Victim's godfather seethes

Paul Spadafora and Mary Pasquale
Paul Spadafora and Mary Pasquale

Rips Gloucester County D.A.'s office in Autumn Pasquale's death

Posted: January 22, 2013

THERE WERE so many children dead, a tragedy too painful for almost anyone to bear - and yet Paul Spadafora drove 170 miles into the heart of it.

It was grief that propelled Spadafora to Newtown, Conn., he told the Daily News this week, and grief has consumed him since a chilly night in October, when his goddaughter, Autumn Pasquale, was found dead in a recycling bin in Clayton, Gloucester County. During the search for 12-year-old Autumn, Spadafora emerged as the public spokesman for the family, urging everyone to offer up a prayer or get out and look for her. Later, when he collapsed in a chair after Pasquale's body was found, Spadafora became a public symbol of his family's pain.

It's not clear if Spadafora speaks for the family anymore, but he remains a public figure in the case, and is angry about almost every aspect of the search and investigation.

"My family asked me to be a spokesman and I did, and this is what they got," he said. "I'm not going away."

Though two teenage boys from Clayton were charged with murder, Spadafora focused much of his ire against one man, Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton. Spadafora believes Dalton mishandled everything from the fliers he produced, to the direction and scope of the search, to the degree of charges filed against the suspects, Justin Robinson, 15, and Dante Robinson, 17.

He's written letters to Gov. Chris Christie and state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa asking for official investigations. Spadafora's also penned letters to local newspapers asking that Dalton not be reappointed.

Some have accused him of misdirecting his grief with "fire and pitchfork" tactics, but he remains unapologetic.

"If he were a gentleman, he would resign," Spadafora said of Dalton.

According to a police report, Spadafora called 9-1-1 on Oct. 26 to report an emergency with his son at Washington Township High School. Once police arrived at the school, however, Spadafora allegedly told an officer he was Autumn Pasquale's godfather and "that the only way to make Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton realize he made a mistake in the investigation was to act irrationally."

Spadafora, 48, was hospitalized afterward and not charged. He says he gets regular grief counseling and is out of work on disability because of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many students in the Clayton school district might be feeling the effects of PTSD as well, he said.

Last month, Spadafora drove to Newtown after 27 people died in the Sandy Hook school shooting so he could help others in that community grieve.

"I suffer from grief," he said. "I'm not embarrassed of it."

One of Spadafora's goals, he said, is to get more funding for grief counseling in the wake of tragedies.

"Clayton is doing the best it can with limited resources," he said.

Spadafora is also petitioning the borough of Clayton to replace its recycling containers, because he believes the large blue bins will forever remind its residents of the tragedy.

"It's like having a casket at your curb," Spadafora said.

Spadafora's nephew, Anthony Pasquale, hired attorney Doug Long to speak for his side of the family, and he had no comment. An attorney representing Pasquale's mother and stepfather said his clients have not expressed any anger at law enforcement.

"From everything I've seen, this investigation has met our expectations," attorney Jaime Kaigh said.

A spokesman for the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office said the office remains focused on the prosecution of the Robinson brothers, not Spadafora.

"It was 63 hours from the time Autumn was first reported missing to the locating of her body by GCPO personnel to the charging of the persons responsible for her murder," spokesman Bernie Weisenfeld said. "All indications are this crime occurred hours before police were even notified of her disappearance."

Spadafora seethes at the notion that Autumn was dead before his nephew even called the police.

"You have to assume life, not death," he said. "That's a faulty premise."

A detention hearing for the juvenile suspects is scheduled for Tuesday, although it is open to the media. The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office is seeking to charge the teens as adults.

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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