At 4:30 p.m. on July 28, 1986, 15-year-old Ramon Rivera and his friend, 17-year-old Pedro Molina, were attacked by a group of baseball bat-wielding youths. The attack occurred as Rivera and Molina walked through the Belmont-Arthur neighborhood, a predominantly Italian-American section of the Bronx in New York.
Molina’s skull and jaw were fractured and his arms were bitten. He was hospitalized. Rivera suffered a broken arm and bruises, and was released after treatment. At the hospital, Rivera told police that the attack began when someone in a group of youths threw a bottle that shattered on the street near him and Molina.
Rivera said he and Molina began to walk fast, but they were followed. He explained that he heard the sound of Molina being struck in the head with an aluminum baseball bat and turned around to see Molina on the ground, convulsing. He threw himself over Molina to try to protect him, and was struck several times in the arm with the bat. Rivera got up and another youth pushed him against a car two or three times and then a third youth bit him on the arm. The attackers then fled.
Over time, Rivera gave varying descriptions of the attackers, who came to be known as the batter, the pusher and the biter. In his first interview with police, Rivera said the batter was a 16 year old white male with blonde hair and green eyes who was about 5 feet 7 inches tall. He gave no description of the pusher, and said the biter was a white male with brown hair who was about 5 feet 11 inches tall.
Rivera claimed he recognized the biter from having seen him in the past in a Carvel store near the area of the attack.
That night, police went to the Carvel store where they saw 18-year-old Albert Giacoio. They took Giacoio into custody and Rivera identified him as the biter.
The following day, July 29, 1986, Rivera called police and said he recognized a blue Cadillac parked nearby the scene of the attack as the car in which the attackers fled after the beating. Police staked out the car and arrested 17-year-old Frank Pejcinovic and his 19-year-old brother Adam
as they entered the car.
Adam and Frank denied involvement in the crime. They were placed in live lineups in which they were the only white youths—the others in the lineup were Hispanic or black. Rivera identified Frank as the pusher and Adam as the batter. At the time, Frank was 17 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall, with green eyes and brown hair. Adam was 19 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, with brown eyes and black hair. Giacoio was 18 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall with blue eyes and blonde hair.
Rivera was subsequently interviewed by the FBI, and for the first time said the batter was shirtless and had a scar on his chest or shoulder. During the first interview, Rivera’s only description of the pusher was that he was 17 years old with brown hair.
Giacoio and the Pejcinovic brothers were charged with assaulting Rivera and Molina, as well as with criminal possession of a weapon.
Prior to trial, defense lawyers challenged the identifications by Rivera, arguing that Rivera had given inconsistent descriptions and the lineup was racially suggestive.
That motion was denied and the three defendants went on trial in December 1988 in Bronx County Supreme Court. Rivera identified the defendants as the attackers, although he could not recall the location of the scar until Adam Pejcinovic was ordered to take off his shirt for the jury. During Rivera’s testimony, he gave a different description of the batter than he gave during his interview with police immediately after the incident. On the stand he said the batter had curly, brown hair with swarthy “Puerto Rican” type skin. He said the pusher was five feet 10 or 5 feet 11, and had shoulder length hair and scars on his face.
During the trial, the defense learned of a police report that was not disclosed by the prosecution prior to the trial. The report contained a statement from a woman who lived in the community where the attack occurred. The woman said that the attack was carried out by a youth named John whose nickname was “Eggabomb.” Police had not investigated the tip.
Molina was unable to identify any of the defendants. A total 26 witnesses testified for the defense that Giacoio and the Pejcinovic brothers were not involved, and were elsewhere at the time of the attack. One of the defense witnesses told the jury that the crime had been committed by a man she knew as “Eggabomb” and that his real name was John Guiliani. The witness said that Guiliani had once been her boyfriend and that Guiliani had confessed to hitting Molina with a bat.
On December 17, 1988, the jury acquitted Giacoio and convicted Adam and Frank Pejcinovic of assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Frank Pejcinovic was taken into custody pending sentencing, but Adam Pejcinovic was allowed to remain free on bond.
Eleven days later, on December 28, Adam Pejcinovic and a friend located Guiliani and brought him to the residence of a Manhattan attorney named Neil Rosenberg at 2:30 a.m. While there Guiliani signed a statement admitting that he struck Molina with a bat. Guiliani promised to come to court and testify that he—not the brothers—was involved.
The defense made a motion for a new trial and requested a hearing to present the alleged confession, but the motion was denied when Guiliani failed to appear.
On February 7, 1989, on the eve of sentencing, Adam Pejcinovic was arrested along with a friend on charges of abducting 19-year-old Guiliani and beating him for 90 minutes before they took Guiliani to the 48th Precinct police station in the Bronx and demanded that police arrest him for the attack. Pejcinovic denied beating Guiliani and claimed that during a conversation with Guiliani that was secretly recorded, Guiliani admitted that he and his friends assaulted Rivera and Molina.
At the sentencing the next day, February 8, 1989, Rosenberg testified that on December 28, when Guiliani was brought to his residence, he “was not under duress” when he signed the statement.
The judge rejected the evidence and sentenced Frank Pejcinovic to one to three years in prison and Adam Pejcinovic to a 3-to-9 year prison term.
In June 1991, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed the convictions of Adam and Frank Pejcinovic. The Court ruled that there was no probable cause to arrest the brothers and that the trial judge should have held a hearing on the motion for a new trial based on the statement signed by Guiliani. The Court ruled that the brothers were not arrested because of any physical description given by Rivera, but “solely because they entered…the Cadillac.”
The Court also criticized the police and prosecution for “the incomprehensible failure…at any time to conduct even a cursory investigation into the possibility that there was some substance to John Eggabomb’s implication in the attack…and the fact that defendants’ conviction largely rested upon one person’s identification.”
In January 1993, following several days of hearings on the admissibility of Rivera’s identifications of Adam and Frank Pejcinovic, New York Supreme Court Judge Phylis Skloot Bamberger ruled that Rivera would not be allowed to testify in court to his identifications of the brothers.
On March 11, 1993, the prosecution dismissed the charges. Adam Pejcinovic was released in 1990, a year after he was sentenced. Frank Pejcinovic served 2 ½ years in prison before he was released. The brothers filed a claim with the New York Court of Claims seeking compensation, but the claim was dismissed.
– Maurice Possley