Kentucky DPA approached me as a post-trial issue. Mr.
Vettraino, a man of 1st generation Italian descent, from Detroit, Michigan, had been in Bowling Green, KY, seeking work as an electrician. He was convicted and sentenced to life WPOP, for the execution style murder of the trophy wife of a very prominent local building contractor/developer.
The record showed that the Prosecution’s case was mostly emotion and puffery; none of which was challenged by the defense attorney. It appeared that, when change of venue was denied, the defense attorney felt defeated and simply stumbled through the process.
A hearing for a new trial had already been held before the trial judge, and I was summoned for a second hearing. My prehearing work with the post-conviction appeals attorney at the DPA, Mr. Brian T. Ruff, gave him the “ammunition” to zero in on discovery. Lo and behold, there had been a shotgun and a second handgun (a revolver in .38 Special caliber) at the shooting incident scene. Both firearms were owned by the developer; and both firearms were concealed by a friendly law enforcement officer, and his supervisor, who were the first to arrive on the scene.
At the second hearing, the Prosecutor bitterly attacked me in every manner possible, but he also showed his ignorance about firearms issues. With Mr. Ruff’s adroit questioning, I was able to get the key defense points in the record. First, more than one gun had been fired during the incident, thereby lending credence to the defendant’s claim that a gun had been pointed at him and he panicked, wildly returning fire. Second, there had not been a coup de grace shot fired as the deceased lay on the floor. The Judge began to soften as the hearing went on. The hearing ended with decision pending.
The case went back and forth over some 18 months, complicated by politics (elected judges and prosecutors) and other issues. The final was that Mr. Vettraino was transferred, for humanitarian reasons, to a prison in Michigan. He was immediately placed on probation, plus credit for time already served. Not a slam dunk, but at least Mr. Vettraino was free and able to re-build something of his life.