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June 12, 2013

Judge allows some photos in Cipriano murder case

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

A judge said she would allow some, but not all, victim, autopsy and crime scene photos in cases where Mitchell Young, 21, and Tucker Cipriano, 20, stand charged with killing Cipriano’s father, Robert, and assault with intent to murder Rose and Salvatore Cipriano, Tucker’s mother and brother.

Police and prosecutors said the two men killed Robert, and severely injured Rose and Salvatore, 18, inside the Cipriano home April 16, 2012. Police said during the preliminary exam that the attack involved baseball bats. Testimony during the preliminary exam indicated that Tucker had broken into the family home, where he was no longer living, twice earlier that evening to get money.

Tucker’s attorney, Mitchell Ribitwer, and Young’s attorney, Michael J. McCarthy, sought motions from Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Shalina Kumar to exclude “certain graphic” photos, saying they were unfairly prejudicial. Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor John Skrzynski planned to use the photos as evidence in the trials for Tucker and Young, scheduled to start June 10.

McCarthy, speaking to both cases June 6, said that witness testimony would suffice.

“The photos proposed in full color are going to be inflammatory,” McCarthy said.

“The graphic nature of the autopsy photographs of Mr. Cipriano … are of his head. I’m not objecting to other parts of his body that are depicted. I think these injuries can be described by the medical examiner without those coming before the jury.”

Skrzynski said all of the photos should be admissible and that they depict “the extent, location and nature of all these injuries to all the victims and demonstrate the defendants’ intent to kill” and would collaborate the expected testimony of witnesses.

“The photos of the blood-covered bodies … either defendant could plainly see the carnage that was occurring at this house,” Skrzynski said. He said the condition of the bodies shown in the photos demonstrates “awareness both of these people had of the severity of harm being inflicted.”

Skrzynski said the photos also demonstrate that both defendants “had the ability to take a second look at their intent to kill and proceeded anyway. The photos also demonstrate that either defendant is the principal actor or aider and abettor,” he added.

“When you see someone beating somebody’s head in with a baseball bat to the extent that they did, you know what that person’s intent is,” Skrzynski said. “This is what these guys did. Any prejudice that arises from that is the result of the results of their intentional, premeditated, brutal acts. It’s what they did; it’s what I’m proving.”

“The key element here is identification of who is the actor. … It all goes to identity of the person who is the actor. … None of these photographs is going to establish that,” McCarthy said.

“I think it would be highly naive of me to suggest the medical examiner is going to say the manner of death is not homicide. Based on what he observed on those photographs, identification is an issue,” he said.

“I just don’t want to have inflammatory, full-color photographs shown to the jury. That would make the defendants guilty by association, when what the people have to prove is the identity of the person who is the actor.”

“I rely on Mr. McCarthy,” Ribitwer said in conclusion.

“Because these defendants have pled not guilty to all the charges, it puts all of the elements of the crimes charged at issue, and the prosecutor has the burden to prove each and every element,” Kumar said. “Because intent to murder is one of the elements of the crime, I think at least some of these photographs are admissible and I will admit them because I think the probative nature outweighs prejudicial effect.”

“I’m going to allow some of them, but not all of them,” she said.

Kumar said she would make her final determination of which photographs to admit as evidence when jury selection for Tucker Cipriano started on June 10, but that she was not going to allow one photo of Robert Cipriano because it was “unfairly prejudicial and very gruesome and covered by other photos” that she was allowing into evidence.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.