Time questioned in Duncansville man’s trial
Pulcine charged with killing Gallitzin man
BRIDGETON, N.J. — Details surrounding the murder of Ivan “Scotty” Strayer II of Gallitzin in a Vineland, New Jersey, hotel room almost three years ago have been scarce and kept under a tight seal.
Two hours of closing statements on Tuesday shed light on critical aspects of the case that offer room for interpretation and perhaps doubt.
In a small courtroom at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Bridgeton, N.J., Larry Pulcine Jr., 36, of Duncansville, sat stoically at the defendant’s table as his defense attorney whipped up as much reasonable doubt in the homicide case against him that he could. Pulcine’s .40 caliber Berretta was confirmed through ballistics and testimony as the weapon used to kill Strayer in his hotel room.
But his defense attorney, Joel Aronow, in his closing statements pointed a finger at a sloppy and incomplete investigation by the Vineland Police Department that ignored suspicious content on his roommate’s cellphone, a satanic bible and violent text messages. He also suggested that others in the hotel had motives to harm Strayer and, in a strange twist, questioned the very idea of time.
“Timeline information is important with respect to this case; yes,” Aronow announced to the jury. “But there are discrepancies with respect to the timeline.”
Aronow launched into a dizzying explanation of logged time versus “actual” time regarding several key cards that were scattered among Larry, his brother, Charles Pulcine, and Strayer’s roommate, Richard Sperrazza. The cards were used to shuttle between rooms 404 and 405 at the Wingate Hotel.
According to the testimony of Robert Chambers, a hotel employee who downloaded the key card data, he couldn’t remember how he logged the times in his report; whether by his watch or by his cellphone.
“He (Chambers) testified that there was a discrepancy between the actual times that his analyzer machine recorded and actual time,” Aronow offered, thus suggesting that the access times submitted as evidence were unreliable.
The net result suggested by Aronow is a 14-minute difference in time for key-card punches in rooms 404 and 405; the rooms where Strayer and Sperrazza, and the Pulcine brothers were staying. But the pressing matter for the jury to consider is not whether time was accurate, but the distance between swipes that provided opportunity to commit a crime.
Next, Aronow hammered Richard Sperrazza, Strayer’s best friend and roommate at the Wingate Hotel.
During the investigation it was discovered that Sperrazza had a crack pipe and methamphetamine in his backpack. It was also divulged that Sperrazza was gay, a fact Aronow used to stir up a motive after investigators visited Strayer’s hometown.
Aronow paired Sperrazza’s closeted sexuality with a flurry of violent text messages just a day before Strayer’s slaying to suggest he was capable of murder. “I’m gonna kill someone,” “I’m gonna murder someone,” “Anger is a gift,” were just a few of the text messages sent from Sperrazza’s phone, messages Sperrazza testified that Pulcine had put on his phone.
Authorities also found images suggesting violence on Sperrazza’s cellphone, including a meme of a man standing behind a woman with a nail gun in hand and captioned with “Murder. Be creative.”
Sperrazza was prescribed medication for depression and anxiety, and when paired with his confessed use of crack cocaine and methamphetamines, Aronow suggested it would give him the edge to follow through.
But the center of Aronow’s closing statement rested on “conformational bias” by the VPD. Aronow said, “When the police initially investigate a case, they develop a theory, they run with that theory and the defense would submit that when you’re analyzing the case and looking at other evidence in the case and exploring other possibilities, not just one, that you confirm or deny your original hypothesis with respect to how this particular incident may have happened.
“But when the police only concentrate on the fact that it was my client’s gun and my client was the one that left and therefore, he’s the one that did it, that’s conformational bias. They weren’t willing to consider any other theories. They were right, and anything that could have effected that decision was not even looked into.”
Aronow further accused the VPD of failing to follow up on other evidence and suggested that “when you cumulatively analyze these derelictions … that they in and of themselves arise to reasonable doubt.”
Assistant Cumberland County Prosecutor Charles Wettstein offered a counter narrative that painted Sperrazza as a sympathetic figure who struggled with inner demons, but cared deeply for Strayer. Wettstein dismissed the notion that Sperrazza was capable of murdering his best friend with security footage of Sperrazza weeping in the hallway of the hotel and embracing Larry’s brother, Charles Pulcine, after discovering Strayer’s body.
Wettstein admitted that direct evidence was missing from this case, but noted that swabs for fingerprints and other DNA evidence were completed without positive results. Instead, Wettstein narrowed his focus on Pulcine’s missing clothing and suspicious movements the morning after the murder.
For six hours on Oct. 11, Pulcine disappeared into the woods behind the Wingate Hotel allegedly chasing someone and getting into a fight. This is how his handguns were lost in the woods.
However, Wettstein found it interesting that Pulcine could lose two handguns but hold onto a set of keys, a pocket knife, several lighters and a stick of Chapstick.
Pulcine wandered the woods for several hours, eventually ending up at a butcher shop where he made several phone calls. Eventually, he walked back to the hotel.
Once at the hotel, he scooted by police still on the scene and briefly made it back into his room before officers apprehended him.
Clothing was also a point of interest in the case. Pulcine was wearing a different shirt than the one he left in when he returned to the hotel at 11:18 a.m. Oct. 11. Security footage presented during the trial shows Pulcine leaving the Wingate in a flannel shirt with an orange undershirt, and returning in a black, long-sleeved shirt.
In closing, Wettstein asked the jury to use the evidence presented during the trial to build a picture of what they believe happened given the facts.
“You don’t necessarily need every single piece of that puzzle in order to be convinced in your mind as to what that image is,” Wettstein said.
“Use your common sense in looking at the facts and coming to a decision in this case,” Wettstein said before asking the jury to “challenge their own biases” in determining a verdict.
Jurors will continue deliberations this morning.