Pulcine homicide trial continues

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, N.J. — The trial of Larry Pulcine Jr., 36, of Duncansville, in the shooting death of Ivan “Scotty” Strayer II of Gallitzin will resume Wednesday morning for a second week.

Pulcine is accused of firing three bullets into Strayer, a coworker, that lead to his death in a Vineland, N.J., hotel room in October 2016.

Jurors heard three days of testimony last week and since proceedings began Tuesday, one of the 14 jurors has been excused for illness. Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Assistant Cumberland County Prosecutor Charles Wettstein declined to comment on how the juror came upon a sudden illness, nor did he provide a list of witnesses scheduled for testimony. It will be a short trial week with proceedings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Wettstein said the prosecution could rest its case as early as June 4, but left the possibility open for more witness testimony if needed.

Pulcine is charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon.

During opening statements last Tuesday, Wettstein underscored heaps of circumstantial evidence pointing in the direction of Pulcine as the culprit in Strayer’s death. According to a report from the Vineland Daily Journal, the prosecution wasted little time showing the grim murder scene at the Wingate Hotel to jurors during opening statements and witness testimony.

Wettstein and assistant prosecutor Lindsay Seidel asked 14 jurors — two of which will be alternates after closing arguments — to use their own “common sense” to deliver a conviction. A motive for Strayer’s slaying has not been offered by the prosecution, but the two went to Hollidaysburg Area High School.

Facts in the case have been kept under tight seal with at least two delays in going to trial, one of which was in February due to an “unforeseen event” from the defense’s legal team.

Pulcine was taken into custody hours into the investigation and has not been released from Cumberland County Jail after failing to meet bail. Two of his pistols, a .40-caliber Berretta and a .40-caliber handgun, were found in a field behind the Wingate Hotel. Pulcine’s Beretta was later confirmed as the murder weapon. At trial, Pulcine’s defense counsel, Joel Aronow, admitted the two handguns were Pulcine’s and instead questioned a spacious timeline of the defendant’s alleged movements proposed by the prosecution.

While the prosecution argued Tuesday that Pulcine suspiciously left the hotel to do laundry around the time of the murder and returned five hours later, the defense focused on discrepancies with this timeline and examined the depth of questioning by police of a couple in a nearby room. Aronow also openly wondered how no one heard three gunshots in a hotel without a silencer.

According to the Daily Journal, Aronow stated that “I think most people know that, when you’re in a hotel, that you can hear everything that goes on in other rooms in the motel, much less three .40-caliber gunshots. If you listen to the state’s theory of this case, my client would have had to go across the hallway at the same time Ricky Sperrazza was coming into his room, directly across the hall. And nobody hears three .40-caliber gunshots?”

Richard Sperrazza was one of Pulcine’s co-workers and Strayer’s roommate during the trip to Vineland. When called to the stand last Tuesday and shown pictures of the bloody murder scene, Sperrazza wept.

According to testimony, the night Strayer was killed, the pair walked to a nearby Bennigan’s for a meal. Strayer left to head back to the hotel about 8 p.m., leaving Sperrazza at Bennigan’s until about 10 p.m. Meanwhile, Pulcine and his brother, who also was part of the five-man work crew, grabbed fast food and brought it back to the hotel.

About 10 p.m. according to testimony, the Pulcine brothers invited Sperrazza to their room for some food, and Larry asked Sperrazza to run back to his room across the hall to grab a few beers. Shortly after that, Sperrazza testified that Pulcine left to do laundry but did not bring any clothing with him. Sperrazza returned to his room just after 11 p.m. and navigated the dark room with the light on his phone to find his bed, suspecting nothing was wrong, and went to sleep.

At the trial, Aronow argued, “that common sense tells you that when you sleep in a room with somebody … you get to know what they sound like when they’re sleeping next to you. And dead silence, no pun intended, is a lot different than hearing somebody breathe.”

When Sperrazza was awakened at 5 a.m. by the alarm on his phone, he kidded the victim for still being asleep and shortly after that realized something was wrong. According to testimony, Sperrazza checked Strayer for signs of life before bolting to his foreman’s room in nothing but his underwear to alert him about the grizzly scene, having left his room key behind as he hurried to alert his foreman. Sperrazza and his boss went to the lobby to get a new room key and around this time, Pulcine and his brother appeared and mocked Sperrazza’s panic as a result of drunkenness, telling him to go back to bed. Sperrazza added that neither brother appeared concerned.

The case is being heard before Judge Michael Silvanio.

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