S. Phila. Teen Acquitted In Slaying Of Abusive Brother

Posted: May 10, 1986

After an emotional two-week trial, a 16-year-old South Philadelphia boy was found not guilty yesterday of murdering his 19-year-old brother, who was described in testimony as a drug addict who for years had been vicious and abusive toward members of his family.

The jury deliberated about eight hours before acquitting Michael Lombardo of the shooting death of his brother Francis in March 1985.

Barbara Lombardo, their mother, shrieked when the verdict was read and sobbed and hugged Michael. "This has been a living hell," she said. "I want to thank the jury for understanding and seeing the truth."

The youth was convicted of possessing an instrument of crime, a misdemeanor.

During the trial, defense attorney John Scott suggested that Michael Lombardo killed his brother, whom everyone called Frankie, in the tragic conclusion of a classic case of abuse. Defense witnesses - the boys' mother, grandmother and aunt, neighbors and others - described Frankie as a violent, vicious man addicted to methamphetamine. They said he was fascinated with guns, had been in trouble with the law and had terrorized and beaten his younger brother for years.

Michael, a slight teenager, testified that Frankie once put him against a basement wall and fired shots around him, as if he were a target. Another time, Michael said, Frankie took him hunting in the mountains and then hunted him with a bow and arrow.

Most of the incidents took place when their mother was away at her job as a waitress, Michael said. Their father died three years ago after a long illness. Michael testified that Frankie had beaten his father when his father lay sick on the couch.

Assistant District Attorney Carolyn Short said in her closing argument: ''We're not trying to paint Frankie as a good guy. . . . But who is to say this boy has the right to kill his brother because he wanted to get him out of the house or because he beat him up earlier?"

She told the jury that the defense's case came down to "Frankie was terrible; Michael was good." According to testimony, Michael had never been in serious trouble. But Michael's previous conduct was not important, she told the jurors. The "meat," Short said, was "what happened that night."

According to the attorneys' summation of trial testimony in their closing arguments Wednesday, this is what happened in the Lombardo house, in the 2500 block of South Reese Street, on the night of March 30, 1985:

Michael and a friend were listening to music and dancing with two girls when Frankie, who had been back in Philadelphia for two weeks after living for about a year in California, came in with a girlfriend, Michelle Salpizio. An autopsy later showed that Frankie had alcohol and amphetamines in his bloodstream.

Within a short time, Frankie had wrestled his younger brother to the floor and had begun kicking him in front of his friends. Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how the fight started.

After three people pulled Frankie off his brother, Michael left to walk to his friend's home. He left and returned twice, then left again. Frankie's friend Reed "Pete" Haglock, who came to the house after the brothers had scuffled, testified that he warned Michael to stay away because Frankie had a gun.

The third time he came back, Michael shot Frankie with a gun he had taken

from a friend's house.

"So what must have been going through this kid's mind?" defense attorney Scott asked the jury. "It's midnight. It's raining. It's cold. Mom's at work. Where's he going to go? A year has gone by, and now the violence is coming back, worse than ever."

Salpizio testified that Michael came in with the gun behind his back. He was crying and said to his brother, "You killed my father. You hurt my mother. You hurt me. You hurt my heart." Salpizio said that Frankie got up and moved toward Michael with his arms outstretched, saying, "I'm sorry." Michael took several steps backward and fired two shots. One went through his brother's heart.

Scott argued that the killing was self-defense - that based on his age, the history of abuse and his understanding that Frankie had a gun - Michael had a ''reasonable belief" that his life was in danger. Scott pleaded, in tears, for the jury's compassion.

Short asked the jurors to look dispassionately at the facts. Frankie had his hands out; it was Michael who had a gun. And he fired twice.

Michael has been free on bail and living at home since the shooting. Barbara Lombardo said that her son did not remember the shooting until he began seeing a psychiatrist and that he now remembers only parts of that night. She said that she and Michael have been going to the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, and that "we hope to start living a normal life."

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