By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
All testimony from the Russells and the teen-agers with Morello corroborated the fact that the car alarm was not triggered until after the van had backed up to the Jeep. Which would mean that when Larry Trach claimed to have heard the first revving (or "gear change," as Rosenberg described it), he would still have been asleep. "That's a good point," Judge Morton Perry acknowledged in an interview not long after the inquest.
In the days following the Morello hearing, Judge Perry allowed New Times to review all the sworn statements entered into evidence, none of which had been made public prior to the inquest. He also spent several hours discussing his involvement in the case and his rationale for ruling as he did.
Perry had only been assigned the inquest on the Thursday before the Monday hearing, which forced him to study intensely and quickly. "I spent Friday night, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, into Monday, reading all this crap, making notes," he explained. "I just want you to know that I spent a lot of goddamn time on this thing." Despite his weekend efforts, the judge apparently still did not have enough time to prepare completely. For instance, throughout the hearing, prosecutor Rosenberg repeatedly made reference to a party the boys had attended the night of the burglary. In discussing the case, Perry was asked if he was under the impression Morello and the other boys had been drinking that night. "They must have had a drink or two, I guess, I don't know," he answered. "It was not that significant. I don't think they were roaring drunk."
It's doubtful that Perry's decision in the case was strongly influenced by his belief the four boys had been drinking. But his assumption that they had been drinking demonstrated that he had not studied the autopsy report in depth. The Medical Examiner's Office determined there was no evidence of alcohol or other drugs in Morello's system. Moreover, friends and family members of the other teen-agers said none of them had been drinking that night.
The autopsy report wasn't the only piece of evidence that did not receive careful scrutiny. Another example: After the shooting, Laura Russell ran to her house and dialed 911. The call was interesting for several reasons. First, Russell never mentioned that she had just fired her weapon; she simply told the emergency operator she and her husband had interrupted an auto theft and her husband was in his car trying to chase the van. She also didn't inform 911 that the driver of the van had tried to kill her, which presumably would be important information for other officers so they would be cautious in approaching the van.
At another point during her call, Russell said, "One of them came at us," although it was not clear to whom she was referring - Morello driving the van or DiMaio startling them when he bolted out of the Jeep. A few seconds later she said, "They came at us," which could support the contention that the van had been moving toward them. Finally she said, "They kept backing up. We kept trying to get their tag, and they kept backing up." The Morello family thought it was significant that Russell told 911 the van "kept backing up," hopeful it would lend credence to their belief their son was driving in reverse the entire time. In interviews prior to the inquest, the Morellos said they were eager to hear the tape played and discussed in court.
And what did Judge Perry think of the 911 call? Unfortunately, he was not in a position to form an opinion. The tape was never played at the inquest, nor was a copy or a transcript provided to Perry. The judge saw the 911 transcript for the first time three days after issuing his ruling, when New Times provided him with a copy for review. (Prosecutor Rosenberg said later he didn't play the 911 tape or provide a transcript because it was not relevant and "didn't have anything to do with what happened at the shooting.")
Laura Russell didn't tell the 911 operator that the driver of the van had just tried to kill her and her husband, but she did reportedly say that to next-door neighbor Terrence Trach, who came outside within a minute of the shooting. Judge Perry said he felt this was important because Russell wouldn't have had time to concoct a story. George Russell made similar statements, according to Terrence Trach, after returning home from his unsuccessful effort to find the van.
As much as Perry placed a high value on what he described as Laura and George Russell's "excited utterances," he seemed to discredit statements made by Andrew Morello's friends soon after the shooting. "I don't think they said, `He was shot while we were in reverse,' or anything like that," the judge said. "I wasn't too interested, very honestly, in what happened later."
Even though Perry didn't believe the boys made any relevant statements immediately after the shooting, documents in his possession included sworn statements from DiMaio, Vincent, and Scocco - taken separately less than ten hours after the incident - in which each of them said the van had been in reverse when Morello was shot. (The teen-agers had little time to confer before they were questioned by detectives. Soon after police arrived, all three were isolated and interviewed separately.)