In the summer of 2012, the national gun debate was starting to heat up again. On July 20, a gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, killing 12. About two weeks later, a Wisconsin man opened fire in a Sikh temple, killing six. The Sandy Hook massacre occurred in December, completely shocking and devastating the nation.
There was another gun death in the midst of it that was understandably overshadowed by Newtown — the shooting of a 15-year-old Connecticut boy by his own father. This death was left largely unexplored and didn't grab the nation's attention, but it tells its own significant story: how pulling the trigger of a handgun can change lives forever within milliseconds; how even the most responsible people are capable of making horrific mistakes.
New Fairfield, Connecticut, is a picturesque, classic, all-American suburb. These days, standing outside the neighboring homes of brother and sister Jeffrey Giuliano and Alexis Scocozza, you can hear kids playing in backyards, birds chirping, and dogs barking. It’s easy to envision summertime barbeques and family softball games.
It’s not easy, however, to imagine the horror that transpired here one year ago.
At around 1 a.m. on September 27, 2012, Giuliano received a frantic call from his sister. She said there was someone dressed in all black, wearing a black mask, holding a knife, and trying to break into her house. Giuliano ran to retrieve his gun — a .45 caliber pistol with heavy rounds — and told his wife Caroline to check on the kids.
The exact details of what happened next are unclear, but Giuliano fired multiple times, and the masked intruder fell dead on Scocozza’s driveway.
Within minutes, maybe seconds, Giuliano had a gut-wrenching feeling it was his own son, Tyler, 15, behind the mask. But he did not remove the mask or even approach the body, which lay there for hours.
Charges against Giuliano have not been filed and the investigation is still open, so neither Scocozza nor Giuliano is speaking publicly.
Gene Zingaro, 44, is Giuliano’s friend and also his defense attorney in this case. In Zingaro’s Bridgeport law office one day, he looked back on that tragic night, and pieced together what he believed happened.
“Upon walking next door in a hurried manner, [Giuliano] was confronted by a masked individual who, the evidence seems to indicate, had a weapon.” The intruder was “acting in a menacing, threatening manner. After several verbal commands, my client felt like his life was in danger, he was going to get shot at, so he fired, I believe, lawfully.”
Giuliano’s shots were “absolutely calculated” and with the intent to kill, Zingaro said. The shots were aimed at the intruder’s head, neck, and chest. When asked about the distance from which Giuliano fired, Zingaro took a long pause before finally saying, “That hasn’t been released. It wasn’t…” He paused again. “It wasn’t close.”
That night, Zingaro’s phone rang at about 2 a.m. and he hurried to the scene. When he arrived, Giuliano was sitting outside, crying and vomiting. “He eventually became so irrational and upset that he needed medical care, so he went to the hospital,” Zingaro recalled.
Tyler’s body was still in the driveway, masked, dark blood seeping through the black hoodie. The body was not officially identified until the next day. But, Zingaro said, “There wasn’t anyone that didn’t think it wasn’t Tyler.”
Much remains a mystery about the horrific night. According to Zingaro, Tyler’s odd behavior was out of character. Tyler had “no legal problems, no real school difficulties.” Zingaro acknowledged, however, that Tyler came from a tough background. Tyler’s mother was an alcoholic who lost custody; Tyler, at age 11, was in an unfit foster care home and on the verge of being taken into state custody. Giuliano, a teacher at his school, adopted Tyler and his sister. “He was in counseling, he had a rough background [but there was] nothing to explain what it looks like he was doing, though. Nothing that would explain it,” Zingaro said. “Nothing.”
About that night, he said, “Could he have been playing ninja? Could his intent have been to just scare [his aunt], for whatever reason? Sure … you don’t know what his intent was, so how could you have an answer? Was it serious; was it criminal; was it sexual; was it romantic? Was it psychotic? You don’t know, you don’t know where you’re headed,” he said.
He went on, “I know that there are people who believe that [Tyler] intended to do [his aunt] harm.” There were reports that Tyler confirmed that his aunt would be home alone that night — that her kids would be with her ex-husband. And there were reports that he also had masking tape with him along with the knife when he tried and failed to break in three times.
But according to Zingaro, who is friends with Scocozza, there was nothing unusual or hostile in the relationship between Tyler and his aunt; and Scocozza, also, has not been able to come up with answers.
In a different context, Giuliano’s actions that night make more sense. There had been a forced-entry rape in New Fairfield two days earlier. According to Zingaro, Giuliano assumed it was the same perpetrator trying to break into his sister’s home. On top on it, when Giuliano saw the flash of a metal weapon in the driveway, he assumed it was a gun.
According to Zingaro, the lighting at the time was a crucial factor. The light coming from Alexis’s house was very bright, whereas her driveway was pitch black. “You gotta understand,” Zingaro said, scribbling the scene out on a piece of paper in his law office conference room. “The person is not lit up. He’s against the light.”
He revealed another detail. When Caroline Giuliano went to check on the kids, Tyler wasn’t there, but his bed was made to look like he was.
The whole incident occurred in the midst of the national gun debate that was just starting to heat up — the Aurora, Colorado, shootings were in July of that year, just two months earlier.
Zingaro happens to live in Newtown. The Sandy Hook killings occurred three months after Tyler’s death, just a 15-minute drive from Giuliano’s house. The detectives on Giuliano’s case were moved over to Newtown investigations.
Though the terror and tragedy of the Sandy Hook killings in his hometown were unfathomable, when it comes to Zingaro’s positions on gun control, he said, “It was actually the Giuliano case that struck me in terms of how different [me and Giuliano] were.” He went on. “Jeff Giuliano is glad he had a gun in his house that night. I’m sure he is.” Zingaro declined to comment on how many guns Giuliano owned.
In April, the Connecticut Senate approved a wide-ranging bill, making Connecticut’s gun laws amongst the toughest in the country. The legislation bans the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, requires background checks for private gun sales, and tightens registration laws.
But to Zingaro, there simply is no middle ground when it comes to guns. After a long, contemplative silence, he said, “Mr. Giuliano’s belief was that he was in grave danger. That belief was reasonable, under all the circumstances. That belief was mistaken. It was a mistake.”
He paused again.
Then, very deliberately choosing his words, he asked, “But you can’t make mistakes with a .45 … Can you?”