By Christy Strawser
FARMINGTON HILLS (1270 Talk Radio) The attorney representing Tucker Cipriano, 19, charged with murdering his father and brutally attacking his mother and brother, said he may ask to move the case out of Oakland County.
Too many people are aware of the case in this region, and Cipriano and co-defendant Mitchell Young, 20, may not be able to get an impartial jury, defense attorney Mitchell Ribitwer told Charlie Langton on his 1270 Talk Radio morning show.
“Neither one of these guys is going to generate any sympathy with a jury, quite the contrary, although they’re innocent until proven guilty … When these guys walk in the courtroom, there may even be a presumption of guilt,” Ribitwer said.
“Part of the problem, too, with all due respect to the media, we may (request) a change of venue. There’s been so much media on this thing — Who hasn’t heard about this case? Any rational, intelligent person has heard of this case. … In the media, these guys are already convicted.
“Do we move it out of Oakland County? I’m not sure. They’ve got a real uphill battle in terms of defense.”
A packed courtroom was riveted to testimony Wednesday, with Ian Zinderman, a friend of Cipriano and Young who said he was in on the planning of the crime, but opted out before they carried it out, testifying the murder was planned for weeks ahead of time. Zinderman said Cipriano and Young planned to slay the family, divvying up who was going to kill whom, and deciding to dump the bodies in the Detroit River on their way to Mexico.
The goal was allegedly to break into the family’s safe to get cash for drugs.
The case may have sounded locked up tight during the first phase of the preliminary exam on Wednesday — but not so fast, Ribitwer said.
“This whole murder plot is really being brought by Zinderman and Zinderman has a lot to lose himself,” Ribitwer said. “He basically admitted he conspired to murder, he committed at least two home invasions and he was an accessory after the fact. His credibility may come up at trial.”
The initial phase of the preliminary examination was adjourned until June 8, when more testimony is expected. Some believe the two witnesses who emerged unscathed from the attack, Tanner Cipriano, 17, and Isabella Cipriano, 8, will have to testify against their brother. Tanner survived by hiding and dialing 911 when he heard the attack; Isabella rushed in with her own pink and purple baseball bat, but was unharmed.
Ribitwer believes Isabella Cipriano will not be called to testify, though he said Tanner Cipriano was supposed to testify in the first phase of the preliminary exam, but the prosecutor decided not to put him on the stand — yet.
“Isabella was severely traumatized by watching this,” Ribitwer said, adding about any potential cross-examination: “It’s delicate.”
Tucker Cipriano, who remained impassive in court, furiously took notes at various points in the first day of testimony. What was he writing?
“Basically he was sending messages to me as it related to Zinderman’s testimony, which contradicted some of the things Zinderman had to say, and also filled in a couple holes,” Ribitwer said. “He was trying to assist with potential cross-examination. Some of the stuff (is useless) … Out of everything he sent to me, there’s maybe one tidbit.”
Watching Tucker Cipriano sit in court with a steely gaze, many wonder what’s going on in his head. Ribitwer said not all is as it appears for the young man. Ribitwer described him as “nervous and scared.”
“I’ve been able to communicate with him, the problem becomes when we start discussing the situation as it relates to his father, mother, brother, especially his younger sister Isabella, he totally breaks down, he cries, he’s emotional, it takes him a few minutes to compose himself,” Ribitwer said.
“He’s destroyed, he’s withdrawn. He’s realizing now this whole event should not have occurred … This K-2, if he was geeked up and whacked out on K-2, he may not have had all his faculties that night.”
Langton asked about gruesome photos of the attack from the first day of testimony, noting they were shown only to the judge, not people in the courtroom.
“The photos are devastating … Many, many family members and close friends of the family were there in the courtroom … It would’ve been very difficult, it would’ve created a lot of hurt, pain. Those pictures, I can only say this: They’re horrible. I’ve been doing this a long time, they’re some of the worst photos I’ve seen.”
Have Cipriano or Young seen the pictures? “Not yet,” Ribitwer said. “I haven’t done that … Eventually I’m going to do that. If he wants to see them, I’ll show them to him, but he’s not ready for them yet.”
Defending Cipriano, Ribitwer said he has a history of mental health issues, and was so high on drugs the night of the crime, he thinks he was hallucinating, and doesn’t remember much.
“There is a documented history of Tucker having some difficulty in school as a result of some mental health issues and once we complete this preliminary examination we’re going to evaluate whether we want to send him to the forensic center for psychiatry to have him evaluated,” Ribitwer said, adding, “I do have some evidence that in school … he was given special classes.”
He added: “This young man was, at least the information I have, he was hallucinating and he was having some issues in respect to having a clear mind and a clear head. Some of the things that occurred, he might not even remember. He might be suffering some post traumatic stress issues himself as a result of this particular incident.”
Notably, Ribitwer said Young and Cipriano are blaming each other for masterminding the attack and carrying it out.
“Young is accusing Tucker and Tucker is accusing Mitch Young, it’s going back and forth. They’ve got the fingers pointed at each other,” the attorney said.
But Ribitwer said Cipriano, who’s under 24-hour surveillance in a Plexiglass cell in the Oakland County Jail, is already a changed man from the night of the attack.
“He’s a different kid than when I first saw him (a couple of days after the incident),” Ribitwer said. “He was a young man that, it was difficult for me to speak to him. He seemed to be pretty wound up, excited and emotional. I don’t know if was under the effects of long-term drug abuse or what his problem was but he’s a different young man.
“When he speaks about his family, when his family comes up, he breaks down, he cries, he loses his composure, he is a different young man than he was a few weeks ago.”