Friday, September 26, 2014

What The Jury Knows, And Doesn't Know, In the Galati Trial

Tiffany Galati
By George Anastasia

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday morning in the murder-for-hire trial of South Philadelphia auto body shop owner Ron Galati.

A jury of 10 women and two men will likely begin deliberations later in the day. Galati's future is in the balance. The 64-year-old wannabe wiseguy, who opted not to take the witness stand, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. A sentence near the top of the guideline would be tantamount to life.

If the jury convicts, Galati's daughter Tiffany, 31, will be the witness who sealed his fate.

If the jury acquits, or can't make a decision, Tiffany may also be the reason.

The tart-tongued South Philadelphia princess was one of the last witnesses called by the prosecution in the weeklong case. She spent nearly three hours on the stand, largely supporting the testimony of three other key witnesses who said Ron Galati had hired them to kill Andrew Tuono, Tiffany's then boyfriend.

Tuono, 35, was shot outside his Atlantic City home on Nov. 30 of last year. He survived the hit and also appeared as a witness.

But the consensus from those who have followed this case is that the verdict will revolve around whether the jury accepts Tiffany Galati's version of the family dynamic at play when Tuono was shot.

Ron Galati's lawyer, Anthony Voci Jr., has done a masterful job challenging the credibility of all the government witnesses. But he may have been most effective in raising questions about the motivation of Galati's daughter.

Voci is expected to revisit that issue one more time Monday morning when he and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson, the prosecutor in the case, offer their closing arguments to the jury.

That Tiffany Galati was estranged from her father was never in dispute. That "Drew" Tuono was shot three times by Ronald Walker with assistance from Alvin Matthews and Jerome Johnson also was a given.

Andrew Tuono
Why Tuono was shot is the question on which the outcome of the case hangs.

Richardson told the jury in his opening statement on Sept. 16 that this was a "simple case." And the evidence and testimony he put before the jury tried to keep it that way. Ron Galati, he said, was upset that his daughter was living with Tuono. He wanted her to break up with him and when she refused, he hired Walker and the others to have him killed.

Johnson, according to the government's theory, was the expeditor who set the hit in motion. Walker testified that Johnson drove him and Matthews to Atlantic City on the night of the shooting and provided the .25 caliber semi-automatic that he used to pump three bullets into Tuono. Walker also said that Galati promised to pay him $20,000 for the hit. Matthews was supposedly in line for a car.

But through a pointed and relentless cross-examination, Voci was able to punch some holes in the prosecution case. Most damaging was Tiffany Galati's admission that she had at one time solicited Johnson to harm another of her boyfriends, the father of her young son Jeffrey. From the witness stand she said she wanted her son's father beaten up, but not killed. 

The implication that Voci was trying to plant was that Tiffany had tried to use Johnson earlier and that the Tuono shooting may have been a second act in the same bloody play. The fact that Tiffany Galati drove away from the Tuono shooting without calling police and a comment from Walker that she appeared to know what was going to happen the night he shot Tuono further underscored the scenario Voci wants the jury to at least consider.

Reasonable doubt can lead to an acquittal or a hung jury. Either would be a victory for Galati.

Tiffany Galati's character was also laid bare through her testimony. Again, on cross examination, she admitted sending her brother and parents a text photo of a fetus in a toilet, the residue of a miscarriage she said she suffered as a result of the pressure and tension her father had put her under because she was living with Tuono.

The couple has since split.

Tiffany Galati testified that she suffered two miscarriages, both pregnancies with Tuono, during the tumultuous period when they were living together and while her father was allegedly plotting to end their relationship and Tuono's life.

Evidence and testimony has provided the jury with a look at a bloody and bitter South Philadelphia soap opera. Voci is apparently counting on the women on the jury to see Tiffany Galati for what he contends she is -- a spoiled, manipulative princess who always got her way. There is a theory in the less than scientific speculation surrounding jury selection that women, rather than men, are more likely to question the motives and credibility of a woman witness.

The Galati camp was clearly happy when the jury panel chosen to hear the case included 10 women.

But to buy into the defense story that  jury will have to ignore the heart of the government's case. The prosecution has not held any of its witness up as shining paragons of decency. Walker, Matthews and Johnson all have criminal records. Walker is an admitted drug dealer.

They are not upstanding citizens, but they are the kind of people you would seek out if you were planning a murder. That's part of the prosecution argument. 

The question that Richardson is expected to ask the jury is a simple one that goes to the core of what he has said is a simple case. Why would Walker, Johnson and Matthews all lie about Ron Galati's role in the murder plot? Once they decided to cooperate -- and Walker and Matthews did that a short time after they were arrested on the very night of the shooting -- why would they fabricate a story about who hired them?

If Tiffany Galati was behind the hit and Walker and Matthews were looking to cut a deal, why wouldn't they have given her up that night instead of her father?

That's what the jury will have to wrestle with.

What the panel doesn't know is that Ron Galati is awaiting trial in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia in a separate murder-for-hire case that also involves Johnson, Walker and Matthews. In that case, Galati is charged with targeting two rival auto body shop operators -- a father and son -- whom he correctly believed were cooperating in an insurance fraud investigation in which he had been targeted. (He and 30 others were subsequently indicted.)

The jury has not heard any of the details of the alleged Philadelphia murder plot, a plot that authorities say was set in motion on Galati's orders by Jerome Johnson, a plot that was to be carried out by Walker and Matthews. Sound familiar? The hit never took place because the rival body shop operators had closed their business before Walker and Matthews could make a move on them. But the conspiracy alleged in that case is almost identical to the plot laid out in the Tuono shooting.

Voci, in a move that changed the dynamic in the Tuono case, filed a pretrial motion to bar any mention of the other murder-for-hire case, arguing that it might unduly prejudice the jury. Judge Joseph Rodriguez agreed.

When the jury begins deliberations early next week its members know that Tiffany Galati once tried to solicit Johnson to harm a former boyfriend. What they don't know is that Ron Galati is charged with orchestrating a second murder-for-hire plot using the same group of conspirators who, Richardson says, played kill roles in the shooting of Tuono.  

George Anastasia can be reached at