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State v. Lepore

Superior Court of Rhode Island

August 2, 2017


         Kent County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: John E. Sullivan, III, Esq. John Perrotta, Esq.

          For Defendant: Joseph J. Voccola, Esq. Robert Watt, Esq.


          STERN, J.

         Christian Lepore (Defendant) has been indicted by the Statewide Grand Jury with (1) the murder of John O'Neil (Mr. O'Neil) in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1; (2) assault and battery upon Officer Steven Melidossian (Officer Melidossian) in violation of § 11-5-3; (3) assault and battery upon Officer Samuel Maldonado (Officer Maldonado) in violation of § 11-5-3; (4) assault and battery upon Trooper Justin Andreozzi (Trooper Andreozzi) in violation of § 11-5-3; (5) assault and battery upon Trooper Daniel Gazzola (Trooper Gazzola) in violation of § 11-5-3; and (6) willfully beating, kicking, and striking a dog owned by the Rhode Island State Police, to wit, K-9 Riggs (the K-9 or Riggs), in violation of G.L. 1956 § 4-1-30.

         Defendant waived his right to a jury trial in accordance with Super. R. Crim. P. 23(a). See G.L. 1956 § 12-17-3. Over the course of four days, the State of Rhode Island (the State), during its case in chief, presented fourteen witnesses, including three lay witnesses, six police officers, four firefighters, and one expert witness in the field of toxicology. Further, approximately sixty-six exhibits were admitted into evidence as full exhibits. Defendant called one witness during his case in chief, Dr. Ronald M. Stewart (Dr. Stewart), an expert witness in the field of forensic psychiatry. The State, during its rebuttal case, called one witness, Dr. Martin Kelly (Dr. Kelly), an expert witness in the field of forensic psychiatry. Following closing arguments, the Court reserved its decision.


         The Evidence

         This Court is required in accordance with Rule 23(c) of the Rhode Island Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure to make specific findings of facts based upon the relevant evidence at trial. Except where specifically indicated in this Decision that certain evidence is not being considered, this Court finds the witnesses that testified during the State's case in chief credible. This Court makes the following findings of fact.


         Whispering Pines Employees


         Observations before May 28, 2016

         Stephen Lane (Mr. Lane) is a senior cook at the Whispering Pines Conference Center on the University of Rhode Island's (URI) W. Alton Jones Campus (Whispering Pines Conference Center or Whispering Pines) and has been employed at Whispering Pines for the past nineteen years. Four years before the incident, Defendant was hired to work as a cook's helper at the same facility. Mr. Lane acted as Defendant's supervisor. Mr. Lane stated Defendant's hours were 12:00 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. and described Defendant as an "easygoing guy, " claiming that the pair got along very well for the most part.

         Joseph Diprete (Mr. Diprete) is a cook at the Whispering Pines Conference Center and has been employed there for eight years. Mr. Diprete worked with Defendant for five years and testified that although Defendant "wasn't the hardest worker, " he always got along with Defendant. Mr. Diprete also expressed the sentiment that Defendant was easygoing. Further, Mr. Diprete testified that Defendant had always acted professionally at work, and he was not aware of any problems or arguments that Defendant had with other employees prior to May 28, 2016.

         William Murphy (Mr. Murphy) is the Evening and Weekend Manager at the Whispering Pines Conference Center. Mr. Murphy has worked at the campus for ten years and has worked alongside Defendant for approximately six years. Mr. Murphy described Defendant as being about 6'1" and weighing about 350 pounds. Moreover, he described Defendant's work habits as "adequate" and had not observed any confrontations involving Defendant prior to May 28, 2016.


         Whispering Pines Employees' Observations on May 28, 2016


         Mr. Lane Asks Defendant to Leave

         On May 28, 2016, Mr. Diprete arrived to work at 12:00 P.M., while Mr. Lane, Mr. Murphy, and Defendant arrived at the Whispering Pines Conference Center at 2:00 P.M. Mr. Lane noticed Defendant had bloodshot eyes, appeared unkempt, was slurring his words, and "just wasn't acting right." Mr. Lane requested that Defendant go home. Although Defendant agreed, he continued to work for approximately fifteen minutes before leaving the kitchen. However, Defendant returned to the kitchen shortly afterwards, acting confused and upset. Mr. Lane said "it seemed like he did not want to leave." Defendant was observed talking to himself while pacing around the kitchen "mumbling" about aliens and extra-terrestrial life on Earth. Mr. Lane then asked Defendant to retrieve some bread from another room, and it took Defendant quite a while to complete the task. Mr. Lane stated Defendant repeated the phrase, "they are here, the government knows about it and they are covering it up." Mr. Lane testified that he had discussed the possibility of alien life at work before with Defendant, but that it usually "involved physics" and not the "gibberish" that Defendant repeated that day.

         Mr. Diprete did not initially pay attention to Defendant, as Mr. Diprete was busy preparing for a wedding that the kitchen was catering that day. However, he eventually noticed that Defendant was acting "out of character" and appeared agitated. When Defendant was again asked to go home, Mr. Diprete became aware that something was not quite right with Defendant. Mr. Diprete could also hear Defendant mumbling that "something is coming" over and over to himself, but Defendant did not indicate what.

         Around the same time, Mr. Murphy arrived at Whispering Pines and proceeded straight to his office. At approximately 2:30 P.M., Mr. Murphy went down to the main kitchen. Mr. Murphy also noticed that there was something wrong with Defendant, who appeared to be in an "intoxicated state." Defendant's eyes were "glassy, " and "he kept making inappropriate movements with his clothing, " such as pulling up his shirt. Defendant also was not wearing his hat or apron, which is part of his job requirements. Mr. Murphy explained that this was uncharacteristic of Defendant.

         After Mr. Lane's failed attempts to get Defendant to leave, Mr. Murphy became involved. Mr. Murphy walked outside into the parking lot area with Defendant and asked him to leave and go home for the day. Mr. Murphy threatened to call the police if Defendant did not comply; Defendant looked "enraged at that point." After the conversation, Defendant followed Mr. Murphy back into the kitchen, and, finally, Mr. Murphy convinced Defendant to leave.


         The Physical Altercation at Whispering Pines

         Approximately fifteen minutes after Defendant left the premises, Mr. Diprete went outside on his lunch break. Mr. Diprete testified that he sat in his air-conditioned car because it was a very hot day. While Mr. Diprete was sitting in his car, he witnessed Defendant return to the parking lot driving his Mazda 6 series. Defendant pulled in and angled in front of Mr. Diprete's car to talk to him. Defendant did not make sense during the conversation, making statements such as "something's coming"; when asked what was coming, Defendant responded, "I can't tell you." Mr. Diprete noticed Defendant was holding a beer during this conversation.

         Joe Lippe (Mr. Lippe), a co-worker at Whispering Pines, walked out to the parking lot shortly after the conversation between Mr. Diprete and Defendant ended. Mr. Lippe walked over to his car, got in, and began changing his shirt for the wedding that was taking place later that day. At that point, completely unprovoked, Defendant walked over to Mr. Lippe, pulled Mr. Lippe out of his car, wrestled him to the ground, and placed him in a headlock. Mr. Diprete heard the scuffle, exited his car, and jumped on top of Defendant, trying to pull Defendant's arm away from Mr. Lippe's neck. According to Mr. Diprete, Mr. Lippe appeared "reddish-purple." Defendant eventually let go, got up and said a few words to Mr. Lippe, then left in his Mazda 6 series. According to Mr. Diprete, after the assault, Defendant "almost seemed normal for a second."

         Sometime later, Mr. Lippe and Mr. Diprete went into the kitchen and reported that Defendant had assaulted Mr. Lippe. Mr. Murphy immediately called the URI Police. URI Police instructed Mr. Murphy to call the West Greenwich Police Department because they were closer to the scene; however, Mr. Murphy requested that the URI Police dispatch the West Greenwich Police Department instead. Mr. Murphy testified that when the West Greenwich Police and the State Police arrived at Whispering Pines, he told the State Police that he believed Defendant was on drugs or some form of illegal substance because Defendant's erratic behavior was very uncharacteristic.


         West Greenwich Police Dispatched to Whispering Pines

         On May 28, 2016, Officer Maldonado was dispatched to an altercation at Whispering Pines Conference Center. Officer Maldonado has been a patrol officer for the West Greenwich Police Department for six years. He was an officer in the Warwick Police Department for twenty-one years prior to joining the West Greenwich Police Department, and has twenty-one years of military experience.

         On the way to Whispering Pines, Officer Maldonado passed an abandoned vehicle with the doors open at the intersection of Francis Horn Drive and Wheatley Road. Officer Maldonado stopped, observed a six-pack of beer and a cell phone in the car, and then continued driving to Whispering Pines. Officer Maldonado later discovered this abandoned vehicle belonged to Defendant.

         At Whispering Pines, Mr. Murphy greeted Officer Maldonado and introduced Officer Maldonado to Mr. Lippe, the victim of the alleged assault. Mr. Lippe told Officer Maldonado that Defendant started hitting him unprovoked. Officer Maldonado was given a description of Defendant, and Officer Maldonado asked Mr. Lippe if he wanted to press charges. Because Mr. Lippe did not want to press charges against Defendant, Officer Maldonado left Whispering Pines.


         Homicide and the Physical Altercation with Police


         9-1-1 Call Placed by Mr. O'Neil

         At approximately 4:12 P.M. on May 28, 2016, Mr. O'Neil placed a call to 9-1-1. A recording of the 9-1-1 call was played for the Court and lasted approximately ten minutes. During the call, Mr. O'Neil reported an individual on his property acting "very strangely, threatening [Mr. O'Neil]." Mr. O'Neil gave a description of the individual that matched the description of Defendant. Defendant then approached Mr. O'Neil. Defendant could be heard swearing and yelling as Mr. O'Neil screamed "ahh" and "help me." West Greenwich Police dispatched officers to the scene, and the dispatcher asked Mr. O'Neil if he could get away from Defendant; ...

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