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A Massachusetts man who has spent decades in prison for the gruesome 1979 killing of his great aunt asked Friday for a new trial, claiming DNA evidence exonerates him.
Lawyers for 62-year-old Gary Cifizzari, of Taunton, filed a motion in Worcester Superior Court, saying new DNA tests show that their client and his late brother, Michael Cifizzari, were wrongly convicted in the killing of 75-year-old Milford resident Concetta Schiappa.
"For the last 35 years, he has been confined to a prison cell, without family, without friends for a crime he didn't commit," said Radha Natarajan, executive director of the New England Innocence Project, after the nonprofit organization, which is helping represent Cifizzari, filed the motion in court.
Schiappa was found dead by a neighbor on her living room floor on the morning of Sept. 29, 1979.
Authorities said Schiappa died of multiple blunt force injuries and hemorrhaging after her jaw was broken, and she was sexually assaulted with a mop handle, according to a state Supreme Judicial Court decision affirming the 1984 murder conviction.
But Cifizzari's team of lawyers said the original case depended on expert testimony comparing bite marks on the victim's body with those of the brothers'.
They argue in their filing that the forensic science community has since deemed use of bite mark evidence as unreliable and that one of the prosecution's bite mark experts has even recanted his trial testimony.
The lawyers also note that Gary Cifizzari didn't become a suspect in the killing until his older brother, who the lawyers say suffered from chronic schizophrenia and intellectual disabilities, made a false confession to police years later in which he also implicated his brother. Michael Cifizzari died in prison.
Cifizzari's lawyers say the DNA tests, which were conducted on semen and saliva found on the victim's nightgown, indicate a now deceased Rhode Island man who had been the original suspect in the case was the true killer.
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early's office said in a statement released Friday afternoon that it is "reviewing the motions" filed by Cifizzari's lawyers, and the office has been "working collaboratively with the defense counsel since they requested new DNA testing this case."
The statement added:
"We’re in the process of reviewing the motion, evidence and additional testing that has been, and can be, performed with modern science. We want to make sure we get this right. We’re committed to justice and we will continue to work with defense counsel to ensure justice is done.”
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