NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — For nearly four years, construction supervisor Salvatore DePaola and two co-workers, have been accused of responsibility for the deaths of two firefighters in the Deutsche Bank fire at ground zero.
But on Tuesday a jury acquitted DePaola of all charges.
“I haven’t slept in four years,” DePaola said after the verdict.
“There are people who didn’t do their jobs and they should have been up here,” he said, pointing a finger at the fire department.
His attorney then spoke on his behalf to CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez.
“He’s relieved. He’s ecstatic and he’s mostly happy at the fact that he believes the jurors were able to see it the way he saw it all along and he’s very happy about that,” Rick Pasacreta said.
WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell Reports From Manhattan Criminal Court
When fire broke out at the former Deutsche Bank building in August 2007, firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, were trapped inside and died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. One hundred other firefighters were also hurt.
Prosecutors alleged supervisors DePaola, Jeffrey Melofchick and Mitchel Alvo knew about a crucial water standpipe that was damaged in the bank building during the 9/11 attacks, but did nothing to fix it, leaving the fire crews helpless.
“They did the thing that killed those firefighters,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann told jurors in a closing argument. “The evidence … woven together, paints a mosaic of overwhelming guilt — that but for these wholly reckless acts, these firefighters would be alive today.”
But defense lawyers said the men didn’t recognize the pipe’s importance, and the disaster was a product of a web of shortsighted regulating and hazards beyond their control.
“This was a horrible, perfect storm of bad circumstance,” defense lawyer Edward J.M. Little said in a closing argument. The two firefighters, he said, “died horrible deaths, but it wasn’t because of anything the defendants did.”
CBS 2’s Sanchez spoke to Firefighter Graffagnino’s wife on Tuesday, but she had no comment about the verdict. She did say she and her husband’s family have not been following the trial and have been focusing on healing and moving forward with their lives.
The same jury is still deliberating the fate of Melofchick. The judge will render a verdict for the third defendant and the construction company they worked for. DePaola’s attorney said his client is looking forward to getting back to work.
“He should never have been involved in this case. There was a tragedy that two firemen died, a horrible tragedy, but Sal was not responsible for the tragedy. The facts and the law were on his side. We were confident about that,” Pasacreta said.
Jury deliberations for Melofchick continue Wednesday morning.
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