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Calabrese family braces for another trial in son's slaying

In their Long Beach home Chris, Kathy, Bob,

In their Long Beach home Chris, Kathy, Bob, and Gina Calabrese show the stress of the murder of their beloved son/brother Bobby and four trials of the defendant without a final conviction. Kathy holds a picture of her son Bobby Calabrese. The fifth trial of the defendant starts in January. (December 7, 2009) Credit: Michael E. Ach

For Robert Calabrese, the worst part of sitting through the murder trials of his son's accused killers - and he's done it four times - is when the prosecutor plays the surveillance video of Bobby Calabrese driving down a street in Island Park, unknowingly headed to his own execution.

"Seeing my son drive down that block, wanting to scream to him, 'Stop!' That's the most frustrating thing for me," said Robert Calabrese softly as he sat on the sofa in the family's Long Beach living room.

When Herve Jeannot's next trial on first-degree murder charges in Bobby Calabrese's December 2004 shooting begins, the father and other family members may know the case better than the prosecutors who try it. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Jan. 20.

It is very rare for a person to be tried multiple times on the same charges, lawyers and experts said. "Trying a case even a second time is rare," said Stephen Antignani, one of two prosecutors on Jeannot's case.

The repeat trials are likely to lead to several unique circumstances for lawyers in the case, experts said.

On the one hand, it makes lawyers' jobs harder, because witnesses' memories can dim over time, and lawyers are shackled to any theory that they or their predecessors used at a previous trial. On the other hand, multiple trials make it harder for one side to surprise the other, either with evidence or strategy, lawyers and legal experts said.

Jeannot, 30, of Deer Park, the man authorities say shot Bobby Calabrese, has been tried three times: In a highly unusual repeat occurrence, the first two trials ended in hung juries. The third time, Jeannot was convicted, but the conviction was overturned by a state appellate court. The other man accused in Bobby Calabrese's killing - Mark Orlando, 39, of Bay Shore - was convicted of second-degree murder in 2005 after one trial and is serving a 25-years-to-life sentence.

Bracing for trial again

Robert Calabrese, his wife, Kathy, and two of their grown children, Gina and Chris, now are steeling themselves - again - to sit through the gruesome evidence in Bobby's death.

"It's like gearing up for battle," the father said. "We want closure, and we can't get closure until this guy gets put away."

Jeannot's lawyer, William Petrillo of Rockville Centre, says there is one very good reason for the results of the prior trials: Jeannot is innocent.

"It is difficult to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt when the man on trial did not commit the crime," Petrillo said.

Prosecutors say Bobby Calabrese, 24, was working as a bet runner, collecting money from gamblers, when he arranged to meet Orlando and Jeannot to collect $17,000 that Orlando owed Calabrese's boss.

But the pair had their own plans, prosecutors say. Jeannot accepted $4,000 from Orlando to carry out the killing, and on Dec. 3, 2004, he shot Calabrese three times in the head on Broadway, a small side street in Island Park, prosecutors say.

Initially, the pair told police that they paid Calabrese the money and that he was alive the last time they saw him.

Petrillo, however, said Jeannot, a former Marine with a history of arrests for petty theft and fraud, was an innocent bystander when Orlando drew a gun and shot Calabrese. He said Jeannot kept his mouth shut afterward because Orlando had threatened to hurt Jeannot's family.

Jeannot, who signed a written confession to the crime, has testified that he was manipulated and coerced into doing so by detectives, and that he also was afraid of Orlando.

Antignani pointed out that his office convicted Jeannot at his last trial in 2006, with the jury deliberating for a couple of hours. That verdict was overturned because Jeannot's previous defense lawyers submitted to the jury a statement that Orlando had made to police - a move unfair to the defendant because it leaves him unable to confront his accuser in court.

Unswayed by technicality

The Calabrese family, who spoke to jurors after the guilty verdict in Jeannot's third trial, said Orlando's statement did not play a part in the panel's decision to convict.

"Just because an appellate court decided to give a convicted cold-blooded killer a break on a technical legal matter does not change the overwhelming evidence of his guilt," said Chris Calabrese, 26, Bobby's younger brother.

Bobby Calabrese's parents and two of his three siblings sat through each day of each trial - Orlando's and all three of Jeannot's - with tired eyes and thinly veiled rage hidden beneath their calm exteriors. The stress and time commitment of attending the trials has taken an emotional and financial toll.

The Calabreses say they always have been a close family, pointing out the dining nook that was the center of their home life before Bobby's death froze it in time, turning it into a shrine to their former happiness. Now, the nook is not used for meals or gatherings, and holds only flower arrangements.

Bobby was a warm and loving son and brother who got mixed up in the illegal betting business for a total of six weeks, they said. But they say he had a strong moral compass, and was to take the police exam, which was given the day after he died.

When the guilty verdict was read at Jeannot's last trial in 2006, the members of Calabrese's family doubled over and shook with emotion. Now, they feel, that victory is gone.

"We just hope this is it," Robert Calabrese said. "Then we'll start our lives over again."

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