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Aaron Galli

Other Utah Exonerations
In the early morning hours of May 17, 1992, 29-year-old Merritt Riordan was shot to death in the Green Parrot Café in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the aspiring actor worked as a cook.

The club was closed and two bartenders told police they were cleaning up when they heard a gunshot downstairs. Two men rushed up the stairs, one pointed a gun at the bartenders and both fled out a rear door. The bartenders found Riordan already dead on the floor of the basement with a gunshot wound to the chest.

In June 1992, police charged two brothers, 22-year-old Aaron Galli and 23-year-old Adam Galli, as well as their cousins—Christopher, 17, and Nathan Galli, 19—with a series of armed robberies in Salt Lake City. The four were believed responsible for perhaps as many as 20 armed robberies across the city. Police dubbed them the “Preppie Bandits” for their manner of dress, clean-cut appearances, and habit of hanging out in trendy coffee shops.

Aaron and Nathan were arrested on June 11 on aggravated armed robbery charges. Christopher, who was a juvenile but charged as an adult, was arrested two weeks later. Adam was arrested in July 1992 in Seattle in a coffee house. All four were released on bail.

In November, Adam failed to appear in court on the robbery charges and police determined that he had fled Salt Lake City. Days later, police charged Aaron and Adam with Riordan’s murder. Police said Adam, who was charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, and aggravated armed robbery, was the gunman. Aaron was charged with first-degree felony murder and aggravated armed robbery.

At the time Aaron went to trial in March 1993, Adam was still a fugitive. The linchpin of the prosecution’s case was the testimony of Christopher Galli, who had agreed to plead guilty to robbery charges in return for a sentence of probation.

Christopher told the jury that Adam suggested that they rob the Green Parrot Café, a club where Adam’s father’s former girlfriend had once worked. Christopher said that initially none of them liked the idea, but eventually Aaron agreed to accompany his brother. Christopher said both were armed when he dropped them off at the club where they hid in a storage room until after the club closed for the night.

Christopher testified that Aaron and Adam later told him that while they were in the room, Riordan unwittingly opened the door. Adam was struck in the head and knocked to the floor. Christopher said Aaron tackled Riordan and they struggled. Riordan escaped and headed for a stairway, but Aaron grabbed him. Riordan, yelling for help, threw Aaron off again and turned toward the stairway. There, according to Christopher, Adam drew a pistol and shot Riordan.

Defense attorneys for Aaron accused Christopher of falsely implicating Aaron to avoid being charged with the crime himself and to be able to get probation for the robbery charges he faced.

Police said ballistics linked a gun recovered from Aaron’s apartment to the shooting. The defense contended that the Galli brothers and their cousins all owned guns, but that Adam’s girlfriend refused to allow him to keep guns in their residence, so Adam kept his guns at Aaron’s apartment.

Bergitta Groth testified that she had formerly worked at the Green Parrot Café and at one time dated Adam's father. She said that sometime prior to the murder, Adam asked her how the receipts were handled each day. She testified that she told Adam the money was taken to a basement storage room and put in a safe where it was kept until the bank opened the next morning.

Groth testified that a few days after Riordan was shot, she asked Aaron if he had done it. She said he denied involvement.

On April 2, 1993, the jury convicted Aaron of first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to two terms of five years to life in prison to be served consecutively.

Not long after, Christopher wrote a letter to a friend saying that he had falsely implicated Aaron. Defense lawyers for Aaron filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial. At a hearing on the motion, Christopher claimed that the recantation was false. He said he recanted because he was trying to get back in the good graces of his family.

However, the defense called a witness who testified that he was in a coffee house after the murder and heard Christopher say, “I can’t believe I got away with it.”

In September 1993, Third District Judge Michael Murphy, the judge who conducted the trial and the hearing on the motion for new trial, vacated Aaron’s convictions. The judge ruled that Christopher’s testimony, which was “unquestionably the centerpiece” of the prosecution’s case against Aaron, was “severely challenged and contradictory.” The judge also said that the remaining evidence presented by the prosecution against Aaron was “weak, ambiguous and inconclusive.”

In December 1993, the prosecution dismissed the charges. Aaron remained in prison after pleading guilty to armed robbery charges. He was paroled in 1996.

Adam was captured in Northfield, Minnesota, in July 1995 after a viewer who saw the case featured in an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” tipped off the FBI. Adam pled guilty to several robberies and was sentenced to prison. He was paroled in 2002. He was not prosecuted for the murder in the Green Parrot Café.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/10/2014
State:Utah
County:Salt Lake
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:1993
Sentence:10 to life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No