If your son or daughter had been wrongly convicted of murder, how far would you go to see that justice was done?
If you were willing to go as far as Doreen Giuliano did, you might have the making of a Lifetime or Oxygen Network TV movie. Believing that jury misconduct had led to the conviction of her son John Giuca, Ms. Giuliano determined to substantiate her suspicions – by going undercover.
It all began with the 2003 murder of Mark Fisher, a 19-year-old college student from Andover, N.J. Fisher had attended a late night party hosted by John Giuca in Brooklyn while his parents were out of town. The 20-year-old Giuca ran with an unsavory crowd of characters who called themselves the "Ghetto Mafia".
According to prosecutors, after Fisher had allegedly disrespected Giuca, the self-styled gang leader ordered a Ghetto Mafia member to "go show that guy what's up," and gave the shooter a handgun. Early that morning, police responding to a report of gunshots fired found Fisher dead; he had been shot five times and dumped on a sidewalk.
Over a year later, police finally arrested the alleged shooter. Within a few weeks, after witnesses linked him to the crime, John Giuca was arrested. In the 2006 trial that would follow, the jury deliberated for only two hours before convicting both Giuca and the gunman of second-degree murder.
Calling the killing "callous", the judge sentenced Giuca and the triggerman to a term of 25 years to life in prison. Giuca's 47-year-old mother, who had attended every day of the trial, was in shock at the verdict and sentencing.
That shock, however, soon gave way to a seemingly outlandish plan that Ms. Giuliano had formulated. Believing that juror mistakes had led to her son's conviction, Doreen Giuliano decided to ferret out proof of such misconduct by befriending one of the jurors and getting him to open up.
By the spring of 2007, Giuliano had given herself an extreme makeover: She joined a gym and lost weight, dyed her hair blonde, got a fake tan, and shopped for a sexy new wardrobe.
Next, Ms. Giuliano set her sights on one of the jurors, a single 33-year-old construction worker named Jason Allo. Giuliano tailed Allo for months, and went so far as to rent an apartment in Allo's neighborhood.
She adopted the persona of "Dee Quinn", and pretended to be a transplanted Californian; she even had fake business cards printed up with her new identity.
In the fall of 2007, Giuliano orchestrated a "chance" meeting with Mr. Allo on the street so she could give him her phone number. Upon noting a cat in his apartment window, Giuliano pretended to be a cat-lover when she met him.
Allo never once recognized the woman who had spent days sitting in the same courtroom observing the trial. Although both are quick to point out that the relationship never went beyond flirting, Giuliano began inviting Allo to "her place" and working to gain his confidence.
"She was offering me wine, offering to smoke weed," said the former juror.
Allo apparently loosened his tongue – and unbeknownst to him Doreen Giuliano's digital tape recorder rolled.
According to a transcript of one conversation, Allo confessed about his service on the jury something "I would never tell anybody else" – that he actually had inside information about the homicide.
Although he didn't admit it under oath when questioned during jury selection, Allo had hung out with some of the same crowd as Giuca and had heard various rumors about Fisher's slaying.
In addition, he confessed that contrary to orders from the judge, he had read newspaper accounts of the trial. Allo even boasted on one recording that he had been the first one during juror deliberations to vote for a conviction.
As he candidly admitted to the woman he never suspected was the defendant's mother, "I shouldn't have been in that jury."
Armed with these revelations, Doreen Giuliano went to her son's defense attorneys, and the recorded admissions became the basis for a motion to set aside the guilty verdict.
Giuca's lawyers argued that Allo's statements prove that he concealed personal knowledge of John Giuca and his clique, that he defied court orders to avoid news coverage of the highly publicized trial, and that this outside information had prejudiced him against Giuca, preventing the defendant from getting a fair trial.
Allo himself now has an attorney, and faces the prospect of explaining to the court about what he admitted to the undercover mother who was wearing a wire.
As for Giuliano herself, Ezra Glaser (one of Giuca's defense team) says "What she did was extraordinarily commendable. It shows the love of a mother and the great lengths she'll go to to help her child."
Giuliano says she was driven by her belief that her son had been framed and was being portrayed unfairly in the media. "My main concern was that John got a fair trial," she said.
Although there has been no ruling yet on the defense motion to set aside the verdict, the case of the "undercover mother" has already captivated the press and inspired an article in Vanity Fair magazine.
And there's already been talk of a movie deal, which may prompt a whole new audience to ponder the question "How far would I go to save my child?"
John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org