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Thursday, March 12, 2009

[NJ] Chief Castagna's conspiracy to commit murder trial in progress

The informant who secretly taped conversations of the suspended Bordentown City police chief charged in a plot to kill his estranged wife said the former [suspended] officer planned to kidnap, murder and dismember the woman's body...

...Prosecutors say [Police Chief Phillip] Castagna was furious with [ex-wife Joyce] Leopold because domestic abuse charges she lodged against him caused him to lose his job as top cop in Burlington City... An appeals court decision [has] banned any mention of alleged domestic violence...

DETECTIVE: CASTAGNA HAD A LOT TO LOSE
Burlington County Times
By: Danielle Camilli
March 11, 2009 02:20 AM
[Excerpts] An investigator explained to a Burlington County jury Monday that the suspended police chief charged in the alleged plot to have his former wife killed had a lot to lose once the couple began having problems.... Prosecutors allege that the threat of losing his job, and his pension, was motive for Philip Castagna to ask a convicted felon to kill his then-estranged wife, Joyce Leopold, after she filed for a restraining order against him in 2003... In earlier testimony, a family friend said Castagna said he would do something to land him on the front page of the newspaper if Leopold didn't stop "screwing with my pension. " Zubrzycki told the jury an officer can be removed from the pension system for "misconduct." The officer could lose more than $1 million in payments over a lifetime depending on years of service and age of retirement, he said... Castagna is on trial on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated arson and contempt. The state's star witness, Gary Hall, finished his testimony Tuesday after six days on the stand. Hall testified that he set a fire at the Burlington City home that Castagna once shared with Leopold at the former chief's request in 2003. He also said Castagna asked him to kill the woman in 2004 and subsequently showed him a gun, and gave him directions to her workplace and a description of her vehicle... [Full article here]

...[City Commissioner James] Lynch said city officials would be concerned for their personal safety and the safety of their families if Castagna is found not guilty...

APPEALS COURT RULES AGAINST USE OF TAPE AT EX-POLICE CHIEF'S TRIAL
The Times of Trenton
By Lisa Coryell
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
[Excerpts] Prosecutors yesterday lost a bid to play jurors an audio tape of a clandestine meeting between suspended police chief Phillip Castagna and a witness who says the chief tried to hire him to kill his ex-wife. An appellate court yesterday ruled that the tape was inadmissible in court -- upholding a trial court's decision and dashing the hopes of prosecutors, who wanted the tape admitted as evidence... Gary Hall, a convicted felon turned state's witness, secretly taped conversations with Castagna that prosecutors say prove the embattled chief wanted his ex-wife, Joyce Leopold, murdered. Prosecutors say Castagna was furious with Leopold because domestic abuse charges she lodged against him caused him to lose his job as top cop in Burlington City. At the outset of Castagna's trial three weeks ago, Superior Court Judge Thomas Smith Jr. ruled that the audio portion of a video-taped hotel room meeting between the two men could not be played for jurors because of its poor sound quality. Jurors were only allowed to see the silent video images of the meeting... [Full article here]

Earlier this year:

INFORMANT:'HE SAYS HE'S GONNA KILL HER'
Jurors hear testimony in Castagna hearing

Burlington County Times
Author: Danielle Camilli dcamilli@phillyBurbs.com
Friday, January 16, 2009
[Excerpts] The informant who secretly taped conversations of the suspended Bordentown City police chief charged in a plot to kill his estranged wife said the former officer planned to kidnap, murder and dismember the woman's body. "He told me he's gonna kill her," Gary Hall said on the first of what could be more than a dozen tapes played for a jury in the upcoming trial of Philip J. Castagna... Hall testified that Castagna first seriously spoke of killing Joyce Leopold-Castagna while they sat on a beach at the shore in August 2004. He kicked around plans, including kidnapping her, running her down with a motorcycle and shooting her, Hall said. Within a week, Hall reported the conversation to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, and authorities there asked him to wear a wire and record future dealings with Castagna. Hall, a convicted felon who is serving a Florida sentence on an assault conviction, said he contacted authorities because he did not want to be implicated if Castagna did kill his thenestranged wife. He said he knew he was already a suspect in the July 4, 2003, arson fire of Leopold-Castagna's Burlington City home. Hall testified Thursday that he set the blaze. He has immunity for his involvement. "I burned Phil's house down for him. Well, I started a fire there…Phil asked me to do it. I owed him," he said. "I wish I didn't do it. I think it caused things to escalate"... Hall is in protective custody at the Burlington County Jail... [Full article here]

EX-WIFE TESTIFIES
Burlington County Times
Danielle Camilli
February 19, 2009
[Excerpts] The former wife of a suspended police chief on trial in an alleged plot to have her killed said she suspected he was involved in setting the 2003 fire that damaged her Burlington City home. But Joyce Leopold told a Burlington County jury Monday she didn't know her then-estranged husband and the former police chief of Bordentown City, Philip Castagna, allegedly wanted her dead until authorities arrested him in 2004... Leopold described the marriage at the time of their separation in 2003 as "horrific" but gave no other details before the defense counsel objected. An appeals court decision banned any mention of alleged domestic violence. Prosecutors allege Castagna feared the loss of his job and pension after his wife filed for a temporary restraining order. Later, his conviction for violating that order was overturned, but Castagna remains suspended on the conspiracy and arson charges... [Full article here]

WITNESS: CASTAGNA SPOKE OF GETTING GUN
Burlington County Times
By: DANIELLE CAMILLI
February 20, 2009 03:20 AM
[Excerpts] A one-time trusted friend [Santo Celia] of the suspended police chief [Philip Castagna] accused of trying to have his ex-wife killed testified Thursday the former top cop said he could get a weapon and would do something to make the front page of the newspaper if the woman continued to cause him trouble... "Joyce had me arrested and has a restraining order. She's [expletive] with my pension and I can't have this continue," Celia quoted Castagna as saying. "I will give her a divorce...If she keeps screwing with my pension, you'll probably see me on the front page of [the newspaper]." The temporary restraining order was issued just a few weeks before. "He said,'They took my weapons, but I can always get another gun,' " Celia told the jury... After Celia reported the conversation to police, Castagna was charged with violating the restraining order, but the charges were downgraded to harassment and a disorderly person charge... Later, an appeals court overturned the conviction, but Castagna remained suspended because of the conspiracy and arson charges... [Full article here]

COP'S EX-WIFE SUSPECTS HE SET FIRE TO HER HOME
Courier-Post
CAROL COMEGNO
February 19, 2009
[Excerpts] ...[Joyce] Leopold had filed for a temporary restraining order against in her husband in June 2003 and the following month filed terroristic threat and harassment charges against him. In May 2004, a Family Court judge had ordered Castagna's police job forfeited in finding him guilty of harassment and violating the restraining order... A state appeals court overturned Castagna's entire conviction two years later, including the loss of Castagna's job. Castagna remains suspended by the city pending the outcome of this case... [Full article here]

CASTAGNA : I WILL RETURN IF ACQUITTED
Burlington County Times
By Dave Maccar and Danielle Camilli
dmaccar@phillyBurbs.com
dcamilli@phillyBurbs.com
February 22, 2009
[Excerpts] Philip Castagna had the keys to Bordentown City. Or at least he thought he did, according to city officials this week, as the suspended police chief's attempted murder trial got under way in Superior Court in Mount Holly. Those same officials say he will never have those symbolic keys, or unfettered access to the city, again. Castagna, however, has repeatedly claimed that he will return to the top cop job if he is acquitted on charges in the alleged plot to have his former wife killed in 2004... Castagna said Friday that any effort to block his return if acquitted is purely political and mired in the city officials' own embarrassment for their part in the case against him... His own attorney told Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith Jr., presiding over the criminal case, that this week. "We're absolutely confident that when all is said and done that he will return to the position of chief in Bordentown City," Robin Lord said... Before being stripped of his badge, Castagna served as an officer in Bordentown City since 1985. Four years later he would become chief. At 28, he was the youngest police chief in New Jersey... [City Commissioner James] Lynch said city officials would be concerned for their personal safety and the safety of their families if Castagna is found not guilty "This is a dangerous man. We're fearful. We think that once he finds out that this [court] escapade is over, that it wouldn't be anything for him to get a gun and go do something either to me or the chief or my family or whatever," he said. "It's that serious"... [Full article here] l

INFORMANT: CASTAGNA CAST BLAME ON EX-WIFE

Burlington County Times
By: DANIELLE CAMILLI
February 26, 2009
[Excerpts] ..."I'm going to kill her. Look what she did to me," [Gary] Hall said the former top cop told him. "He wanted to shoot her (expletive) and slice her up in pieces." Castagna also talked about shooting Leopold while riding by on a motorcycle with his face concealed by a helmet or driving a van, abducting her and putting a bag over her head, Hall testified. He told the jury Castagna also talked about cutting his wife "up in pieces" in 2003 and going to prison for it... On Wednesday, Hall also admitted setting the July 4, 2003, fire at the Burlington City home Castagna once shared with Leopold. He said he did it at Castagna's request. "He said,'I will never let another man sleep in that house. I will burn it down,' " Hall testified. "And then he asked if I would do it... I told him I would take care of it. I told him to relax, to calm down."... The defense has argued that Hall is lying about Castagna's involvement in the fire in an effort to avoid a lengthy prison term for arson. For his cooperation, Hall has been granted immunity from prosecution... [Full article here]

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