Twenty years ago, the idea of Luciano “Dilly” Spataro ever walking free again would have seemed ridiculous.
Spataro had been convicted for three killings and was suspected in even more. The mob hitman also admitted plotting to murder a police officer.
Now, at age 82, Spataro wants out of prison. In fact, the state parole board granted his parole request two years ago, but then reversed its decision after hearing from grieved relatives of one of his victims and from the district attorney.
Spataro’s lawyer appealed that reversal to the Appellate Court but was rejected earlier this month. His attorney now plans to take his case to the state Court of Appeals.
By retracting the release date, attorney Thomas J. Eoannou said, the parole board is telling prosecutors “they can have two bites of the apple. We believe the first decision to release him should be binding.”
Spataro’s rap sheet
Spataro has been in prison since 1987, when he was charged in one murder.
In 1991, he hit the sentencing jackpot for another killing: He was convicted in the murder-for-hire of celebrity bodyguard Robert “Big Bob” DiGiulio, a crime that netted Spataro the maximum possible sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Spataro was hired for the murder by DiGiulio’s wife, Anita DiGiulio Martin. She had been married to “Big Bob,” the fourth of her five husbands, for about six months and was ready to collect on his life insurance.
DiGiulio, 32, was shot in the driveway of the couple’s home in Amherst the evening of April 17, 1985, when they returned from dinner. (Martin, also convicted for the murder, died in prison in 2003, when she was 54.)
Three years later, Spataro pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the 1984 contract killing of Alfred T. “Big Al” Monaco, who was shot in Spataro’s apartment and whose body was dumped in Evans. Spataro admitted taking part but said his son-in-law, John Pinelli, fired the bullets that killed Monaco.
Spataro is doing time for that crime, too.
Spataro, however, was acquitted in 1994 in the murder of Robert B. Warner, a restaurant owner gunned down in the parking lot of the McKinley Park Inn in Hamburg, even though another man went to prison for hiring Spataro for the hit.
And Spataro also admitted he planned to have an undercover Buffalo narcotics officer killed over a felony cocaine dealing charge that Spataro was able to beat.
Spataro was sentenced to time served for the officer’s murder plot.
An unlikely parole is granted
So, with his pile of convictions, the thought that the elderly mobster would someday be eligible for parole seemed beyond unlikely.
Even more unlikely was that he would be granted it.
But in January 2014, the New York State Board of Parole did just that. Spataro, 80 years old, was scheduled to be released by Feb. 26, 2014.
Spataro did not get to walk out of the Wende Correctional Facility. Upon learning that he had been granted parole, outraged family members of Spataro’s victims, joined by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, petitioned the parole board to rescind its decision, according to his attorneys.
The parole board temporarily suspended Spataro’s release, then reviewed its earlier decision and slammed the door on him.
In January, the Appellate Division of the Fourth Department of State Supreme Court heard his case, and earlier this month the parole board’s determination was unanimously confirmed and Spataro’s appeal rejected.
Spataro’s attorney plans to continue pursuing his case.
“Our whole issue is that the board is reversing itself based on outside influences and nothing else,” said attorney Thomas J. Eoannou, who has represented Spataro for decades. “We believe the first decision (to release him) should be binding.”
Testimony of victim’s suffering swayed decision
The appellate panel disagrees. The parole board has the discretion to “revoke or modify any of its decisions or determinations,” the panel wrote.
One reason a parole release date may be rescinded, the appeals court said, is when “significant information” is brought forward that the board had not previously known.
In the matter of “Big Bob” DiGiulio, that information regarded how he suffered between the time Dilly Spataro shot him in the head and when he died, 22 days later.
Statements from DiGiulio’s family expressed their grief and “the continuing ramifications of the murder on the health and well-being of the family,” the panel wrote in explaining its ruling.
The judges said the statements “also provided information concerning the brutality and consequences of petitioner’s crime by describing the pain and suffering experienced by the victim before he died.”
It was known that DiGiulio was hospitalized for several weeks before he died from bronchial pneumonia caused by the gunshot.
"Nonetheless,” the judges wrote, the family statements “provided detailed eyewitness accounts of the victim’s suffering … including his unsuccessful attempts to communicate, despite the fact that he had been partially paralyzed and his vocal cords had been ‘destroyed’ as a result of the shooting.”
This added detail was enough to rescind Spataro’s release date, the parole board decided, and the appellate judges confirmed.
Not so, argues Spataro’s lawyer.
“This is a legal issue that’s going to have to be decided by the Court of Appeals, and that’s where we’re headed,” Eoannou said. “After the parole board made its decision, the district attorney submitted a letter and the family protested. We feel the decision (to rescind) was based on outside pressure or that it was unpopular.”
While the status of Spataro’s health has been questionable since he went to prison, there is no question that he is no longer the man he once was.
“He’s obviously old and frail. He’s on oxygen full time and has trouble walking,” Eoannou said. “He’s not in the medical wing, but he’s not well.”
Meanwhile, at the same time the February 2014 reversal was being heard by the appellate judges, Spataro’s case was back before the parole board.
Parole was denied. His next hearing is scheduled for January 2018.