the practice of prosecutors hiding favorable evidence from defendants as an “epidemic.” The national registry of exonerations has documented thousands of  wrongful convictions since 1989, and a substantial number of those convictions involve prosecutors hiding favorable evidence that would have proved the defendants’ innocence.  New York State ranks second in the nation, just behind Texas, in convicting innocent persons. Indeed, an organization that exposes wrongful convictions, “It Could Happen to You,” has listed nearly forty cases in New York State since 2010 in which appellate courts have vacated convictions because of pervasive prosecutorial misconduct, typically involving inflammatory summations and hiding evidence. And a critical but often ignored point, the tally of the financial costs of litigating cases of prosecutorial misconduct is staggering. The eleven most recent reversals alone cost New York taxpayers over $118 million dollars.

The violation by New York prosecutors of their legal and ethical duty to disclose favorable evidence prompted New York State’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, to issue an order last year directing trial judges to warn prosecutors before any trial of their obligation to disclose favorable evidence to the defense. Judge DiFiore’s order is a laudatory effort to make criminal trials more fair. But New York State prosecutors are well aware of their professional responsibilities. The state district attorneys manual, “The Right Thing,” reminds prosecutors of their legal and ethical duty to disclose favorable evidence. Indeed, to remind ethical prosecutors of their duty to behave ethically is unnecessary. And anyone who believes that admonishing unethical prosecutors to do the right is kidding himself.  Nicolazzi was one of the most experienced and high-profile prosecutors in her office. She knew the rules better than anyone. If she could violate the rules and get away with it, what prosecutor could not?

Ordering prosecutors to divulge favorable evidence to defendants in advance of trial allows the trial judge to hold a prosecutor in contempt who is caught hiding evidence. But that possibility is remote. First, prosecutors who hide evidence are rarely caught; much of the undisclosed evidence lies buried in files of prosecutors and police officials. Second, prosecutors are notorious for coming up with all sorts of excuses – mistake, inadvertence, oversight, lack of knowledge of the existence of the evidence, insistence it is not favorable  – to refute a charge of deliberate wrongdoing or bad faith. Nicolazzi claims she did nothing wrong, and that Avitto is a liar.  But ironically, she lauded Avitto when he helped her get Giuca’s conviction, and the appellate division found unanimously that her zeal to win a big case obscured her duty to serve justice and truth.

Probably the most troubling obstacle to preventing prosecutorial abuses is the almost complete lack of discipline for prosecutors. Prosecutors are exempt from being sued for their misconduct, a judicial reversal is meaningless because it does nothing to punish the prosecutor, and the disciplinary system for prosecutors nationwide and in New York is unworkable and an embarrassment. New York’s legislature is presently considering a bill (S.2412, A.5285) to establish a commission to investigate and impose discipline for prosecutorial misconduct similar to the forty-year-old New York commission that reviews judicial misconduct. Every profession has a system of professional accountability, every profession, that is, except for prosecutors.

The Giuca case is over. Thanks to an appellate court he will regain his freedom many years after his tainted trial.  Sadly, though, there are many John Giucas sitting in jail cells throughout the country whose convictions will not be reversed, and whose prosecutors are probably indifferent to the harm they have caused the defendant, his family, and the system of justice.

Professor Bennett Gershman is a Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and a Special Assistant Attorney General in New York State’s Anti-Corruption Office

 

 

 

 

The False Conviction of the District Attorney Turned Reality Star

Feb. 10, 2018: The Daily Beast

Just after Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi parlayed her success as a Brooklyn ADA into a new career as a true-crime TV host, an appeals court reversed one of her signature murder convictions.

A few months ago, John Giuca, a Brooklyn man who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 2005, sent me a letter asking that I write about the prosecutor who sent him to prison.

“Please try to drop one last bomb on these bastards for me, man.  I’m trying to be strong, but with every denial I get I lose more hope. Every day I have to wake up to a fucked up world and battle suicidal thoughts.  It’s made me hate life, man.  It’s worn me down.”

Over 12 years, Giuca’s many appeals in state and federal courts had all been shot down. His prosecutor, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, a one-time star homicide prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, parlayed the victory against Giuca into a gig with the Discovery Channel hosting a true-crime documentary series,  True Conviction, that debuted earlier this year and features Nicolazzi as she “travels the country to interview prosecuting attorneys about the most difficult homicide cases they ever faced.”  The show says it “reveals the real-life stories of how homicides are solved on the street and won in the courtroom.”

The evidence in People v. Giuca suggests that she abused her immense powers, maliciously and knowingly, to advance her career.  She prospered, Giuca rotted in a cell.

Until now.  On Wednesday, a state appellate court in Brooklyn, reviewing Nicolazzi’s case against him, unanimously reversed the conviction and sent it back to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which may or may not opt to pursue a second prosecution. Today, Giuca — still incarcerated pending a hearing next week — is no longer a convicted murderer, and is technically a free man.

I don’t think the Brooklyn DA will come after Giuca again, given the facts of the case.  On the night of October 12, 2003, Giuca allegedly ordered the murder of a Fairfield University student named Mark Fisher, who attended a party at Giuca’s house in Brooklyn.  The party was packed with kids getting drunk.  Fisher ended up a few blocks away, shot dead.

The New York tabloids, morbid, opportunistic, glommed onto the story at a time when crime in the city was plummeting.  They hounded the Brooklyn DA’s office to find the culprit.  Giuca said at the time that he was railroaded, had nothing to do with Fisher’s death, that he was a convenient suspect in a politicized case.   Nonetheless, he was convicted of having dispatched a friend of his, Antonio “Tony” Russo, to kill Mark Fisher in what was said to be a gang initiation.  They were friends, this much was true.  And Russo apparently did kill Fisher.  He is in prison for life.  But there was no forensic evidence, no gun, no eyewitness evidence tying Giuca to the crime.

 

Star Athlete’s Murderer Confesses. Why Is Someone Else Still Locked Up?

April 2, 2018 : The Daily Beast

In February, after serving almost 13 years in prison, a Brooklyn man named John Giuca had his murder conviction thrown out by an appellate court citing violations by the prosecutor—a former darling of the Brooklyn DA’s Homicide Bureau who now has her own true-crime TV show.

The court ordered a retrial but instead of letting Giuca out on bail, the trial judge sent him to Rikers, giving the DA time to ponder its next move without the political black eye of having let him go free. So far, prosecutors have filed papers seeking permission to appeal the appellate court’s decision.

In February, after serving almost 13 years in prison, a Brooklyn man named John Giuca had his murder conviction thrown out by an appellate court citing violations by the prosecutor—a former darling of the Brooklyn DA’s Homicide Bureau who now has her own true-crime TV show.

The court ordered a retrial but instead of letting Giuca out on bail, the trial judge sent him to Rikers, giving the DA time to ponder its next move without the political black eye of having let him go free. So far, prosecutors have filed papers seeking permission to appeal the appellate court’s decision.

Russo described what amounts to an execution. He told the detectives that he took the gun out of his waistband, pointed it at Fisher, took Fisher’s wallet and “told Fisher to run,” after which he “fired one shot into the ground to let Fisher know it was a real gun.” The DD5 goes on to note that “Fisher said why did you shoot me and Russo fired the rest of the bullets from the gun at Fisher, killing him.”

Asked about the interview, a spokesperson for the DA’s office said that “we don’t comment on pending cases,” referring to the fact that the office is currently appealing the vacated conviction.

Nothing in the DD5 indicates that Russo was acting on anyone else’s behalf when he decided to rob and then shoot Fisher.

Witness statements taken by police during the initial murder investigation include information that Russo had previously threatened people, engaged in violent behavior and carried a gun in his waistband.

In his recent prison interview, Russo claimed that he was seen by a “young woman in a car” who looked at him “and could identify him” before he “ran back towards his house,” disposing of Fisher’s wallet in a nearby sewer. While Fisher’s wallet was in fact recovered from a sewer near Russo’s apartment building, there are several elements of his confession that are contradicted by the evidence. Specifically, according to the DD5, Russo told the detectives he shot Fisher with a 9mm German Luger, firing all 16 shots in the magazine. In fact, the gun used to kill Mark Fisher was a .22 caliber; none of the residents of Argyle Road reported hearing anywhere near 16 shots. It is unclear whether detectives pressed Russo on these discrepancies.

It is also unclear from the DD5 whether the detectives questioned Russo directly about whether Giuca had anything at all to do with orchestrating the robbery of Fisher, or his murder. If they did not—and there is nothing in the interview document that shows that they did—it is an omission that suggests they may have been more interested in trying to find a witness to retry Giuca, waiting in Rikers, and regain the “win” the appeals court took from them, than in finding out what in fact happened to Mark Fisher.

After all, that’s what Russo, with nothing to gain by finally confessing to the crime, seems to have told them.

Man convicted in ‘Grid Kid’ slaying finally confesses

April 3, 2018 : New York Post

The Brooklyn man convicted of helping to kill Connecticut college football star Mark Fisher has finally confessed to the 2003 slaying, according to a report.

The admission by “Grid Kid” killer co-defendant Antonio Russo was made to detectives during a jailhouse interview March 22, the Daily Beast said.

Russo, who had maintained his innocence at trial, was being re-interviewed as prosecutors try to mount a new case against his accused partner, John Giuca, whose murder conviction was recently overturned.

Russo didn’t implicate Giuca in the slaying when talking to investigators last month, according to the Web site.

But he also didn’t clear the now-34-year-old, who remains locked up at Rikers pending his retrial.

Russo and Giuca were found guilty at separate 2005 trials in Fisher’s shooting death, with prosecutors claiming that Giuca gave Russo the orders — and gun — to kill the 19-year-old Fairfield University football player.

Witnesses said Russo had confessed to them that he murdered Fisher. Another witness, John Avitto, claimed that Giuca confessed to his alleged role in the shooting while both men were behind bars but recanted that testimony years later.

Russo, in his hourlong interview with detectives, said the German Luger 9mm handgun he used to kill Fisher “was his,” though he “couldn’t say” where he got the weapon or how long he owned it, according to the investigators’ notes obtained by the Web site.

Russo recounted the night of Oct. 12, 2003, saying he and Fisher were partying at Giuca’s home in Ditmas Park when Fisher fell asleep. Fisher had come back to the house with new acquaintances from a bar.

“Russo didn’t want Giuca’s mother to come home and get mad because there was an unknown guy in the house,” the notes said.

So Russo said he gave Fisher a sheet to cover up and led him outside through a rear door.

As the two walked along Argyle Road, Russo took out the handgun from his waistband and pointed it at Fisher.

“He took Fisher’s wallet and told Fisher to run,” the notes said. “Russo fired one shot into the ground to let Fisher know it was a real gun. Russo then fired a shot at Fisher, and Fisher fell to the ground.”

Fisher asked Russo why he shot him, at which point, “Russo fired the rest of the bullets from the gun at Fisher, killing him,” according to the notes.

Suggested motives for the shooting over the years have involved everything from an alleged love rivalry to robbery to simply street-gang bravado — or all three.

Russo told detectives there were 16 shots in the gun and that he fired them all.

He also said that there was a “woman in a car” at Albemarle Road “who looked at Russo and could identify him.”

But Russo’s confession contains discrepancies. Fisher was shot five times with a .22-caliber – not a .9mm – gun, which was never found though two shell casings were left at the scene. And no residents reported hearing the 16 shots Russo claimed to have fired.

The Brooklyn DA’s Office declined to comment, as Giuca’s case is pending.

But a law-enforcement source Tuesday noted, “This is nothing new. Prosecutors have always maintained that Russo was the shooter and Giuca was acting in concert with him.”

Giuca’s lawyer, Mark Bederow disagreed, saying Russo’s confession “completely exculpates Giuca.

“This is a significant development,” Bederow said. “There is no rational reason for Russo to have finally admitted that he killed Mark Fisher — which he did in chilling detail — while holding back anything regarding Giuca’s purported involvement.

“It’s disturbing that the DA only saw fit to interview Russo while trying to rebuild its destroyed case against Giuca, rather than when they were reviewing Giuca’s now-vacated conviction in 2014,” he added.

Giuca and Russo were both sentenced to 25 years to life, but Giuca’s conviction was overturned by an appeals court in February. The DA’s Conviction Review Unit investigated Giuca’s case but declined to vacate his conviction in 2015.

The appeals court found that the prosecutor overseeing the case, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, failed to tell jurors that a jailhouse snitch named John Avitto got special treatment from the DA’s Office in exchange for his testimony.

Giuca’s mother, Doreen Giuliano, told The Post on Tuesday that Russo’s confession finally clears her son’s name.

“My fingers are crossed. I knew this day would come someday because you can’t bury the truth,” she said. “Now, let’s hope the wheels of justice turn a bit faster and grants John the freedom he deserves.”

Prosecutors have filed a notice to appeal Giuca’s overturned conviction.

“If I’m blessed with freedom. I will use this opportunity to prove to Eric Gonzalez and all the judges involved that I’m a decent human being and deserve to be exonerated,” Giuca said through his mother.

 

He’s Been Locked Up for 13 Years. Will This Tape Free

June 12, 2018 : The Daily Beast

Before convicting John Giuca of murder, his prosecutor recorded a conversation with a snitch whose account suggests Giuca didn’t do it. Why is the DA just handing that over now?

“I believe he bullshitted me,” Joseph Ingram told homicide prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi.

Ingram was in her office in 2005, a career criminal out in the world to tell her about his conversation with a boastful murderer, Antonio Russo, who didn’t seem to know the sort of gun he’d used in his crime. But what Russo did know, Ingram told Nicolazzi, was that he’d shot a man five times and killed him.

And, Ingram told Nicolazzi, in Russo’s telling and that of the other man who she would soon convict of that murder, that other man, John Giuca, had no role in the crime.

Giuca, now back on Rikers Island and awaiting a new trial after his murder conviction was vacated in February, hopes the tape he by rights should have known about all along could help him finally win his freedom in what may be one of Brooklyn’s strangest and saddest miscarriages of justice.

Giuca was convicted in 2005 for his supposed role in the 2003 murder of Mark Fisher, a star college football player beaten and shot dead during his first trip alone as a young man into New York City in a crime that made national headlines. Nicolazzi convinced a jury to hold Giuca to account despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the murder, contradictory witness testimony, and multiple incompatible and shifting theories and accounts at the trial of his supposed crime.

A separate jury also convicted Giuca’s friend Antonio Russo, who was the last person seen with Fisher, according to witnesses. Russo, who was known to carry a gun, cut off his signature dreadlocks just after the murder and then flew to the west coast after telling people he was in trouble.

Three successive district attorneys have stood by Giuca’s conviction through his several unsuccessful appeals, a reinvestigation of the case in 2014 by the office’s internal Conviction Review Unit, and Giuca’s final 2015 appeal to vacate his conviction after the three key trial witnesses all recanted their testimony and in which he documented serious allegations of misconduct by Nicolazzi.

In February, a unanimous appellate panel overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial, citing Nicolazzi’s failure to disclose information that could have undermined the credibility of a prosecution witness and allowing and even soliciting what she knew to be false or mistaken testimony by that witness. The DA has moved to get permission to appeal the reversal, even as they push ahead with a new trial in the old murder.

With the witnesses having recanted, prosecutors re-interviewed Russo in prison. He confessed to committing the murder alone, without implicating Giuca in any way. Prosecutors are required to turn over any potentially exculpatory evidence they find, and they promptly disclosed that interview to Giuca’s lawyer, Mark Bederow. Two months later—and 13 years after it was recorded—they also turned over Ingram’s interview.

In both accounts, Russo said that he acted alone.

Ingram told Nicolazzi he met Russo on a bus ride the two took from Rikers to Bellevue. He said Russo confessed to shooting Fisher after attempting to rob him. According to Ingram, Russo said he then “called John’s house” and subsequently went there, “knocked on the door… John answered the door. The kid [Russo] asked him to get rid of the weapon and John refused.”

Ingram also says that he and Russo “discussed the weapon” and that it “boiled down to a .22,” but not until after Russo initially told him that he had used a 9mm (the gun used to kill Fisher was in fact a .22 caliber).

“I believe he bullshitted me,” Ingram tells Nicolazzi, explaining that Russo told him he shot five shots (Mark Fisher was shot five times).

“I know a little bit about shootings and this sort of thing… most .22 automatics carry five 5 shots, the cheap ones.”

When asked by Nicolazzi why he believed Russo lied about the weapon, Ingram replied: “Tough guys carry nines.”

What Ingram recounts is remarkably similar to the account that Russo gave DA investigators in March of this year—specifically, that he shot Fisher after trying to rob him and that he had used a 9mm German Luger.

The contents of Ingram’s interview undermine what the prosecution ultimately argued at trial—that after the murder Russo returned the gun to Giuca, who then asked another witness, who has since recanted his testimony, to get rid of it (the murder weapon was never recovered). Ingram’s statements also contradict those of another trial witness who’s since recanted, and who testified at trial that Giuca told him that he was at the scene of the murder and participated in beating Fisher before Russo shot him.

So the informant told the prosecutor that Russo said he did it, and by himself, and that Giuca said that he didn’t do it. The prosecutor—despite her legal obligation—does not appear to have shared that information with the defense.

Giuca’s lawyer, Mark Bederow, argues in a new motion filed Tuesday and first reported here, that Ingram’s interview is exculpatory for Giuca and by law should have been turned over to his lawyer before trial—13 years ago.

(The only information the defense apparently received related to Ingram, who was not called to testify at the trial, was a hand-written list of convictions for a possible witness identified as “James Ingram.” The typo would likely have kept Giuca’s lawyer at the time from connecting “James” with Joseph Ingram’s 61-page rap sheet)

Because the tape was apparently withheld until the DA’s office put it in a huge dump of materials related to the case and provided to Bederow last week, Giuca didn’t get the chance to raise it in the hearing on his 2015 motion to vacate his conviction—a hearing whose subject was just such violations.

Bederow’s latest filing asks a judge to dismiss the new murder trial, given the ”lost” tape, or, failing that, to reopen the appeals panel hearing that’s already vacated Giuca’s conviction, so that the judges considering the DA’s appeal of that decision are aware of this latest bit of long-withheld information.

(Joseph Ingram died in 2006 and thus cannot testify about his conversations with either Russo or Giuca, further prejudicing Giuca, Bederow argues.)

It is unclear from the tape precisely how Ingram—who spent most of his adult life in New York prisons—came to be speaking with Nicolazzi at the Brooklyn DA’s office. Bederow implies in his filing that the DA arranged for Ingram, a state prisoner, to be moved to Rikers Island for the purpose of gathering information about Fisher’s murder from Giuca and Russo, notwithstanding their knowledge that both defendants were represented by counsel, so that anyone acting on behalf of the state would have needed to go through their attorneys.

Nicolazzi, who was allowed to moonlight as a True TV host while the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Review Unit researched the case, has never spoken publicly about it except under oath during Giuca’s successful appeal of his conviction last year. Then, she insisted that all appropriate material had been turned over to the defense before the trial.

Asked to account for the apparent 13-year delay in disclosing the recording and whether the conviction review unit had been aware of it, the DA said only that “we are reviewing this motion.”

Nicolazzi, who has since left the DA’s office and now stars in the TV show True Conviction, was not immediately available for comment.

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