Near mistrial in Rizzuto case
The jury that found Anthony Rizzuto guilty of criminal conspiracy last week came “very close to having a hung jury,” according to one juror, meaning the trial could have been held all over again.
The juror, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that one man on the jury did not want to convict Rizzuto of any of the five felony counts he was charged with. And because the law requires guilty verdicts to be unanimous, that one man’s vote could have led to a mistrial.
But even once that sole dissenting juror had been convinced that a conviction was warranted, most of the jury felt Rizzuto had been “overcharged” by prosecutor Lawson Wills, the juror said, and did not deserve to be convicted of the numerous felonies he was accused of committing.
Rizzuto, 20, was found guilty on Friday of conspiracy to commit theft of more than $500 and less than $15,000. The trial over charges that he and three other local teenagers broke into a Twining Flats home last year and made off with three expensive shotguns and a Range Rover lasted four days.
The burglary was one in a series of crimes, including armed robbery, other burglaries and car theft, committed by a dozen local teen-agers in August and September 1999. All of those involved have now either pleaded guilty or been convicted of various parts of the crime spree, although several trials are still scheduled on specific charges.
“We didn’t want to just send him up the river,” said the juror, who spoke with The Aspen Times on Sunday.
The jurors debated which of the charges would carry the lowest penalty, the juror explained, and decided to convict him of conspiracy to steal the shotguns.
“We thought that was the least severe of the charges,” the juror said. The verdict was read aloud by Judge J.E. DeVilbiss at 6:15 p.m., after the jury had deliberated for more than five hours.
Rizzuto now faces anywhere from one to three years in prison, or possibly up to six years if a judge decides there were “aggravating” circumstances involved in the crime, and a fine of up to $500,000.
“The jury went as light as possible on Anthony,” noted the juror. “We thought that he was probably there [at the scene of the burglary on Sept. 20, 1999], and that he was probably knowledgeable about what was going on. He wasn’t an angel, but we just didn’t feel he needs to have the book thrown at him.”
She added that one juror did feel Rizzuto was guilty of all the crimes alleged in the case and wanted to convict on all five counts, which would have left Rizzuto facing the possibility of decades of prison time.
Saying that most jurors felt that neither the prosecution nor the defense did a very good job, the juror was particularly critical of Wills, maintaining that he took too much time on hammering home the point that a burglary took place.
“He brought a lot of witnesses up there that were irrelevant,” the juror said. “Like the owner of the house, Mr. Simon. We didn’t need to hear from him. We knew there was a burglary.”
She said the jury believed the accusation that Rizzuto was brought in on the burglary because he knew how to find a “chop shop” that would buy the Range Rover and another stolen vehicle used in the burglary, a Jeep stolen a week earlier by co-conspirator Nathan Morse.
“That’s why we mostly thought that Anthony was in on the conspiracy,” she said.
The prosecution’s case relied heavily on three witnesses – Morse, Moses Greengrass and Jacob Richards, all of whom participated in the Twining Flats burglary. All three made plea bargains and are serving sentences for their parts in the crime spree.
Asked about their credibility as witnesses, the juror recalled, “I think Nathan had a little bit more credibility than Jacob.”
Greengrass invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges and did not testify about the burglary details. The juror said she and others distrusted Richards.
“We felt he [Richards] was definitely the leader [in the burglary],” she said.
Although the jury was deliberately not given information about the possible penalties carried by the charges, she said the topic did come up and that only one of the jurors felt Rizzuto should not go to prison at all. But no one wanted him to go to prison for a lengthy term, she said.
“I think a lot of us felt like he’s already served a lot of jail time,” she reported. “All these kids need more help, and prison’s not where they’re going to get it.”
Prosecutor Wills said that he was “disappointed” with the verdicts, but noted, “To be convicted of a felony is a significant event.”
Defense attorney Joseph St. Veltri declined to characterize the trial’s outcome as either a win or a loss, saying, “I don’t keep score that way.”
Rizzuto’s father, local hairdresser Peter Rizzuto, tearfully said of the verdicts, “I am happy, and relieved.” He also expressed appreciation for what he termed the jury’s “understanding of adolescence” and how that might lead teen-agers to rash acts.
Rizzuto is to be in court again on Jan. 16, when a decision is expected on when he will be sentenced. He still faces three more trials related to the crime spree, one on charges that he and another then-teen-ager, Thomas Colver, robbed the Aspen Alps condominium office at gunpoint on Aug. 6, 1999.
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