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Life was like a 'horror film': Wife's tale of abuse puts tormented war vet behind bars

Cody Tomaselli joined the Army at 17, spent nearly four years in Iraq and Germany and had “dozens of kills” that left him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

But his claims that PTSD led him to three days of violence and threats against his wife last year did little to sway a judge to lessen his punishment. Tomaselli, 33, was sentenced last week to seven years in state prison for attempted kidnapping during a three-day ordeal that ended in the parking lot of a Niagara Falls elementary school.

Tomaselli is "dangerous and unstable," his wife, Nichole, said last week in Niagara County Integrated Domestic Violence Court.

"I'm asking for justice not only for myself but for the other women he was in relationships with," Nichole Tomaselli told State Supreme Court Justice John F. O'Donnell.

She is the third woman whose marriage to Iraq War veteran Cody Tomaselli allegedly ended in violence, but she's the first to see him convicted.

From April 25 to 27, Cody Tomaselli "terrorized" his wife in their Niagara Falls mobile home, Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Lisa M. Baehre said. He held her captive, threatened her with a knife, rammed her head into the bathroom door, smashed the locks to keep her from escaping and destroyed her cellphone, Baehre said.

Defense attorney Randy S. Margulis said Cody Tomaselli, a Texas native, joined the Army a few months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He spent 3½ years in Iraq and Germany and received the Army's Expert Combat Infantryman Badge. Margulis said his client suffers from severe PTSD, apparently stemming from his Army service, including infantry combat in the Iraq War's vicious Battle of Fallujah in 2004.

"Essentially, he killed a lot of people," Margulis said in an interview. "He had dozens and dozens and dozens of kills."

In addition, "his best friend from the Army died in his arms," Margulis said. "He said the city smelled like corpses for three weeks."

But his claim that PTSD contributed to the violence didn’t gain traction with the judge.

"It's my opinion that everyone who goes to war comes back with some form of PTSD," O'Donnell said. But he added that "millions of veterans" don't commit the crimes that Tomaselli did.

'Not isolated incidents'

Tomaselli was not wounded physically in Iraq, but his mind was seriously affected by his combat experiences, Margulis said.

"It was a progressive, slow-starting process," Margulis said, adding that the earliest symptoms started to appear while Tomaselli was still in Iraq.

"He has a history of mental health counseling through the VA since his honorable discharge," Margulis said.

The VA rated Cody Tomaselli 100 percent disabled.

"He is as proud a veteran as anyone I've ever encountered," Margulis said.

In an interview, Nichole said her husband had long knives in their home, "as long as my forearm," which she said she hid after he threatened to use them on any police officers who showed up at their home.

"These incidents that bring us to court today are not isolated incidents," Nichole told the judge.

She said before the April crimes, her husband had choked her, smacked her head on the ground and forced her to have sex. He also threatened to kill their landlord if he showed up, Nichole Tomaselli said. She compared her life to a "pathological horror film."

The prosecutor told the judge that Nichole said her husband spoke of killing her and her family.

Trying to get away

Baehre, the Niagara County prosecutor, said her investigation showed Tomaselli spent two years in a military prison in Germany after his first wife accused him in June 2006 of multiple rapes and of slashing her breasts with a samurai sword. Baehre found no record of a conviction and said she suspects the woman didn't appear to testify.

"I have seen absolutely zero documentation of any of that," Margulis said. "My conclusion is that it was a false accusation."

Baehre said Tomaselli's second wife, with whom he lived in the Town of Tonawanda, was sexually abused, kicked with steel-toed shoes, choked and was beaten with a bat and a belt. Again, there was no conviction. Margulis said the woman recanted her accusations in a sworn affidavit.

The couple had a daughter, who is now 6; Cody Tomaselli obtained custody of the girl when the couple split up.

Nichole, 28, said she met him when she was working at the Fuji Grill, a restaurant in Niagara Falls, where he was a regular. They married in April 2017 and she gave birth to a daughter, who's now 2.

"It was a marriage full of verbal abuse and physical abuse," Baehre said.

It ended on the morning of April 27, 2018, when Cody Tomaselli drove his elder daughter to class at Henry J. Kalfas Elementary School in the Falls. Nichole and the couple's daughter, then 1 year old, also were in the car.

Nichole said she was planning to try to get away, and she thought her husband suspected that, because instead of escorting the 5-year-old girl from the parking lot to the school, he told her to walk on her own.

Nichole said she exited the car, kissed the 5-year-old and then went to the other side of the vehicle to take out the 1-year-old and a bag of belongings. She said her husband tried to stop her as a van pulled up beside them, and Nichole urged the people in the van to help.

In moments, her husband was chasing her around the parking lot. Someone called 911, and a police report said a man who also was dropping off a child at school told Cody to leave the woman alone and grabbed a baseball bat to protect himself.

Police said Cody Tomaselli confronted the man, knocked him down with a punch and continued to punch and kick him on the ground. The man got away, but he told police he was chased and assaulted again.

"He reacted because of his (PTSD) disease," defense attorney Margulis told the judge. He contended, based on the school's surveillance video, that the other man "got the better" of Cody in the fight.

Meanwhile, Nichole said she ran with her child to the school office, pounding on the windows to be allowed in.

"I was sent straight to a safe house. I lived there for 2½ months," she said.

She said a gash over her left eye led to her husband's arrest.

Facing justice

On Dec. 5, Cody Tomaselli accepted a plea offer to attempted second-degree kidnapping and resisting arrest, in exchange for the judge's promise to sentence him to no more than seven years in state prison. He had faced 3½ to 15 years.

Margulis argued unsuccessfully for the minimum sentence.

In court, Cody Tomaselli apologized to Nichole, his family and hers. He said he "never intended" to harm her or "my beautiful children."

Margulis said that as a result of his felony conviction, he will lose custody of both of his daughters and also will lose his VA disability payments.

"As my military record shows, I devoted my life to protecting people," Tomaselli said. "I badly need treatment for my PTSD and brain injury."

O'Donnell, the judge, noted that "millions of veterans" with PTSD do not resort to violence.

"It's time you stopped blaming your PTSD for all your troubles," O'Donnell told him.

Nichole Tomaselli said the sentence "should have been higher, but I'm happy he did get the maximum."

"Whether his experiences in the military made him the violent man he is today, or he was violent before he entered the military, we'll never know," Baehre said.

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