By George Anastasia
It was murder-for hire, both the prosecution and defense agreed.
The question was who did the hiring?
That's the issue a federal jury began wrestling with this afternoon in the trial of South Philadelphia auto body shop owner Ron Galati who is charged with hiring three hitmen to kill his estranged daughter's boyfriend.
After hearing closing arguments from the prosecution and defense, the jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for about a hour before recessing at 4:30 p.m. They will return tomorrow at 9:30 to continue.
The prosecution contends that Galati, 64, a wannabe mobster, ordered the shooting of Andrew Tuono last November. Galati's lawyer, Anthony Voci Jr., has presented an alternative, contending that Tiffany Galati, the defendant's 31-year-old daughter, was behind the hit.
"We agree," Voci said in one of the highlights of his impassioned, 90-minute closing, that Tuono was shot on Nov. 30 of last year as he and Tiffany Galati walked out of their home on Carson Avenue in Atlantic City.
Voci said the defense also agreed that Ronald Walker carried out the shooting and that Alvin Matthews and Jerome Johnson were part of the conspiracy.
"We agree to that," Voci said. "We might also agree that a Galati ordered it."
Then the defense attorney paused, before adding. "The question is which Galati?"
As he has throughout the trial, Voci pointed a finger at Tiffany Galati, contending that she set the shooting in motion and then when it went bad -- Tuono survived and Walker and Matthews were quickly arrested -- she and the others conspired to blame her father.
Less impassioned, but just as focused, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson urged the jury to reject the "grand conspiracy" theory presented by the defense. Instead, he asked the panel to use common sense and logic, honing in on the basics of what he has argued repeatedly as a "simple case."
Walker, Matthews and Johnson, who was a 20-year friend of Ron Galati's, all have testified that Galati wanted Tuono dead, the prosecutor said. They all said that Galati ordered the hit. Walker and Matthews gave Galati up within minutes of their arrests which occurred shortly after Tuono was shot at 6:48 p.m. on Nov. 30.
Johnson, who was originally indicted with Galati, became a cooperating witness in July, admitting his role in the alleged plot.
Richardson said that while Tiffany Galati knew Johnson, she did not know Walker or Matthews. To accept the defense version of the story, he said, the jury would have to believe that the conspiracy included a fall back position to which everyone agreed.
"How could she have convinced them to implicate her father?" Richardson asked. Then he sarcastically suggested that while they were plotting the murder she would have said something like, "And, oh, by the way, if you get caught, blame it on my father."
As outlandish as that sounds, that was part of Voci's theory.
During his cross-examination of witnesses, including Tiffany Galati, and in his closing argument, the defense lawyer portrayed Tiffany as devious, deceitful and murderous.
"I have no idea what that woman is about, but she frightens me," said Voci, a former Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia who has prosecuted dozens of high profile murder cases.
Ron Galati sat quietly at the defense table as Voci ripped into his daughter. The courtroom was packed with friends and family members of the defendant, including Vicky Galati, Ron Galati's wife and Tiffany's mother.
Tuono sat on the other side of the courtroom with several law enforcement investigators.
Voci argued that there was no physical evidence tying his client to the shooting and that the entire case was build on the "say so" of less than credible witnesses whose motivation was suspect. He described Walker, Matthews and Johnson as "three crumbs with criminal records" and said all three lied on the witness stand.
He referred to Tuono as a drug dealer and drug user who twisted the facts to fit the image he tried to present to the jury when he took the stand. Among other things, Voci asked the jury to remember Tuono testifying about how he had tried to mend the breach between Tiffany Galati and her mother. Tuono said he had made a call to Vicky Galati as a "peace offering" after Ron Galati was arrested.
Voci had played part of a phone message Tuono left in which he called Vicky Galati "a fuckin' piece of shit." That, the defense attorney said, was hardly a peace offering "in any language."
But the defense attorney was most pointed in his depiction of Tiffany Galati, sarcastically referring to her as "mother of the year" while talking about the fact that another former boyfriend has custody of their six-year-old son. He also highlighted the fact that Tiffany Galati had once solicited Johnson to assault that boyfriend. And he reminded the jury again that Tiffany Galati had sent her brother and parents a photo of a fetus in a toilet after she suffered a miscarriage.
The baby, she said, was Tuono's and the miscarriage was the result of the tension and pressure her father had put her under because she was living with Tuono.
"She blames her father for everything," Voci said.
Richardson told the jury that Ron Galati was a possessive and authoritarian father who sometimes called his daughter twelve times a day. He said Galati believed Tuono had taken his daughter away from the family.
Ron Galati wanted Tuono dead, the prosecutor said and pointed to the testimony of several witnesses who backed up that allegation.
"This is a simple case," he told the jury again. "Ron Galati wanted Andrew Tuono dead and he sent them (Walker, Johnson and Matthews) to Atlantic City to do it."
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.