Death of Andrew Morello

In addition, Perry had been given the sworn statement of Carla Izzo, Morello's cousin. After Morello's friends quickly drove two blocks from the scene of the shooting to Izzo's house, they came banging on her door for help, screaming that Andrew had been shot. In her statement, Izzo noted that at least one of the boys said the van was going backward when Morello was shot, but the issue was not explored by investigators questioning her. Assistant State Attorney Rosenberg said later he discounted Izzo's statement because the boys had lied to her, initially claiming they hadn't been doing anything wrong. On the other hand, Dana Klier, a sixteen-year-old friend of Bjorn DiMaio, said in her statement that DiMaio walked over to her house shortly after the incident and told her about the burglary, as well as stating that the van was moving backward.

Joseph Morello, Andrew's father, also corroborated the consistency of remarks made by his son's friends. When he learned of the shooting, approximately ten minutes after it took place, he raced to Izzo's house and talked to the boys even before police had a chance to question them. He asked Ralph Scocco what had happened when his son was shot, and the boy reportedly replied over and over again, "I don't know, I don't know. We were going backwards." However, Judge Perry could not have known what Joseph Morello had been told. Neither the police nor the State Attorney's Office bothered to take a statement from him.

For the Morello family, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the inquest was the absence of any testimony regarding the trajectory of the bullet through the van's windshield. When the police returned Joseph Morello's van to him, both he and his wife sat in it, hoping that might bring them closer to Andrew. It didn't. But the experience did provoke disturbing questions about the path of the fatal bullet. As they sat in the front seats, they recalled what Anthony Vincent had told them - that the shot did not come from in front of the van but from far off to the right side. And they began to develop a suspicion that today has become a firm conviction: Laura Russell, they concluded, could not have been standing where she said she was when she shot their son.

The fundamental basis for Russell's claim of self-defense, as she repeatedly noted in her sworn statement, was that she was in the path of the van as it bore down on her. She had no choice but to shoot. The physical evidence, however, appeared to contradict that. The bullet hole in the windshield was located on the passenger's side in the lower right-hand corner. If Russell, as she said, was standing in front of the van near its center, a shot aimed at the driver would have left a hole much closer to the driver's side of the windshield. (See diagram B, page 12.) Police photographs, in fact, show that crime-scene technicians placed the position of the shooter at the extreme right side of the van, not in front of it.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Metro-Dade homicide detective Steve Parr replied when asked about the trajectory of the bullet. Parr, who supervised the police investigation of the shooting, said that any interpretation of the physical evidence by New Times was merely "your opinion. You can present your point of view in your own way, any way you want." And he insisted that New Times had misunderstood Russell's sworn statement. For emphasis he added that he should know the statement's contents - he was the one who questioned Russell.

Following the interview with Parr, four days after the inquest, New Times returned to Judge Morton Perry in an effort to clarify the matter of Russell's position at the time she fired. Using a piece of paper on a table in his chambers to represent the van, the judge pointed to a spot directly in front of the van's passenger's-side headlight. "Here," he said. Would she have been about seven to ten feet in front of the van? Yes, he replied, definitely in front.

The judge then retrieved a copy of Laura Russell's statement, in which Parr asked Russell where she was standing when the van purportedly began moving forward. Russell stated under oath: "I was still in front of the van. I was slightly to the right - my right - of the headlight of the passenger."

At that point Parr said, "Still on the passenger side but...." Russell interrupted: "Yeah, between the center of the van and the headlight." And after she shot, Parr asked, where was she standing in relation to the van? "I was probably less than five feet in front of it," Russell answered.

Judge Perry then examined photocopies of the police crime-scene photographs, provided to him by New Times, which re-created the bullet's trajectory and clearly indicated that the position of the shooter must have been to the right of the van, not directly in front of it. Perry looked at the photographs and wondered aloud: "Did I see these? I don't recall if I did or not."

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