The Imperfect Murder

Stanley Cohen's wife went to prison for arranging to have him killed. Years later a Miami journalist reveals a secret. Now the entire case may be unraveling.

"I knew one day the veneer would crack," says Ross. "I thought it would happen when Zuccarello would get a little older, maybe have a life-threatening disease. He'd look in the mirror, then he'd call and say, 'I want to tell the truth.'"

Cohen co-prosecutor Kastrenakes now acknowledges that Zuccarello wasn't the star witness he was made out to be. But he stands firmly behind the convictions and maintains that Zuccarello testified truthfully. Since Bright's statement, Zuccarello has sworn an affidavit to Dade prosecutors reaffirming his testimony: "I never said or even suggested to any person that my trial testimony was false."

Fantigrassi, on the other hand, always harbored doubts about Zuccarello. Today he says he'd like to see Joslin's and Caracciolo's convictions overturned. He believes Joyce Cohen killed her husband alone. The murder scene, he says, looked staged: the wiped revolver, a bedside lamp on the floor, the pistol found below the window. "You're hired to commit a murder," Fantigrassi muses. "Wouldn't you bring the weapon of your choice? The scene is indicative of a domestic-related homicide. They're not well thought out. I've seen it in the past. It's common."

Fantigrassi says he has lobbied for Joslin and Caracciolo, so far without success. They are guilty of home-invasion robberies, he admits, but everyone else in their gang, twelve years later, has been released. Some have even committed other crimes since and have already gotten out for those.

"I'm not saying we're angels or anything like that," remarks Anthony Caracciolo, now 37 years old, sitting at a table in the Everglades Correctional Institution, a state prison in West Dade. He talks at high speed because the prison allows just one hour for press interviews. In 1995, he claims, FDLE agent Steve Emerson told him: "'You need to talk to Spear.' I talk to Spear, and he says, 'I got problems with things. Let me run things by Kastrenakes and I can come see you.'

"He said we didn't do it, Joyce did it by herself. But Kastrenakes must have run him off." Caracciolo says Spear never did come to see him, and when Caracciolo sent his brother to ask Spear to talk, the detective refused to speak to him as well.

Tommy Joslin is now 39 years old. In a recent interview from central Florida's Avon Park Correctional Institution, another state prison, he explains that he accepted the plea bargain because "I was scared they were going to convict me. I'd be sitting right now on death row for something I didn't do."

Something they didn't do? In a recent conversation with New Times, Abe Laeser, the assistant state attorney who supervised the prosecutors, responded to a particular question: "Did [Joyce Cohen] do it all by herself? Obviously that is a conceivable possibility. But as I sit here, I don't know." Short of a truthful statement from Cohen, Laeser added, "I'm never going to know. My instincts say that's what happened."

Suppose a judge overturns Joyce Cohen's conviction because the prosecution based its case too heavily on Frank Zuccarello's false testimony. And suppose prosecutors still believe Joyce is guilty of murder. Wouldn't a new trial be an exercise in futility for her?

Just the reverse, asserts defense attorney Ross. His eyes brightening at the thought, he says he can prove Joyce not guilty using the state's own expert witnesses from the original trial. He'd recall criminalist Rao, who said Joyce probably didn't fire the gun. He'd also bring back Wetli, the medical examiner who revised his opinion about the time of death during the course of the trial.

"I should have won the first trial," Ross says. "I was shocked by the verdict. Absolutely shocked. So I'm going back to straighten it out. This is unfinished business.

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