The murder trial of reputed mob soldier Anthony Nicodemo ended in a mistrial Tuesday after two jurors were dismissed for undisclosed reasons.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart spent the morning in chambers with prosecution and defense lawyers - and several detectives - before bringing the remaining jurors into court at 11:40 a.m.
"As you can see, we're now down to 11 jurors and so we cannot proceed," the judge said. The 11 jurors were then dismissed and Minehart ordered everyone in the packed courtroom to remain until further notice.
Court rules allow a criminal jury to continue with 11 jurors but only with the agreement of both sides.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
Assistant District Attorney Brian J. Zarallo and defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle said they could not comment on the reason the jurors were disqualified: whether they had been approached by someone outside of court or had violated Minehart's instructions by reading media accounts of the trial.
"There are questions that still need to be answered but I can't comment further," said Minehart, responding to a reporter's questions by telephone through a courtroom aide.
One person familiar with the inquiry said at least one of the jurors would be questioned by police detectives to determine what happened.
Testimony began last Tuesday before a jury of seven women and five men, with one female and one male alternates. By the second day, the female alternate replaced the third juror, a woman, who reportedly had read media coverage of the trial.
The trial proceeded through Monday, when the prosecution ended its case. The defense was to begin Tuesday morning but it quickly became obvious a serious problem had developed.
When the remaining jurors were brought back into court two were missing: the last remaining alternate and a male juror.
Security was heavy: nine deputies flanked both side walls of the courtroom. After the jurors left, everyone remained in place for 30 minutes.
Nicodemo, 42, remained at the defense table with McMonagle and cocounsel Frank C. DePasquale Jr. while Zarallo sat by himself at the prosecution table and about 75 spectators sat in the gallery.
DiPietro, 50, was gunned down shortly before 3 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2012 as he stood by his pickup truck in the 2800 block of South Iseminger Street in South Philadelphia.
A letter carrier described seeing a man in black, wearing mask and gloves, firing into DiPietro's prone body.
A second witness, a pedestrian testified that he was walking along Camac Street when he saw a masked man in black run by him and jump into a black 2011 Honda Pilot SUV. The witness testified that he memorized the license plate number HTK1942 and reported the information to police arriving at the scene.
Within minutes, police identified the car as Nicodemo's and were at his house in the 3200 block of South 17th Street banging on the door.
Nicodemo was he taken into custody. A search of his SUV turned up a .357-magnum revolver wrapped in clothing in the back of the driver's seat. Ballistics tests showed the revolver fired the shots that killed DiPietro.
In his opening to the jury last Tuesday, McMonagle said that Nicodemo was driving home when he became the victim of an aborted carjacking. He said a masked gunman jumped into the SUV, apparently stashed the gun behind the driver's seat and then jumped out of the car and fled on foot.
Despite Nicodemo's alleged ties to organized crime, Minehart barred the mob from being mentioned during the trial because there was no evidence that DiPietro's murder was linked to the mob.