Cover image for The wrong man : a true story of innocence on death row
Title:
The wrong man : a true story of innocence on death row
Author:
Mello, Michael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Minneapolis, MN : University of Minnesota Press, [2001]

©2001
Physical Description:
xxiv, 586 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Chronology on lining papers.

Includes index.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780816637836
Format :
Book

Available:*

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Call Number
Material Type
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Status
Central Library HV8699.U5 M45 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

"The Wrong Man is the dramatic story of Michael Mello's twenty-year fight to save "Crazy Joe" Spaziano, a member of a widely feared motorcycle gang, from execution for a murder he didn't commit. In a gripping personal account. Mello, a well-known author, activist, and legal commentator, describes the details of the case and the controversial extremes to which he was driven by it. Mello took the unconventional and risky step of involving the Miami Herald in his legal work; the newspaper eventually published an investigative piece that was instrumental in turning the tide of public opinion and bringing Spaziano's case to the attention of the national media."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Law professor Mello (The United States of America versus Theodore John Kaczynski) shows how even the most carefully administered system of capital punishment can result in the execution of innocent people. Mello's former client "Crazy Joe" Spaziano spent years on Florida's death row before his sentence was overturned after a prosecution witness recanted his testimony. Rather than risk a new death sentence in retrial, Spaziano pleaded no contest to a murder charge while maintaining his innocence. He remains in prison. While Spaziano has both supporters and detractors, ambiguity regarding his culpability is almost secondary to Mello's multifaceted indictment of capital punishment: "the legal machinery that exists for the purpose of executions diminishes all of us and warps our law." The author, who became involved during Spaziano's labyrinthine appeals process, deftly traces the unfurling of the various levels of appeal, with particular clarity given to defense counsel's tactical dilemmas. Spaziano represents a typical death row prisoner, and in that sense readers gain a good understanding of how a death penalty case unfolds. But while innocent people have undeniably been executed, Mello tends to gloss over opposing legal positions, undermining his argument. His thin explanation of procedural default, for instance, could mislead lay readers into thinking that innocent men are killed because of technicalities. Moreover, he romanticizes Spaziano. Paired with childlike letters from Spaziano, this and other character sketches come into question. While Spaziano's story deserves careful attention, Mello's biased presentation wastes the opportunity to change minds about the death penalty. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Watching Two Lives Converge: The Biker and the Nerd This ["Crazy Joe" Spaziano execution] is one of those choices that tests a civilization's soul. Out of all the static about defining moments and public morality that crowds the narrow bandwidth of modern politics, here, finally, is a real defining moment for a real public. It will tell what morality, if any, guides Florida government. The issue is life or death, and the choice will be made in the next 12 days.     The question is whether the state of Florida will kill a man for committing a crime to which utterly no evidence links him. Tony Proscio, "'Memory' of Murder, Mockery of Justice," Miami Herald, June 14, 1995 My name is Michael Mello. I'm forty-two years old. I married for the first time only three years ago. For the past eleven years, I have been a professor at Vermont Law School. In the early and mid-1980s, I was a capital public defender in Florida. I have been involved in about seventy capital cases, including Ted Bundy's, Ted Kaczynski's, and Paul Hill's. But Joe Spaziano was my first and my last capital client. In a way, his case made me crazy--at any rate, it landed me in the hospital. Or perhaps Joe's case simply forced me to see clearly the brutal truths of capital punishment in America. In the end, Joe's case made me see that I'm not the one who's crazy.     I oppose capital punishment. However, those who know me well know that I'm not "soft" on crime. I don't sentimentalize criminals, including my clients. When I was in college, my significant other was raped at knifepoint. In 1989, a man I loved as a father was murdered by a terrorist who sent a mail bomb to his home a few days before Christmas. The bomb detonated in the man's kitchen, killing him and nearly killing his wife. I wanted to find these bastards and kill them myself.     My last book was about the case of "the Unabomber," Theodore Kaczynski. There, I argue that Kaczynski was unlawfully denied his day in court, that constitutional corners were cut to nail the obviously guilty Unabomber. On more radio talk shows than I like to remember, I was asked--quite properly and fairly--why we should care that the law was bent to get the Unabomber. My answer was always the same: we should care that the Unabomber's rights were violated because of "Crazy Joe" Spaziano. If constitutional corners can be cut to convict the guilty Unabombers, then they can be--and, as I show in this book, are--cut to convict, condemn, and execute the innocent Spazianos.     Unlike the Unabomber, Joe Spaziano isn't a celebrity serial killer. Joe Spaziano is an obscure member among the some three thousand persons on death rows in the United States. But, as the poet Sam Hazo has noted, obscurity also has its tale to tell.     David Von Drehle, the leading historian concerning Florida's modern experience with capital punishment, has written that not long ago capital punishment may have been a "liberal" versus "conservative" issue, but no longer. Today the great divide is between those who understand how the legal machinery of death works and those who don't. I understand capital punishment because, in addition to having studied and researched it, I lived at its center for four years.     Although at the moment my day job is as a tenured professor of constitutional law at Vermont Law School, my professional life has been devoted to deathwork. In the early 1980s, I was the "death clerk" for Judge Robert S. Vance, an appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, who was assassinated by a letter bomb in 1989. As the death clerk, I conducted preliminary reviews of the death sentence appeals that came through Vance's chambers and drafted the opinions in the cases of many who were subsequently executed. At the end of my clerkship, Judge Vance urged me to go to Wall Street and make some money. Instead, I went to Florida and became a public defender representing death row inmates.     I thought twelve years would have been long enough. I thought that after twelve years I could read the letters from my old clients and the other men on death row in Florida whom I had tried to help during the mid-1980s. Some of these men had been executed--James Adams, James Dupree Henry, Bob Sullivan, David Leroy Washington, Freddy Goode, David Funchess, Dan Thomas, Ronnie Straight, Nollie Lee Martin, Ed Kennedy, Dennis Adams, Ted Bundy, Willie Jasper Darden, Larry Joe Johnson, Buford White, Jerry White. Many more were saved, but it's funny--I have a harder time remembering their names. It's the names and faces and histories of my dead I can summon from memory--what Lincoln called the "mystic chords of memory"--without effort. I still get letters from clients I was able to save. Still, it's the letters from clients I was unable to save that are burned into my memory. Those are the people and the cases I feel compelled to write about. The cases I lost. The people I lost. The people like "Crazy Joe" Spaziano.     When I left Florida and full-time deathwork in 1987, I threw the letters into a file folder, and there they remained, unread, until the summer of 1996, when I began writing this book. Most of the letters were from Joseph Spaziano. My innocent client. My unlikely friend. By 1995 I was willing to stake my license to practice law on my belief that Joe was innocent. But twelve years earlier I thought otherwise. For my first year or so as Spaziano's lawyer, I thought he was guilty.     I first read Spaziano's trial transcript in 1983. The same transcript that years later persuaded an experienced Miami Herald investigator of Spaziano's innocence confirmed my belief in his guilt. The difference was experience. The Herald investigator (an ex-cop) knew what to look for in a murder trial transcript. He knew how to interpret the evidence missing from the record. He knew how to connect the dots. I didn't have a clue. In September 1983, when I was first assigned to work on Spaziano's case, I was a brand-new lawyer. I had taken the Florida bar exam just a couple of months earlier. I had graduated law school the year before, and during that year I was the death clerk for Judge Vance.     Judge Vance was a genuine hero of the 1960s civil rights wars in Alabama; he was George Wallace's principal political nemesis within the Democratic Party of Alabama. The judge despised the death penalty because of its arbitrariness and its disproportionate impact on racial minorities and the poor. Had Vance been in the legislature, he would have voted against capital punishment; had he sat on the U.S. Supreme Court, he would have held the death penalty unconstitutional. But Judge Vance wasn't a legislator or a Supreme Court justice. He was an intermediate appellate judge, and he refused to allow his personal loathing of capital punishment to interfere with his duty to follow the Supreme Court's decisions upholding the constitutionality of the punishment. (His one attempt to clear Alabama's death row was resoundingly reversed by the Supreme Court.)     The judge also never sentimentalized the killers who populate death rows. Robert Vance's philosophy was chiseled out of raw experience. His philosophy of law was about life and for life in the real world.     "No innocent people are on death row," Judge Vance had said again and again when I was working for him. Now that I was a public defender, I was determined to approach my own capital clients with Judge Vance's sort of cold realism. I expected all my clients to be guilty. My job would be to attack the death sentence. And I'd do that not because the inmates deserved sympathy, but because I believed that the legal machinery that exists for the purpose of executions diminishes all of us and warps our law. By deciding who dies, the state is making intensely subjective moral decisions that cannot conform to the narrow categories set out by positive law. It is simply not possible to classify these decisions according to existing legal pigeonholes, and attempts to do so ultimately warp the law and result in the political polarization of the legal system. In addition, decisions regarding who deserves to die involve moral issues that lawyers and judges are not especially competent to address.     Maybe, I thought, after ten or twenty years as a public defender, I might represent an innocent person who had been railroaded onto death row. But my first client? Give me a break. So the fact that Joe Spaziano said he was innocent carried no weight with me; if anything, it set off my skeptic's warning bells. Especially when the capital crime described by the prosecutor in the trial transcript was the harrowing rape, torture, and killing of a young woman by an Outlaw biker. If ever a case was a candidate for capital punishment, this seemed to be it.     When I first read the trial transcripts, Spaziano had been on death row for seven years. The legal papers in the case file were weathered and obviously well used, and the whole thing had about it the air of a period piece. Spaziano's case was tried in the seventies, and the crime took place in south Florida. Biker "gangs" were feared and hated by the police and condemned by the local newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel . In the mid-seventies the Sentinel brought the Florida Outlaws to national attention. In 1995, the Orlando Sentinel described the members of this motorcycle brotherhood:     Like ogres in a fairy tale they are part of a legend that reaches across decades to seed the sleep of innocents with nightmares.     These are grim brothers, all right: rugged, hairy men in black leather and chains, roaring across 1970's Florida on motorcycles.     The bikers nailed one woman to a tree. They chained another to a ceiling for an afternoon of rape and torture. They snatched teen-age girls from sidewalks, took them to dark clubhouses and raped them repeatedly.     Tales of motorcycle gangs were so potent in the 1970s that even today, 20 years after Outlaws member Joe Spaziano was sentenced to death for killing an Orlando woman, many people familiar with the case still are too terrified to talk about it publicly. At the time of Spaziano's arrest in 1975, he was a member of the local Outlaws club.     To hear the prosecutor tell it in the trial transcript, Spaziano's crimes were especially vile: the gang rape and mutilation of one young woman and the torture, rape, and murder of another. The murder was particularly grisly.     The jury in the murder trial had found Spaziano guilty, so they must have found the prosecutor's evidence at least somewhat persuasive. And the jury knew Joe was an Outlaw biker, because his club brothers showed up for every day of the trial, in their Outlaw regalia. Yet there was a puzzle: Why would a jury that had found Spaziano guilty of this brutal killing then recommend that he not be put to death for it? Part of the reason may lie in the fact that the jury didn't know about Spaziano's prior rape conviction. Still, Florida juries are not known for their mercy to bikers who slaughter young women. All strong opponents of capital punishment had been removed from the jury at the start of the case, so the jurors' imposition of a life sentence (which the judge overrode, imposing the death sentence) couldn't have been based on opposition to capital punishment. It was all quite odd. Joseph Spaziano was convicted of the rape of Vanessa Dale Croft and the murder of Laura Lynn Harberts in two separate trials. The long and tortuous history of Spaziano's murder case actually began in February 1974, with the rape of Vanessa Dale Croft. Although Spaziano was convicted of the two separate crimes, the rape case and the murder case were crucially related. Spaziano was targeted as Harberts's killer solely because the police assumed that he had attacked Croft.     Although related, the two crimes were not similar--but the two trials were. The prosecution's star witness against Spaziano in both trials was one Anthony Frank DiLisio. Further, Spaziano's 1975 rape conviction was the reason he was sentenced to death in 1976. Spaziano's 1976 sentencing jury convicted him of the first-degree murder of Harberts but shied away from a death sentence, based on Tony DiLisio's lack of credibility. However, the judge overrode the jury's life sentence decision and sentenced Spaziano to death because of Spaziano's 1975 conviction of the brutal rape and mutilation of Vanessa Dale Croft. The murder trial jury did not know about Spaziano's 1975 rape conviction or about Tony DiLisio's role as key witness in that trial, but the judge knew about both and used this information to justify sentencing Spaziano to death as a punishment for the 1976 murder. In 1975, Joseph Spaziano went on trial for the rape of Vanessa Dale Croft. In June 1975, I graduated from Wakefield High School. Despite rather mediocre grades, I managed to get myself admitted to Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as part of the college's affirmative action plan. (Mary Washington College had just gone coed and was admitting pretty much any person with a penis. I qualified.) While Joe Spaziano was riding Harley motorcycles, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen singing about cars, motorcycles, and outsiders on Born to Run . While I was adjusting to college in Virginia, "Crazy Joe" Spaziano was on trial in Florida for the rape and mutilation of Vanessa Dale Croft. The rape victim testified that on February 9, 1974, while she was walking on 38th Street in Orlando, she was approached by a man who emerged from some bushes and asked her if she knew anyone who would be interested in purchasing marijuana. The man called himself "Dennis" and was wearing jeans, no shirt, and a sleeveless jean jacket. Dennis had "long, black, skaggly [ sic ] hair" and a full beard and was slightly taller than Croft. He invited her to smoke marijuana with him and suggested that they go to his truck to smoke because it was so cold outside. Croft followed Dennis into a dark truck with a camper on the back. A second man, who called himself "Ronnie," also got into the truck. Croft became frightened and wanted to leave, but Dennis and Ronnie wouldn't let her. Croft testified that while Dennis drove the truck, Ronnie shoved her onto the floor of the truck's cab and forced her to perform oral sex on him at knifepoint.     Their destination was a small, white, wood frame house in the woods with lots of graffiti on the walls and a motorcycle in the kitchen, Croft said. She testified that at the house, Ronnie forced oral sex on her and then Dennis forced her to perform oral sex on him. Ronnie later took her to the bedroom, made her take off her clothes and beat and raped her.     Croft testified that eventually she was taken back to the truck, where she was pushed onto the floor and was again forced to perform oral sex on Ronnie while Dennis drove. After they had driven for approximately forty-five minutes, Dennis stopped the truck on a small dirt road. Croft testified that the two men then forced her to her hands and knees, and Dennis choked her with her belt until she lost consciousness.     When she regained consciousness, she was unable to open her eyes because they were covered with blood. Her eyelids had been slashed with a weapon as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel. Croft found her way to a road and flagged down a car; the driver dropped her off at the first house they came to, where she stumbled, half naked and bleeding, into the front yard. The woman who lived in the house called an ambulance and the police.     Croft's testimony was problematic. As a male writer, I find it particularly difficult to question the validity of her rape experience. I try to presume the truthfulness of all women's claims of rape. But in this case, although she was brutally slashed, I'm not at all certain Croft was raped. Furthermore, I am convinced that Joseph Spaziano had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack on Croft.     Crucial aspects of Croft's account have changed dramatically over time. Before her testimony, Croft gave at least four different versions of how Ronnie and Dennis first approached her, as well as conflicting descriptions of the men. Croft was confused about whether she voluntarily got into the truck or was forced in at knifepoint. At one point she said that one man had raped her in the house, and later she said that both men had raped her there. In one account she said that she had been choked in the house, but later she stated that she had been choked outside, in a weedy area. The medical doctor who examined Croft the morning following her assault found no evidence of rape and no evidence of recent sexual intercourse.     Although the name of "Ronnie" never varied in Croft's accounts, the other assailant's name changed from "Steve" to "Dennis." Finally, Croft identified Joe Spaziano as one of her attackers. She initially described "Dennis" as about twenty-four years old, with long, dark hair and a beard. Later she said that his hair was red. Croft's descriptions of "Dennis" did not come close to fitting Spaziano.     The Orlando police, skeptical about Croft's truthfulness, did something highly unusual for a rape case: they had Croft take a lie detector test. She flunked it. The police polygrapher concluded that "a careful review of the charts ... indicated deception. It is my opinion that [Croft] left willingly with two men to a house that she had visited previously. Sexual relations were indicated to be freely given and that she knows the men involved."     The Orlando police were certainly not protecting Joe Spaziano, or the Outlaws. In fact, Spaziano had been targeted as a suspect in the Croft case because the police assumed from the outset that the attack had occurred at the Orlando Outlaws' clubhouse (although Croft said that she didn't know where the assault took place) and therefore that the assailants were Outlaws.     Why the police made these early assumptions was never explained publicly, but it is not too difficult to understand. At this time, during the early to mid-1970s, Outlaw club members were all over central Florida and had been charged with everything from rape to prostitution and murder. Florida bikers terrorized innocent bystanders and warred among themselves. The day before the Croft attack, the Orlando Sentinel had reported a story about crimes attributed to a motorcycle brotherhood.     South Florida spawned biker brotherhoods like the Outlaws for the same reason California spawned the Hells Angels. As Hunter Thompson puts it in his 1966 classic Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs : "The California climate is perfect for bikers, as well as surfboards, convertibles, swimming pools and abulia. Most cyclists are harmless weekend types, no more dangerous than skiers or skin divers. But ever since the end of World War II the west coast has been plagued by gangs of wild men on motorcycles, roaming the highways in groups of ten to thirty and stopping whenever they get thirsty or road-cramped to suck up some beer and make some noise."     Thompson traces the origins of the California Hells Angels to the postwar culture of the late 1940s. Most ex-soldiers wanted peace and quiet and home and family and steady jobs in Levittown. But not all. "Like the drifters who rode west after Appomattox, there were thousands of veterans in 1945 who flatly rejected the idea of going back to their prewar pattern," Thompson writes. "They didn't want order, but privacy--and time to figure things out. It was a nervous, downhill feeling, a kind of Angst that always comes out of wars ... a compressed sense of time on the outer limits of fatalism." These World War II vets "wanted more action, and one way to find it was on a big motorcycle. By 1947 (California) was alive with bikes, nearly all of them powerful American-made irons from Harley-Davidson and Indian."     Two and a half decades later, and in the wake of another American war, the Outlaws and other clubs came to south Florida. But because this war was in Vietnam, and because this was a war that America lost, the postwar angst Thompson mentions was magnified in both intensity and depth. Like the World War II vets who founded the California Hells Angels in the 1940s, many of the original Florida Outlaws were combat vets. One Outlaw had trained Green Berets in long-range reconnaissance patrols. Another was up for the Medal of Honor, but his candidacy was squelched, someone who would know told me recently, "because they were afraid of what he'd say to the president, face-to-face."     At the time Vanessa Dale Croft was attacked, in February 1974, motorcycle brotherhoods--the Outlaws, the Warlocks, the Pagans--were all over central Florida and had been charged with everything from rape to prostitution and murder. Florida bikers terrorized innocent bystanders and warred among themselves. In 1975, the central Florida police were eager to solve what the press dubbed "the Garbage Dump Murders"--the bodies of five women had been found in and around a rural Altamonte Springs dump--and investigators were taking a hard look at the Outlaws as suspects. Given yet another violent crime to deal with, police assumptions regarding the Outlaws' clubhouse were understandable. Despite all the public pressure to solve the Croft case, however, it was never established that the assault happened at the clubhouse. No link with Spaziano was ever established.     As of this writing, it is not clear precisely who came up with the idea that the Croft attack might have occurred at the Outlaws' clubhouse. One intriguing possibility is a man named Hoover. Hoover was an undercover cop working out of the Outlaws' Orlando clubhouse, and he encountered Croft shortly after the attack--while her wounds were still fresh. Perhaps Hoover gave Croft the idea that the clubhouse had been the site of her assault, and Croft went along with Hoover's suggestion. We don't know for certain that Hoover planted that possibility in Croft's mind, but we do know that someone did.     In any event, in February 1974, shortly after the Croft incident was publicized, a woman named Keppie called the Orlando sheriff's office and claimed that she knew who had assaulted Croft. She said that an Outlaw had, indeed, raped Croft and that she, too, had been raped by that very same Outlaw. The Outlaw was Joe Spaziano, a former family friend. Based on what Keppie said, the police issued a warrant for Spaziano's arrest for the rape of Croft.     Days after the assault, police showed Croft a photo of Spaziano. She didn't recognize him. On May 13, 1974, the police conducted a lineup with Spaziano as man number two. Spaziano was twenty-nine years old at the time. Croft again failed to identify him. She didn't pick anyone out until a police officer told her the suspect was there. "She was scared," Croft's mother later recalled. "She didn't identify him, but then she went to church, she got saved, and she went back and identified him." The next day Croft told the police that her assailant had been in the lineup--he was man number two.     In a deposition taken by Spaziano's defense attorney, Edward Kirkland, three months after the lineup and before the trial, Croft admitted that, after she had failed to identify Spaziano in the lineup, Detective JoAnn Hardee, who supervised the lineup, "said something" to her about Spaziano's being number two. Kirkland questioned, "Isn't it true, Vanessa, that you did in fact discuss this matter after you failed to recognize him with Detective Hardee, and she, in fact told you the names of the persons in the lineup, more particularly, as Joe Spaziano was the one?" Croft replied, "She said that, yes."     But by the time of the trial, Croft was certain that Spaziano was one of her attackers. She admitted that she had seen him on television before. She testified that although Spaziano had changed his appearance, she still recognized him because of his eyes. "They are evil," she told the jury.     In light of Croft's uncertain accounts and identifications, the police officers investigating the rape case needed another witness to corroborate Croft's inculpating Spaziano. They came up with Anthony Frank DiLisio, the stepson of Keppie, the woman who had called the sheriff's office claiming she knew who had attacked Croft. DiLisio was the sole witness to corroborate Croft's testimony that Spaziano was one of her attackers. DiLisio testified that Spaziano was "bragging to me" that "he raped a young girl ... stabbed her and slashed her eyes."     Because of Croft's vague and conflicting descriptions, DiLisio's testimony was particularly powerful. In his rebuttal to the defense's closing argument, the prosecutor said of DiLisio's testimony: "He is the strongest reason in this case, outside the facts and the physical evidence and the emotional evidence that the victim has given. Tony DiLisio's testimony corroborates her story. I know it's a one-on-one situation, the victim versus the defendant, saying he did it, but we have a second person who can say he did it. That's very strong evidence."     There was no physical evidence linking either Joe Spaziano or the Outlaws' clubhouse to the attack on Croft--no fingerprints, no blood tests, no sperm tests, no hair match, no weapon. Detective Hardee came up with a knife for the prosecution to present to the rape jury, but it didn't belong to Spaziano. Hardee had borrowed it from a knife store at the local mall, because Spaziano supposedly owned a similar knife.     One of the pivotal issues in the rape trial concerned tattoos. Croft had told the police officer who questioned her the night of the attack that "Dennis" was wearing a sleeveless denim jacket and a T-shirt and that he had no tattoos or distinguishing marks. Spaziano's arms are colorfully tattooed with elaborate dragons, a parrot, and a drawing of "my Geisha girl"--his fiancée at the time of his arrest in 1974. Joe's tattoos are what I remember most clearly about his appearance when we first met in 1984.     At trial, Judge Peter deManio repeatedly instructed the jury not to consider the tattoo issue because the defense had not established that Spaziano had acquired the tattoos before the rape. Initially, the jury ignored the judge's instruction. The jurors began deliberating at 4:05 P.M., and after six hours, they requested to hear the tattoo testimony again. According to the trial transcript, a juror gasped when the clerk reread the testimony. The jurors resumed their deliberation, and then, moments later, the bailiff announced that they had reached a verdict. The judge refused to accept the verdict and reissued the instruction, this time in writing, that whether the defendant had any tattoos on his arms at the time of the alleged offense should not be considered in any way. The jurors trooped out silently and three minutes later, at 11:55 P.M., August 13, 1975, they found Spaziano guilty of rape. Judge deManio sentenced Spaziano to life imprisonment. He later described Spaziano as "the lowest form of human life. He is the scum of the earth."     Photographs of Spaziano establish that he had his tattoos more than two years before Croft's assault. He got his first tattoo when he was sixteen years old. His draft card noted his tattoos--so did his rap sheet. In the late 1980s, more than twelve years after his conviction, Spaziano's mother, Rose, gave me a photo of a twenty-six-year-old Spaziano lying on a carpet next to his baby daughter, Mary Noel. The tattoos on his left arm are clearly visible in the photo. All Spaziano's defense attorney had needed to do was obtain a photograph of Spaziano to demonstrate that the tattoos existed before February 9, 1974.     Orange County sheriff's deputy Herb Tillman remembers picking up Spaziano for the rape charge. Spaziano had run to Chicago because, Spaziano said, a friend had used his truck in a robbery and he knew the police would trace it to him. "For all the meanness in him, there was a strange side to him that you wouldn't have expected," Tillman said. "You would have expected a hard shell, for him to be a coldhearted individual, but I didn't see that."     Before the rape and murder charges, Spaziano had served time in prison for beating up a rival gang member. His rap sheet--which, as I've noted, mentioned his tattoos--listed numerous assaults and thefts. His ex-wife, Linda, said that although she wouldn't be surprised if Spaziano had committed many other crimes, she is certain that he would never rape anyone. "He treated women so well, and he always had women coming after him," she said. "Out of all the times we fought and he hit me, he even took a shot at me once, he never attacked me in a sexual way. Never." Linda said that the police interviewed her after they arrested Spaziano for the rape. "I told them there's no way he was a rapist," she said. "One of them said, 'We don't think he did it either but he damn well knows who did.' But Joe would never tell on a brother. He told me later when he was in prison he knew who did the rape. I said, 'Why don't you tell and save yourself?' He said, 'I'd be dead five minutes after I got out of the gates.'" (Continues...) Copyright © 2001 Michael Mello. All rights reserved.

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