Wicked Sins Drummer’s Suspected Murderers Clash In Bloody Courtroom Battle
August 5, 2010
Mihcael R. Sisak of CitizensVoice.com reports: For the second time in 14 months, murder suspect Michael Simonson’s animosity for co-defendant Elvis Aaron Riccardi has spilled into a Luzerne County courtroom.
Last year, Simonson, 33, threatened to kill Riccardi, 32, as they were being arraigned on charges they kidnapped, robbed and killed Donald Skiff, a 34-year-old drummer in the band Wicked Sins who disappeared in April 2009 after fishing with friends in Shickshinny. Skiff’s final recordings with Wicked Sins are noew available for purchase at iTunes and Amazon.
Wednesday morning, as sheriff’s deputies were leading Simonson into court for the resumption of a pre-trial hearing, the shackled, handcuffed defendant lunged at Riccardi and headbutted him.
Sheriff’s deputies quickly wrestled Simonson to the floor and cleared attorneys, witnesses and others from the cramped courtroom, on the third floor of the Bernard C. Brominski Building, across North Street from the main courthouse.
“My guys were on top of it,” Sheriff John F. Gilligan said as he stood in a corridor near the courtroom turned battle zone. “No sooner did it happen than it was over.”
Emergency responders wheeled Riccardi from the courtroom on a stretcher. He was treated at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township for unspecified injuries and returned to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
Sheriff’s deputy Eric Aigeldinger broke a finger while helping subdue Simonson, Gilligan said. Simonson, whose blood splattered across the table where Riccardi and his attorneys had been sitting, refused medical treatment. He was eventually returned to the Lackawanna County jail, where he has been held since threatening Riccardi’s life last year.
Judge Joseph M. Augello, who was in his chambers when Simonson attacked Riccardi, ordered the hearing postponed until this morning and moved to a larger courtroom at the main courthouse. Gilligan said he would increase security.
Augello has yet to rule on a defense request in January to have Simonson and Riccardi tried separately. Their trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 10.
District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll, Deputy District Attorney David Pedri and Assistant District Attorney Mary Hanlon Mirabito, who were sitting in front of Riccardi when Simonson attacked, declined to comment, citing a standing order from Augello barring statements to the media. Musto Carroll, citing the judge’s order, declined to answer questions about whether Simonson would be charged in the attack.
Riccardi attorney Mark Bufalino, who after the attack wore protective gloves as he wiped Simonson’s blood from his case materials, also declined to comment, citing the order.
Simonson and Riccardi are each facing 28 counts, including homicide, kidnapping, robbery and arson charges, in the Skiff killing. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.
Riccardi, of Wilkes-Barre, and Simonson, of Plains Township, have already confessed to the killing, prosecutors said. Riccardi’s 15-year-old niece testified at a preliminary hearing in October that Riccardi burst into her house a week after Skiff’s disappearance and blurted out than that he had “killed someone.”
Riccardi later demonstrated how he tied Skiff’s hands with Skiff’s own shoelaces, pressed his face down in dirt and beat him with a log or tree branch, the niece testified.
Days before the June 2009 preliminary arraignment, Simonson told investigators he would take them to “the body” and led investigators to Skiff’s badly decomposed corpse, which had been dumped in a wooded area about 100 feet from Suscon Road in Jenkins Township.
At the arraignment, Simonson threatened Riccardi.
“You’re dead,” Simonson said coolly, eyeing Riccardi from across the cramped district magistrate’s hearing room. “You’re dead, bro. I’m killing you. Watch.”
Officers quickly moved between the two men, who were wearing the same basic wardrobe as in Wednesday’s incident – prison jumpsuits, handcuffs and shackles. Riccardi responded to the threats outside after the arraignment, as officers led him to a state police cruiser.
“(Expletive) him,” Riccardi said at the time. “I’m going to kill him.”
Wednesday’s attack came near the end of a five-minute recess between legal arguments on a defense request to prevent prosecutors from using Simonson and Riccardi’s statements to investigators at trial, and testimony from a state police corporal.
Sheriff’s deputies escorted Riccardi, who requested the break, then Simonson to the bathroom. Their path back to Simonson’s seat, on the left side of the courtroom, crossed within two feet of where Riccardi was sitting on the right side of the room.
Simonson stopped, looked at Riccardi and lunged at him, head first.