Attorney In Burlco Murder Case Concedes His Client Killed Girl, 15

Posted: October 12, 1988

The attorney for an Atco man charged with rape and murder surprised a crowded Burlington County Superior Court room yesterday by conceeding that his client killed the 15-year-old victim.

Defense attorney John L. Call Jr. admitted in his opening statement to the jury that Mark Luciana, 20, of Raritan Avenue, killed Renay C. Colligan in the woods in Evesham on June 27, 1987.

"There's no question that he's responsible for her death," Call said.

Call, however, told the jury that the evidence would show that Luciana did not rape Colligan and did not mean to kill her.

Luciana is charged with murder, murder during the commission of a felony, aggravated manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault and related charges. If convicted of murder, he could receive the death penalty.

If the jury agrees with Call's contention, Luciana would be found guilty of aggravated manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

In his opening statement, Call declined to explain exactly what his defense would be, but he said he would argue that Colligan had agreed to have sex with Luciana. Call said that Luciana would testify in the trial, which is being heard by Superior Court Judge Cornelius P. Sullivan.

Assistant Prosecutor James A. Ronca painted a different picture of Luciana. In his opening statement, Ronca said Luciana had beaten Colligan, raped her and then choked her to death.

The prosecutor said that Colligan, who resided on East Taunton Avenue in Berlin Township, met Luciana at a party in Atco on June 26, 1987. Luciana was at the party with a 17-year-old friend from Atco. The friend, who had dated Colligan, invited her and her 12-year-old cousin, also of Atco, to the party, Ronca said.

Luciana made advances to Colligan at the party, the prosecutor said. Ronca said that Luciana then proposed that the four get in a car owned by Tony Miriello, then 17, of Atco, and go to a wooded area in Evesham Township to continue the party. Miriello accompanied the group to the woods, but Luciana drove the car, Ronca said.

"He (Luciana) made sure she had plenty of beer to drink," said Ronca. ''He was in the mood for sex."

Luciana was seen kissing Colligan before the two walked off into the woods together, the prosecutor said.

There, Ronca said, "he beat her about the head, ripped her clothes off, and forcibly had sexual relations with her. Then he choked her to death."

Luciana returned about 90 minutes later and appeared nervous, the prosecutor said. Luciana told one of the youths that he had had sex with Colligan and that she then had gone into the woods to relieve herself and had not come back, Ronca said.

He led two of the youths on a search for Colligan and then told the youths that he had to leave, Ronca said. Ronca said that Luciana dropped two of the youths off at their homes, returned and picked up the body, and then drove away, accompanied by Miriello. Miriello had been drinking heavily that night and never woke up when Luciana returned to the woods to get Colligan's body, Ronca said.

Luciana and Miriello were forced to sleep in the car in the parking lot of a motel in Cherry Hill because the car stalled and could not be restarted, Ronca said.

When Miriello woke that morning, Luciana told him that Colligan's body was in the trunk, Ronca said.

Miriello called police after he had returned home that morning and told them about Colligan, the prosecutor said. A few hours later, police recovered the body in the trunk of the car, which was still in the motel's parking lot.

A key element of the prosecution's case is expected to be the testimony of Edward Yajcaji, a cellmate of Luciana's. Yajcaji will testify that he heard the defendant confess to the slaying, Ronca said.

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