Probable cause ruling sought in homicide

The investigation into the beating death of renowned physicist Eugene Mallove has taken innumerable twists and turns in the decade since the 56-year-old was found dead in the driveway of his childhood home on Salem Turnpike in Norwich.

The latest chapter in the case opened Friday, when New London Superior Court prosecutor Paul J. Narducci started calling witnesses at the probable cause hearing of Mozzelle Brown.

The 40-year-old Brown, deemed an armed career criminal by federal authorities, is serving a 15-year sentence for drug and firearms offenses. Norwich police retrieved him from a federal prison in Ohio late last year to face charges of murder, felony murder and first-degree robbery in connection with Mallove's death.

With a couple of family members watching from the gallery of the mostly empty courtroom, Brown, accompanied by a correction officer and wearing a neon orange prison jumpsuit, entered the courtroom and sat at the defense table with his attorney, Richard Marquette.

From the witness stand, Norwich police sergeants Darren Powers and Corey Poore set the scene for Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, who will decide if the state has enough evidence to prosecute Brown for murder.

The hearing will resume April 4.

A father of two and respected science writer from Pembroke, N.H., Mallove, who had grown up locally and graduated from Norwich Free Academy, was beaten to death on May 14, 2004. He had returned to Norwich to clean out the family home, owned by his mother, and prepare it for rental after the latest tenants were evicted.

The outdoor crime scene contained little physical evidence, though police would later learn that a key chain they found near Mallove's body belonged to Brown's cousin Chad Schaffer, whose grade-school daughter had presented it to him as a gift.

In 2005, about a year after the homicide, police arrested two men who admitted to going on a crack binge in the area and committing other crimes on the weekend Mallove was killed but denied killing Mallove. Mismarked evidence at the state forensic laboratory appeared to bolster the state's charges against Gary McAvoy and Joseph Reilly, but the case against them was dismissed in 2008 after defense attorney William T. Koch Jr. discovered the mistake.

Poore's testimony on Friday provided hints of how the police could have been misled by McAvoy and Reilly's behavior when they initially confronted the two men at the New Britain Police Department.

McAvoy, who was drinking coffee, poured it on himself when he was told that two officers from Norwich were there, Poore testified.

"Gary McAvoy, when pressed about the murder, curled up into the fetal position and cried," Poore testified. "He said he couldn't admit to it. He didn't deny it, but said he couldn't admit to it."

Reilly, who should not have known any of the details of Mallove's death, asked what had happened to the "old man," saying, "Did he get the (expletive) kicked out of him?" according to Poore.

The two men had been fighting with each other and had blood on their clothing. Forensic testing confirmed their claim that it was their blood. The investigation also showed that one of McAvoy's pubic hairs, which had been labeled by the laboratory as being recovered from Mallove's van, had actually been found in a car that McAvoy and Reilly had stolen that weekend.

In 2009, state police detectives joined Norwich police in the revived investigation into Mallove's death and a year later charged Brown, Chad Schaffer and the mother of Schaffer's two children, Candace Foster, with murder.

Police allege Brown and Schaffer attacked Mallove because he was throwing out items that belonged to Schaffer's parents, who recently had been evicted from the home. The police say the two men left the critically injured Mallove and returned later with Foster, who says Schaffer forced her to partake in the continued beating of Mallove as he begged for help.

At an earlier hearing, Jill Sebastian, whose was living with Schaffer and Foster at their Chestnut Street apartment when Mallove was killed, had testified during Schaffer's trial that Brown vividly described the attack and re-enacted it for a group of people.

"He was throwing punches with his right hand in the air and kicking the ground," Sebastian said. She testified that Brown had a "big smile on his face," and she couldn't understand why he was "hyped up and happy."

Schaffer, a restaurant worker, had been dating Foster since the early 1990s and had a good rapport with local police unless he was with his cousin Mozzelle, Poore testified Friday. But six years after the homicide, Foster took their children, entered into a witness protection program and gave police some of the information they needed to obtain arrest warrants.

Schaffer pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in the midst of his trial two years ago and is serving a 16-year prison sentence. He was brought from the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution to the New London courthouse Friday, and for a while it appeared he would be testifying at his cousin's probable cause hearing. But Narducci did not call Schaffer to the witness stand, and it appeared unlikely he would be called in the future.

Foster, who is charged with Mallove's murder but continues to cooperate with the state with the hope of leniency, remains incarcerated at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution. She is unable to resolve her case until Brown's case has been resolved. Narducci said he expects to call Foster to the witness stand when the hearing resumes next month and her attorney, Richard F. Kelly, is available.

In Connecticut, defendants accused of charges that could result in life sentences are entitled to a preliminary hearing known as a hearing of probable cause. In order to continue prosecuting Brown, the state must prove the crime of murder probably occurred and that the defendant probably committed it.

k.florin@theday.com

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