Mark Fisher had grown up in Byram Township, New Jersey. He was a honor roll student, a gifted musician, and a talented ball player from his early elementary years through his high school graduation from Lenape Valley Regional High School in 2002.
With Byram Township only a forty-five minute drive from New York City, most would assume anyone from the area would be somewhat sophisticated in the dangers of a thriving metropolis, but Mark had grown up sheltered from the dangers and cruelty. Sure, he was aware of their presence, but overall he’d been taught to be kind and generous to his fellow man; a “do unto others” philosophy which would make him well-liked and respected for most of his life.
In 2003, Mark Fisher was attending Conneticut’s Fairfield University and continuing to live by the virtues bestowed upon by his parents. So when he went with some college friends for a night out on the town, it probably never crossed his mind it would be the final night of his life.
Especially for no more than just a few dollars.
The Final First
Mark knew he wasn’t as worldly, so to speak, as some of his friends at Fairfield and he was eager to overcome it. So when a couple of his pals suggested they spend an evening prowling some of Manhattan’s Upper East Side bars, Mark saw this first unsupervised trip into the city as a first step toward achieving that goal.
The group had bar hopped until they finally found a bar that, despite their underage status, freely served them alcoholic drinks and decided to stick around there for a while.
It was at this sports bar that Mark spotted Angel DiPietro, a girl he knew from school, and went over to say hello, where he was introduced to her friends from Garden City High School. Mark immediately took a liking to Meredith Denihan and they spent a couple of hours getting to know each other away from their respective groups.
After a while, the two groups decided to head over to Pizza & Pasta for a late evening “refuel” and then Mark’s friends were ready to hit another bar. Mark, however, seemed hesitant to leave Meredith. Tired of waiting around for Mark, the group hailed a cab and went on their way expecting Mark would catch up with them later.
When his friends had been at the bar for about an hour, they realized Mark probably wasn’t going to join them. They all assumed their pal had “gotten lucky” with Meredith and didn’t give it much thought.
After all, what can happen in the city that never sleeps to a drunk, six-feet five-inches, college football player, right?
Out of His Zone
Mark didn’t have enough money for a cab, so he decided to just stick with Meredith, which he wasn’t exactly disappointed about, and joined her and her friends at Model T’s on Second Avenue.
After Mark was introduced to more friends of Meredith’s and Angel’s who had joined up at this bar, they all headed inside. One of the new guys, John Giuca, however, wasn’t allowed in after his fake ID was spotted by a keen-eyed bouncer. So now the group had to decide what to do next.
Angel’s boyfriend Albert Cleary offered to let the group crash for the night at the house he shared with his mother in Brooklyn, but Mark Fisher was not invited.
Meredith knew Mark was a little more than out of his league with this group, but she also knew he was drunk and disobedient and she didn’t want to leave him stranded. Sensing Meredith’s hesitancy, Giuca stepped up and said everyone could stay at his mother and stepfather’s house in Brooklyn. The parents were vacationing in Florida, so no one would be there to run them off…or supervise their activities.
Hailing a yellow cab, the group rode to Giuca’s three-story home in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn. During daylight hours, the neighborhood would have noticeably appeared old and run-down but, in the early morning hours, the area seemed exclusive and safe with its stately homes and street names carved in stone.
After the groups arrival at 152 Stratford Avenue, the party continued and more people joined in the festivities. Antonio “Tweed” Russo was one of the newcomers; a seventeen-year-old addict and dealer who lived in the ghastly apartment building that abutted the rear of Giuca’s home.
As the alcohol flowed and the drugs supplied the highs, Mark may have realized this wasn’t his his kind of crowd. But Meredith was there and he was drunk, so what could he do but stick around?
Maybe Mark was trying to fit in or maybe he was anxious to experiment on his first “real” night out in NYC, but whatever the reason Mark decided he wanted to try some of the marijuana being passed around among party-goers. Giuca, who hadn’t liked Mark from the beginning and was liking him even less with each passing minute, told Mark that his free ride with him was over. If he wanted some pot, he was going to have to ante up.
Sure, Mark said, he just needed to get to an ATM. Russo told Mark he knew where to find one and they set out for Coney Island Avenue where there was a convenience store with a 24-hour cash machine. Mark could get cash and buy beer at the same place.
Mark was only back at the Stratford Road house for a few minutes when the alcohol finally got the best of him and he fell asleep on Giuca’s couch. Meredith fell asleep elsewhere in the house.
It was nearing 4:30 a.m. of October 12, 2003, and the rest of the crowd began leaving. Albert and Angel left for Albert’s house. Giuca, Russo, and Giuca’s little brother sat out on the front porch.
For a while, all was quiet in the Ditmas Park neighborhood. That is, until 6:41 a.m. when the first call came into 911.
The caller said he’d heard the sound of gunshots being fired.
Five Shots, One Dead
Three of them in rapid succession. Then two more.
That was how a neighbor reported the sounds when he called 911. He told the operator he knew the sound he heard was gunfire.
When police arrived, they found a body lying in front of a home on Argyle Road. Although the deceased had no wallet on his person, an ATM receipt was in his pocket that would later help police identify him as Mark Fisher.
Detectives were able to follow Mark’s trail from the previous evening to Giuca’s house, just around the corner from where Mark was shot to death. Unfortunately, many of the party-goers refused to talk to police out of fear of the Ghetto Mafia, which Giuca and Russo claimed to be members, and others declined until their attorney was present.
Soon enough, however, police took a look at the party host’s record. On June 28, 2003, Giuca had been arrested for opening fire a car with three men on Brooklyn’s Twenty-third Street after a night of clubbing followed by a drug deal gone awry.
A very familiar scenario.
Detectives also knew that Russo had cut his dreadlocks the morning of the murder and had taken off to California a few days later. And Mark’s wallet had been found in a sewer that was halfway between Argyle Road and Russo’s residence.
Investigators were certain these two men were responsible for Mark’s murder. But it take more than a year for the two to answer for the crime.
The one year anniversary of Mark Fisher’s death came and went with no arrests. Police were frustrated, but not as much as Mark’s parents, Michael and Nancy Fisher, who desperately wanted their son’s killers brought to justice.
With the evidence collected and information obtained from a jailhouse informant, prosecutors took the case before the grand jury and secured indictments against John Giuca and Antonio Russo.
Russo attempted to dodge arrest with help from a neighbor to no avail. He was arrested on Tuesday, November 23, 2004. Giuca, who had been arrested in Florida following a drug deal he’d made wearing a bullet proof vest, was back in New York and arrested on December 21, 2004, for the murder of Mark Fisher.
Following a trial by jury, Russo and Giuca were found guilty. On October 19, 2005, they were both sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Antonio Russo’s current place of incarceration is unknown. John Giuca is presently housed at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York.
They will both be eligible for parole in August 2029.
Giuca’s mother, Doreen Giuliano, refused to accept that her son was guilty of such a horrible crime. She claimed that Giuca, on the day she returned from Florida, cried about the murders and told her the victim had, just hours before, been at their home.
Even before her son’s trial, Giuliano began tossing out insinuations that the murder may have been committed by Albert Cleary and girlfriend Angel. One report to 911 had claimed to have heard a male and female talking minutes before the shooting and Albert told detectives he’d heard nothing the morning of the murder – even though Mark’s body lay less than 50 feet from his bedroom window.
Giuliano also alleged Giuca’s arrest was a political move and Albert’s mother, with her political ties, had prevented him from being considered a suspect, even though he was, at the time of the arrests, serving a five year sentence for assaulting a man in a Bronx bar. She reminded those listening that, at the time of his arrest, her son did not yet have a criminal record (the June 2003 shooting had not yet went to trial, nor had the drug charges), had graduated high school with honors, had been a certified member of the Screen Actors Guild, and was currently enrolled in college with a major in criminal justice.
When Giuca was convicted, Giuliano believed he had been wrongfully convicted and went undercover to find the evidence to exonerate her beloved son. In the course of investigation, she uncovered alleged misconduct from one of the jurors, Jason Allo.
Over the following months, Giuliano, using a fictitious name, befriended Allo, frequently inviting him to dinner at her “sting apartment” where she plied him with food and wine and secretly recorded their conversations. After several months, she had collected audio of Allo detailing his anti-Semitic attitudes towards Giuca, as well as admitting to lying about his connections to the case so as to remain on the jury.
In a May 2009 interview with ABC’s 20/20, Allo and his attorney fiercely denied these allegations but nonetheless it was enough to get an appeal filed by Giuca’s attorney heard in October 2011. However, the New York Appellate Division denied the request for a new hearing, saying that “even if the statements of juror Jason Allo that he knew members of Giuca’s ‘Ghetto Mafia’ crew were true, it would not entitle Giuca to a new trial.”
Giuca’s attorney Lloyd Epstein was highly disappointed with the decision and says he will take the issue all the way to the United States Supreme Court, if necessary.