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Farmington Hills

June 29, 2013

Jury finds co-defendant in Cipriano trial guilty of murder

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

A jury found Mitchell Young, 21, guilty of all charges against him June 28 in the beating death of Robert Cipriano and assault with intent to murder Rose Cipriano and Sal Cipriano with a baseball bat.

Police and prosecutors say Young and Tucker Cipriano killed Robert, 52, and severely injured Rose, 51, and Salvatore, 18, inside the Cipriano home in Farmington Hills April 16, 2012.

Attorneys gave closing arguments the afternoon of June 27, and Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Shalina Kumar gave the jury instructions the morning of June 28. The verdict was delivered before 1:30 p.m. that same day.

The jury found Young guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, felony murder, two counts of assault with intent to murder and armed robbery. Tucker, 20, pleaded no contest to felony murder June 17.

Felony murder carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison.

After weighing evidence and seeing graphic photos of the victims for four days, the jury rejected attorney Michael McCarthy’s assertion that it was Tucker, filled with rage, who brutally beat his father to death with a baseball bat and then coerced Young to beat Tucker’s mother, Rose.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor John Skrzynski pointed out to the jury during closing arguments June 27 that DNA and blood spatter experts said Robert Cipriano’s DNA and impact blood spatter was found on the pants Young was wearing when he was arrested. Police apprehended Young in the Cipriano home after Tanner Cipriano, 18, called 911 while hiding in a closet. 

McCarthy said prosecutors were relying on statements of Ian Zinderman, who had immunity from prosecution for breaking and entering the Cipriano home the night of April 16, 2012, for the elements of the plan.

“Ian Zinderman is the only one who puts any evidence on the record saying the plan was to kill,” McCarthy said in his closing statement. “They go down to the local gas station to buy spice … and get high. My client is going to kill (Tucker’s) mother, father and little sister. Does this make any sense? Is it going to be OK for someone else to kill her, an 8-year-old he (Tucker) loves more than anything else?”

He said that unlike his twin brothers Tanner and Salvatore, Tucker was adopted. “Sal and Tanner are fine athletes and students. Tucker wasn’t an excellent student and has learning disabilities of some sort. He is not an athlete. I think there was some resentment there. He’s on the outside.  He’s got rage. Mitchell Young, he’s got no ax to grind.

“Being a thief, getting stuff he could carry out is a far cry from committing one murder and assault with intent to murder,” McCarthy said. “Tucker Cipriano, he’s got the bat. He hit his father. He’s got the rage. He hit Mitchell Young with a bat and knocked him down. He (Young) goes to the hospital to get treated. There is a lack of evidence of premeditated murder and assault with intent to murder. He wasn’t there to hurt anybody. He was there to steal something.” 

Key testimony
“Ian is telling the truth,” Skrzynski said. “His whole story is corroborated by other testimony and by physical evidence. Ian Zinderman is not afraid to commit home invasion. The reason they (Young and Tucker) go back is to execute a plan they’ve been talking about. He (Zinderman) doesn’t want to go with them because of what they plan to do.”

Skrzynski said that Tucker told Zinderman, who testified against Young in court June 20, that Tucker had violated his probation and wanted to go to Mexico or Tennessee rather than jail, but needed money. Tucker and Young planned to rob someone to get money and asked Zinderman to be the getaway driver, Skrzynski said.

The three drove from Keego Harbor, where they were staying with friends because they were homeless, in Young’s pickup truck to the Cipriano home in Farmington Hills twice in attempts to steal money, Skrzynski said.  Zinderman gave Tucker a boost up to a garage window both times and Tucker broke in and stole a debit card and Visa gift card from vehicles, according to Skrzynski. After the first time, the three drove to a gas station and tried to withdraw $100 on the card, but it didn’t work.

They were able to use the card inside the store to purchase gas and buy synthetic marijuana, which Zinderman said Young and Tucker smoked. 

They tried to use the card later that night, and it didn’t work, Skrzynski said. So Tucker and Young decide to rob someone else for money and decide to rob and kill the Ciprianos, Skrzynski said.

“Tucker loved his sister (Isabella, now age 9),” Skrzynski said. “When it becomes clear they have to kill her, the plans change. Tucker says, ‘let’s get more money.’”

The second time Tucker, again with help from Zinderman, stole a Visa gift card with only $2.65 left, Skrzynski said.

He said Tucker and Young decided to go back to the Cipriano home, but Zinderman objected.

Skrzynski said Zinderman told them, “If you want to f—k up your life, drop me off,” so they left him at the home in Keego Harbor.

Police had obtained text messages from Young’s phone to a teen girl who lived in the Keego Harbor house, which Skrzynski said corroborated Zinderman’s statement and testimony. 

Young and Tucker returned, and Tucker broke into the Cipriano garage and let Young in through a door, Skrzynski said. The Cipriano family dog barked, attacked Tucker, a light went on, and Robert confronted Tucker in the kitchen and told him to “get the f—k out.”

“Tucker was full of rage, but Mitchell Young was full of blood, Bob Cipriano’s blood,” Skrzynski said. “Mitchell Young beat Bob Cipriano to death, and he’s aiding and abetting on everything else.”

DNA expert Andrea Young testified June 26 that no DNA from Tucker was found on the handle of the hardball bat containing DNA from Robert Cipriano. She said Young’s DNA could not be excluded from the same handle. Rose’s DNA was also found on the same bat handle. Blood spatter expert Brigid Lockhart testified that impact blood spatter was found on Young’s pants, but not Tucker’s pants. She said the pattern indicated that he was very close to the blood source, within a foot.

“The spatter in the seam indicates he was standing over the blood source,” she said.

DNA from Young’s sweatshirt matched Rose’s and DNA from Young’s pants matched Robert Cipriano’s.

Skrzynski said the evidence indicated that Tucker held his father from behind while Young beat him, and suggested that Young suffered a dislocated jaw after Rose punched him and tried to grab the bat away from him.

“There was no DNA from anyone else on Mitchell’s face. He was not hit in the face with a bat,” Skrzynski said.

The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office released a statement from Ron Cipriano, on behalf of the Cipriano and Trahan families. Ron Cipriano stated, “We are glad the trial is over and that our family did not have to re-live the horrible experience by having to testify in it. We believe the legal process worked the way it should have with the facts of the case presented. The privacy and dignity of my brother’s family was respected and honored. No verdict could bring closure to this for our family; it is a part of our everyday reality. There is never closure in a situation like this. It merely closes this chapter and lets us focus everything we have on the continued healing of our family physically, mentally and emotionally.”

He said the family wants to thank Farmington Hills police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of Victim Services and the press for “respecting our privacy throughout this trial and the last 14 months as well as into the future. Our family has been through a horrible tragedy that we will live with for the rest of our lives. At the end of the day, Bob — our brother, father, neighbor, colleague, coach and friend — is still gone from our lives forever. His absence can never be replaced, and no trial will ever change that.”

In the statement, Prosecuting Attorney Jessica Cooper states, “Murder is not a private or family matter, it is a matter of public safety. The two convicted defendants have demonstrated with their utter contempt for human life that if they ever get out of prison there would be more victims. Today, they have been held accountable for what they did and they will never, ever, have the opportunity to be free.”

Young’s sentencing date is July 24. Tucker’s sentencing date is July 9.

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