The judge sentenced James Scandirito II in the dismemberment of his father. 15 years is the maximum penalty for abusing a human corpse, a second-degree felony. He was, however, acquitted of first-degree murder.
Scandirito II was charged with both murdering and dismembering his father, retired judge James Scandirito Sr. Scandirito claimed that his father died of natural causes and that, when he found the body, he panicked and chopped it into little pieces for easy disposal. He also claimed that he was high and drunk at the time and wasn’t sure what he should do. In his panic, he disposed of the body in a way that most of us would find disagreeable.
Is That a Likely Story?
Scandirito II’s story likely did not resonate with most jurors. However, the burden of proof in a criminal case is not which story is the most likely, but whether or not the state can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to establish that Scandirito Sr. was actually murdered, the prosecution would have needed to show that the judge’s death was unnatural.
Prosecutors did, however, establish motive. Scandirito II was broke, they said, and wanted his father’s money. This compelled him to murder the man and then dismember him. Scandirito II maintained that he found his father dead on the floor. Hence, the prosecution was not able to establish that Scandirito Sr. was actually murdered and Scandirito II was acquitted on murder charges.
Prosecutors asked jurors to convict the son on the basis of ‘if he did nothing wrong, then why did he try to hide what happened?’ In addition, they asked jurors to make a determination of guilt based on the fact that, instead of calling 911, Scandirito II dismembered his father’s body. Even though both of these things are true and hard to deny, there was no forensic evidence that the judge was murdered.
The judge, however, nailed him with the maximum possible sentence for the dismemberment. He was credited with just under a year and half of time served.
Picturing the Crime
In a case like this, jurors are asked to put themselves in the position of the defendant. Here you have a man who, upon discovering the body of a man who he had a familial relationship with, decided to use a hand saw to disarticulate him. Jurors are required to imagine standing over their own loved ones with hand saws and taking them apart.
Most people, one would hope, would find this act repugnant. In requesting leniency for the defendant, the defense attorney had a difficult time. She managed to characterize him as a man with a severe drug and alcohol problem who was out of his mind. Yet the dismemberment and disposal of a human body is a cold dispassionate act that requires a decision and a plan.
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