Bathtub death likely drowning, officials say

Julia P. Law
Julia P. Law
Posted: May 31, 2013

Julia Papazian Law probably drowned in a bathtub, perhaps after a seizure, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation.

The tentative finding may sweep aside some of the speculation surrounding the death of the 26-year-old paralegal, found facedown Saturday morning in the Center City apartment belonging to her boss, defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr.

No drugs or alcohol were found at the scene, the room was undisturbed, and the liquor closet was closed, the officials said. Nothing, they said, seemed out of place.

Investigators cannot be certain of the cause of death until they review toxicology reports, which are pending. But they said Law had been frothing at the mouth, which they said seemed to indicate a seizure.

Peruto told homicide investigators he was at the Shore for the weekend with friends. He said Law had sent him text messages late into the night Friday. When he learned of the death Saturday morning, Peruto raced back from the Shore, distraught, said Richard L. DeSipio, a friend and associate in his law firm.

Law, who would have turned 27 on Tuesday, attended Holy Spirit High School and was a graduate of Drexel University. She had worked in Peruto's firm for nearly two years.

A few months ago, on her Facebook page, she joked that she had decided not to become a lawyer, "because everyone would think I became a lawyer just because my last name is Law & then they'd really judge me."

One of her professors said he had assumed she was headed for a legal career and was certain she would have done well.

"I remember seeing her picking up her cap and gown," said Jack Maxwell, who remembered Law as a bright and focused student in several of his criminal-justice courses.

"If you started a sentence and asked a question, she'd be the first to answer," Maxwell said. "She was one of those students you remember."

An obituary in the Atlantic City Press described Law as a creative woman who "expressed herself through dance and cartooning - her drawings always captured her subjects with a unique humor and wit."

Law's family broke its silence Wednesday, saying that although the young woman had been going through a difficult time after a romantic breakup, she had been looking forward to celebrating Memorial Day weekend at home in Absecon, N.J.

Hoping to correct some of what he characterized as misinformation that has spread over the last few days, Law's stepfather, Joe Casella, said she had been upset because a long-term relationship was ending. "That relationship was not with Peruto," Casella said.

He said the family had asked Peruto, 58, who has said Law was his girlfriend, not to attend her funeral. DeSipio, Law's boss and someone who said he considered her a close friend, also was asked not to attend, Casella said.

"We just don't want them there," Casella said, declining to elaborate.

The funeral is set for Thursday afternoon at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Absecon.

After meeting with a priest Wednesday morning, the family released a statement.

"Our family is both shocked and saddened by the untimely passing of our beautiful, kindhearted, and intelligent Julia. The vacancy left by her loss is overwhelmingly heavy as we prepare to lay Julia to rest, and begin what we expect to be our never-ending journey of healing.

"As a significant long-term and loving relationship was ending these last few weeks, Julia was at a very vulnerable and emotional time in her young life. Despite this, she had expressed all week, including Friday night, that she was looking forward to spending the holiday weekend with us, where we were all planning to celebrate her 27th birthday."

The family declined to give details of the relationship that was ending.

"We especially want people to remember our daughter for who she really was - a hardworking recent college graduate who was a loving and gentle soul. We are particularly concerned about attempts to describe our Julia by people who claim to really know her. These ascribed quotations, as reported in the press, are both troubling and offensive to us.

"Our family is thankful for the many condolences and offers of love and support we have received these last few days. We ask now that we are granted both privacy and respect as we place Julia to rest and attempt to grieve as a family. Thank you."


Contact Melissa Dribben at 215 854 2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com or @dribbenonphilly

Inquirer staff writer Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman contributed to this article.

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