NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A trial got underway Thursday in the death of a 26-year-old Connecticut man who authorities say was stabbed to death following a night of partying in Manhattan.

Joseph Comunale’s body was found buried in a shallow grave in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in November 2016.

James Rackover and two New Jersey men were charged in his death.

Dozens of Comunale’s family and friends packed the courtroom for opening statements Thursday. His father was the first to take the stand, who choked up when he was asked to describe his relationship with his late son.

Joseph Comunale

Joseph Comunale (Credit: Joseph Comunale)

Authorities said Comunale was last seen alive at a party at Rackover’s apartment on the East Side. He was stabbed 15 times, and his body was thrown from a window before being buried. Police said there was evidence his body had been doused with gasoline and set on fire.

Prosecutors painted Rackover as a savage murderer who, with help from an accomplice – Lawrence Dilione – beat, stabbed, mutilated, desecrated and discarded Comunale’s body. They said Rackover and Comunale were strangers who met through women at a club earlier in the night and returned to Rackover’s apartment, where they both drank large amounts of alcohol and consumed cocaine.

At some point, prosecutor’s said evidence will show that Rackover and Dilione started arguing with Comunale and began attacking him. After he was dead, they said the men tried to dismember him in a bathtub before tossing his remains out the window of Rackover’s high-rise apartment. They said Rackover and Dilione then drove the body to Oceanport, New Jersey, where they burned it and left it in a shallow grave.

Prosecutors said EZPass and license plate readers traced Rackover’s car heading to New Jersey the night Comunale went missing.

James Rackover and Lawrence Dilione in court on November 17, 2016. (credit: Sam Costanza/POOL)

Rackover’s attorney, however, said it wasn’t his client who committed the crime, telling jurors “there was no motive for the fatal assault.”

He said there was no animosity between Rackover and Comunale. Instead, he claimed Dilione was responsible for the murder. He said what led to Comunale’s death was a drug and alcohol fueled attack.

Rackover is charged with murder, hindering prosecution, tampering with physical evidence and concealment of a corpse in the case. The 25-year-old has a criminal history in Florida, including burglary and drug charges.

Comunale’s father, Patrick Comunale, also filed a lawsuit alleging Rackover’s surrogate father, Jeff Rackover, helped cover up the crime.


Leave a Reply