The body of Vincent James “Jimmy the Hammer” Massaro was discovered in the trunk of his own car on November 28, 1973, in Monroe County, New York. This apparent mafia hit on Massaro was determined to have taken place several days prior to the discovery of his body. Six established members of the Rochester Mafia known as “Cosa Nostra” – Eugene DeFrancesco, Salvatore “Sammy G” Gingello, Richard Marino, Thomas Marotta, Rene Piccarreto and Samuel “Red” Russotti – were convicted of Massaro’s murder. Eugene DeFrancesco was said to have been the gunman who shot and killed Massaro. Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Raymond E. Cornelius prosecuted all six men in 1976.
The convictions of these men were based on testimony from Cosa Nostra informant Angelo Monachino, who was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, as well as on corroborating testimony from Investigator William P. Marks and Detective John Kennerson, both members of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Marks testified that beginning November 5, 1973, he had been assigned to stake out a house at 45 Longview Terrace. He also stated that on November 23, 1973, he and Kennerson had seen eight men enter that house, five of whom he knew by name: Eugene DeFrancesco, Salvatore Gingello, Samuel Russotti, Rene Piccarreto, and Angelo Monachino. This corroborated Angelo Monachino’s statements that members of Cosa Nostra had met on at 45 Longview Terrace on November 23, 1973 to plan the killing of Massaro.
However, on January 24, 1978, Marks admitted to the FBI that all of his testimony related to the murder of Massaro had been false. He stated that another unnamed member of the sheriff’s department had asked him to provide false testimony before the grand jury, and later at trial, because the sheriff’s department was having trouble corroborating Angelo Monachino’s claims. Under applicable state law, the testimony of a co-defendant on its own was not considered sufficient evidence for a conviction, so Monachino’s testimony alone would not have been enough to obtain convictions.
Marks said that this initial false testimony then led to him and others, presumably including Kennerson, to create false surveillance logs to back up his testimony. Marks said that others in the department instructed him as to what he should write in the false logs, and that they were conscious to use papers and pens that were from prior to the date of the crime. When he provided this admission regarding his perjury and falsification of evidence, Marks resigned from his position with the sheriff’s department and pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation. Asked why he had decided to admit the truth, Marks said “I couldn’t live with it, it’s that simple.”
On January 31, 1978, the convictions of all six defendants were vacated.
In February 1980, former detective John Kennerson pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted his involvement in the falsification of evidence against Piccarreto and his co-defendants. Kennerson then testified in a federal conspiracy trial against Monroe County Assistant District Attorneys Raymond E. Cornelius and Patrick J. Brophy, former Monroe County Sheriff’s Department Chief of Detectives William C. Mahoney, and former Monroe County Sheriff’s Department Detective Joseph Robortella. Following this trial, Kennerson entered the federal witness protection program.
Several years later, Piccarreto was convicted on racketeering charges. He served nearly 24 years in prison before being released in 2007. In 2014, he died at the age of 89.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.