Prosecution wraps up case against Rizzuto
The prosecution rested its case against Anthony Rizzuto on Thursday, ending with the non-testimony of one of Rizzuto’s alleged co-conspirators and a battle among three lawyers about the witness’ right to invoke his Fifth Amendment protection.
Thursday was the third day of the trial in which Rizzuto, 20, is accused of two counts of aggravated auto theft, burglary of a home at Twining Flats, including the theft of three expensive shotguns, and conspiracy to commit all of the above.
The alleged burglary on Sept. 20, 1999, was part of an extended crime spree conducted by a group of local teenagers in August and September of that year.
The three young men said to have been with Rizzuto at the Twining Flats home that night – Moses Greengrass, Nathan Morse and Jacob Richards – accepted plea bargains with the district attorney’s office and are serving sentences for their parts in the crime spree.
According to police, Rizzuto and the other three drove to the Twining Flats home in a rental Jeep stolen by Morse. They allegedly got in with a key obtained by Richards, stole three shotguns and then made off with a $60,000 Range Rover parked in the garage. They intended to sell the goods at a “chop shop” Rizzuto allegedly knew about, according to testimony from Richards.
The plan fell through, police say, when the Jeep, allegedly driven by Morse with Rizzuto as passenger, was pulled over for a traffic violation in Boulder and later crashed during an escape attempt.
Thursday’s proceedings opened with District Court Judge J.E. DeVilbiss agreeing that a 9 mm pistol found in the crashed Jeep, which allegedly belonged to Rizzuto, could not be introduced by the prosecution because it would be prejudicial for the jury to see it.
Throughout the day, testimony by several young men was meant to bolster Wills’ allegation that Rizzuto was a key part of the action on Sept. 20, 1999.
Jason Albert, a sophomore at the University of Colorado, was granted immunity from prosecution for his statements so that Wills could ask him questions about Rizzuto’s actions on Sept. 20-21 last year.
It was Albert and another Aspenite convicted of taking part in the crime spree, Yuri Ognacevic, who got a call from Richards that night and met the group in Boulder. Albert was leading them to a parking lot, so they could get some rest, when the Jeep was stopped for rolling through a red light.
After the Jeep crashed, Morse turned himself in to the Boulder Police Department and by the morning of Sept. 21 had begun naming names. Albert, the group that had come over from Aspen and others were being sought by police.
“We figured we were pretty much screwed,” Albert said of the remaining group, who, after considerable discussion, decided to head for Canada to avoid prosecution.
During the talks, Albert said, Rizzuto “always remained calm” and was generally “very quiet.” But, he said, when it came time to go, Rizzuto helped drive to Whistler, B.C., to hook up with one of his former girlfriends and at one point dyed his hair to alter his looks.
Richards, who admitted to defense attorney Joseph St. Veltri that he was the “mastermind” of the Twining Flats caper, said he had taken along a duffel bag because Rizzuto “expressed an interest earlier [on Sept. 20] in burglarizing the house,” beyond Richards’ plan to steal the Rover and the guns.
But Richards also confirmed that Rizzuto was not present in the early planning stages of the burglary that day, and that the only reference to Rizzuto’s alleged knowledge about a “chop shop” came from another accomplice, Moses Greengrass.
It was Greengrass, who is serving a 13-year prison term for his role in two armed robberies and the Twining Flats burglary, who invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself when asked to testify against Rizzuto.
Greengrass had refused to testify in a trial of another crime spree suspect, Stefan Schutter, and is now facing a contempt of court citation because of it.
But his declaration on Thursday was supported by the prosecution, even through he had been called as a prosecution witness.
Wills teamed up with Greengrass’ attorney, public defender Jamie Gettman, in arguing that Greengrass’ testimony might hurt his chances to have his sentence reconsidered by DeVilbiss, which is a routine part of nearly all cases where the suspect has been convicted and sent to prison. A motion requesting reconsideration has been filed on Greengrass’ behalf.
St. Veltri argued that because he was already convicted, Greengrass has no right to protection under the Fifth Amendment. He said that if Greengrass testified truthfully, it might actually help his cause.
DeVilbiss, seeming to agree, noted that “some grumpy judge might decide, because he isn’t being cooperative, he [the judge] should not even read the entire thing [the motion for reconsideration of sentence].” But he made no ruling on the issue.
St. Veltri said the prosecution has not proven: that Rizzuto entered the house, although one witness, Morse, said that Rizzuto entered the garage during the burglary; that he was anything but a passenger in the stolen Jeep; or that he was ever even in the Range Rover.
St. Veltri also maintained that his client never had any control over the shotguns and should not be convicted of stealing them.
The trial resumes at 8:30 Friday morning, when the defense begins its case.
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