Sunday, December 14, 2008

Guilty verdict in Lake Charles

I had not felt compelled to discuss the Mary Elizaberth "Liz" Marinello murder case until the guilty verdict was rendered yesterday against her estranged husband and local sportscaster Vince Marinello. Much of the circumstantial case centered on Marinello's alibi and a checklist he admits he composed which prosecutors used to show his premeditation in the shooting death of the 45-year-old woman in front of the sleepy Old Metairie neighborhood apartment complex where Vince Marinello had been living under house arrest for much of the last two years. The story captured everyone's attention in New Orleans because of the celebrity involved, reverberations even being felt in Cleveland, where I was living at the time of the murder. Because of enormous pre-trial publicity surrounding the case, the venue was changed from Metairie to Lake Charles, a three-hour drive from New Orleans. The case took place over a two week period with prosecutors putting a number of witnesses to the actual shooting on the stand. In addition, jurors heard from a local arms dealer who testified that Marinello came into his now-closed gun shop to purchase a weapon for protection. According to the gun dealer, he recognized Marinello right away due to his celebrity status from TV and radio stints over the course of the last four decades. According to his testimony, he remembered selling special armor-piercing teflon-tipped 38-caliber bullets that detectives said were used to kill Liz Marinello. Witnesses described seeing a scruffy looking man in shabby clothing with a moustache and beard pacing the area before the two shots that rang out in broad daylight. One witness claimed that she recalled seeing the assailant's eyes and that they were wild-looking. She identified Marinello as having the same eyes. Witnesses reported they saw the same shabbily-attired man quickly pedaling away on a bicycle just after the attack. Prosecutors gave an interesting motive to the crime. They said that Liz Marinello had found out that her husband had not legally divorced his previous wife before marrying her. That meant that Liz Marinello could have leveled a charge of bigamy at the radio sportscaster. A vain and self-centered Marinello surprisingly took the stand to defend himself over the last two days of the trial, a move that must have delighted prosecutors. He tried to explain away his purchasing the faux facial hair from a costume shop as well as his purchase of the gun so close to the murder. His take on the check list detectives discovered in the FEMA trailer he was living in at the time of the murder? According to Marinello, the list was simply notes he had taken regarding his being considered a suspect in the murder and his attempt to counter each one of them. He suggested that he was going to contact Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee, now deceased, to discuss the list and explain how the perpetrator could not possibly be him. Lee's phone number as well as two others and a detailed map of the crime scene were allegedly on the list. Several of the checked items also contained information not known to the public, according to Sheriff's deputies. Such items as "Gun - river on way to mama" didn't seem to gel well with jurors as something that could be easily explained away. He also claimed he had never fired a weapon in his life, then admitted to prosecutors that he had lied and had discharged a weapon on the ground of his property around the time of the murder. That was the reason, he claimed, that gunpowder residue was found inside his car. Marinello's alibi that he left New Orleans at a specific time and was on his way the Byram, Mississippi to watch a Saints game with friends at the time of the murder was challenged by prosecutors who used his cell phone records and tower transmission reports to indiciate that he left New Orleans much later than he claimed. Jurors took only an hour and a half to unanimously find the 71-year-old Marinello guility of second degree murder. The mandatory life sentence carries with it a condition of no possibility of parole or commutation of sentence and the judge in the case says that the sentence will be handed down in two weeks. Marinello's 94-year-old mother met with her son briefly after the verdict was announced in a room adjacent to the courtroom. It will probably be the last time they will see each other without thick glass or iron bars between them or him wearing manacles and chains. In the meantime, Liz Marinello's relatives and friends are considering the verdict as an early Christmas present. Prosecutors state the murder was calculated, premeditated and particularly gruesome. They need only point out that Liz Marinello perished as a result of two shots directed to her face. My feeling is that justice has been served, but that all of those involved in the murder case -- with the possible exception of the now gleeful prosecutors -- have all been put through a great deal of unnecessary torment and pain. Perhaps, the healing process can move forward as still-grieving family members hope to gain closure and move on and Marinello is sent to prison for the rest of his life.

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