National News

New Trial Ordered in Brooklyn in 2003 Slaying of College Student

Posted February 7, 2018 11:04 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — In one of the longest and most convoluted murder cases in recent Brooklyn history, an appeals court on Wednesday unanimously tossed out the conviction of a man found guilty of killing a college student in 2003 and ordered a new trial.

For nearly 15 years, the case of John Giuca has stood as an unlikely cause célèbre in Brooklyn’s criminal-justice system, batted between different courts as Giuca’s lawyers claimed that prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense and relied on testimony from witnesses who were untruthful.

In a terse, five-page ruling Wednesday, the 2nd Judicial Department Appeals Court agreed with the defense lawyers, saying the Brooklyn district attorney’s office had indeed failed to turn over crucial evidence and had never corrected “the knowingly false or mistaken material testimony of a prosecution witness.”

The initial trial and its aftermath have been as bizarre as they have been protracted. In 2005, when Giuca was sentenced to a maximum of life in prison, a group of his supporters showed up in the courtroom wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Free John Giuca.” As the appeal crept forward, his mother, Doreen Giuliano, was caught in an elaborate one-woman sting operation in which she tried to seduce a former juror to root out information that might have helped her son.

The case began on Oct. 11, 2003, when Mark Fisher, a 19-year-old student at Fairfield University in Connecticut, was barhopping on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At the end of a woozy night of drinking, Fisher wound up in Prospect Park South in Brooklyn with Giuca, who was 20 at the time, and a group of other strangers. The next morning, shortly after 6 a.m., Fisher was found dead on the sidewalk several blocks from Giuca’s family home.

Prosecutors claimed that Giuca and a co-defendant, Antonio Russo, were members a fledgling gang called the Ghetto Mafia and went after Fisher for street credibility, seeing him as a rich teenager who was an easy target. They said that Giuca was jealous about a woman with whom Fisher had been flirting and was angry at his drunken behavior. Separate juries found both men were guilty, with Giuca’s jury returning in the brief span of two hours. Russo was also sentenced to up to life in prison.

As the case continued, Giuca’s lawyer, Mark A. Bederow, began to focus on one of the prosecution’s witnesses, John Avitto, a jailhouse informer who had testified that Giuca talked about his role in the murder while they were being held on Rikers Island. The prosecutor had asserted that the district attorney’s office never struck a deal with Avitto, saying he implicated Giuca “to do something right.” But the appeals court found that there was in fact a deal and that the jury might have voted to acquit Giuca had it known about it at the time.

In a statement Wednesday, Bederow expressed his sympathy to Fisher’s family, but also said that he was happy with the court’s decision.

“I have always expected this day,” he wrote, adding, “I hope the Brooklyn DA’s office will take this decision to heart and no longer tolerate the type of gamesmanship employed in this case.”

In his own statement, Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said, “We will review the decision and weigh our options.”