Edic trial opens; inmate says he witnessed deadly 2010 prison assault
Arguments in the second-degree murder trial against William Edic began yesterday, with a former fellow inmate at the Concord state prison saying he witnessed the alleged gang member repeatedly stomp another convict’s head into the pavement of their second-floor living pod, blood spraying “everywhere.”
The testimony came a day after jurors toured the multistory unit where the inmates lived July 26, 2010, the day Anthony “Tony” Renzzulla was found lying near a pay phone outside that pod, his eyes open and blank, his head and torso irreversibly battered.
Edic, 32, one of two inmates accused of executing the attack, has been charged with accomplice to reckless second-degree murder and falsifying evidence. Prosecutors say he and fellow white supremacist gang member Thomas Milton lured Renzzulla into the pod during lunchtime and then jumped him as retribution for snitching on two members of their gang, the Brotherhood of White Warriors.
Renzzulla, a frail 42-year-old inmate who walked with a cane at the time due to chronic back pain, died of his injuries nearly 16 months later.
Assistant Attorney General John McCormack said Milton punched Renzzulla from behind as he limped into the unmonitored pod, knocking him unconscious. Edic then rushed over and the two began kicking and stomping on Renzzulla, slamming his head into the concrete floor “over and over and over,” McCormack told jurors, staring intently at Edic, who was seated nearby in a trim blue shirt and tie.
“The defendant made sure that Tony would never wake up again,” McCormack said. “He repeatedly kicked at and stomped on Tony’s head with work boots into the hard concrete you all felt yesterday, while yelling that Tony was a rat.”
Defense attorneys, however, insisted yesterday that prosecutors lack any shred of physical evidence linking Edic to the crime. Their entire case, said Jeremy Clemans, a public defender, rests on the claims of a handful of convicted felons, men who had everything to gain by pinning the crime on Edic and Milton.
Clemans told jurors that four inmates in particular, all tenants of the same prison unit as Edic, Milton and Renzzulla, met immediately in the wake of the incident and fabricated the story now before jurors.
“Slowly with time, their individual stories began to grow,” Clemans said. “Fed by the receipt of benefits, in the form of better, less restrictive housing, a change in status that allowed them to serve their respective sentences at home, help with allegations that they had violated prison rules, and even help gaining early release – parole – even though some of them had not even completed the required counseling.”
One of those alleged inmates, Michael Mendoza, told jurors yesterday that he was present before, during and after the assault. Speaking matter-of-factly, eyes lowered, Mendoza said he watched from his cell as Milton sat on a bunk bed near the entrance to the pod, waiting for Renzzulla to enter. When he did, Milton approached him from behind and “sucker punched him.” Renzzulla crumpled to the ground, possibly striking his head on a tabletop on the descent. Edic then ran over and joined in the ensuing assault, he said.
Prosecutors claim the attack was ordered by a senior BOWW member named Frank “Franky” Philbrook. McCormack said Philbrook and other gang leaders believed that Renzzulla, who was part of the group, had disclosed information to prison officials about two of its members.
Mendoza said Philbrook was present for some of the assault, watching briefly from the entrance to the pod and then walking off. Edic and Milton soon ran off, too, but Edic returned a few minutes later with another gang member named Randall Chapman, and the two began moving Renzzulla’s limp body toward the door and mopping up his blood, Mendoza said.
Milton returned briefly, Mendoza noted, but ran off again, leaving Edic to drag the body to the pay phone by himself.
The trial, in Merrimack County Superior Court, is expected to last three more days, and it’s unclear whether prosecutors will call Chapman as a witness. He was paroled in 2012 after agreeing to testify in the case, but was arrested earlier this year in Maine after allegedly kidnapping and holding a man up at knifepoint.
Chapman has pleaded guilty to his cleanup role in the attack, and his account could be key for prosecutors. But Clemans told jurors Chapman only agreed to testify after he assaulted another inmate and was promised early release by prosecutors.
“Only when he was in trouble did Chapman germinate his own story,” Clemans said. “All Randall Chapman had to do,” he added, “was tell the story that the state wanted to hear.”
Mendoza also received something for his comments, at least at first: He was released to home confinement six months after talking with investigators. He was later re-incarcerated on a drug charge and said he wasn’t promised anything related to that if he took the stand yesterday.
McCormack, though, said fellow inmates were afraid of coming forward, and he asked jurors to hear them out, to “look beyond their criminal records.” Their remarks are especially important, he said, because Edic and others had destroyed any physical evidence after the attack.
Corrections officers also testified yesterday that the pod where the assault allegedly occurred was not monitored by camera in 2010. A camera outside the pod was not directed toward the area of the pay phone, and did not record Renzzulla’s body being moved. Officers only learned of the attack after an unidentified woman called and tipped them off.
Joseph Laramie, the first officer to respond to the scene, said yesterday that he found Renzzulla lying flat on his back, his face badly bruised and left hip and shoulder covered in blood. He was wheezing uncontrollably, Laramie said, a common symptom of such injuries.
“His eyes were open but not focused,” Laramie said. “He wasn’t aware of anything.”
More than a year later, after months in a hospital bed on life support, he was dead.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)