ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: Jury selection is scheduled to begin in the gruesome, bizarre trial of Joseph Barbarino, who earlier this year was sentenced to 50 years for raping an 11-year-old relative and is accused in the horrific rape and murder of his 6-year-old brother 38 years ago.
Joseph, l., and brother Michael Barbarino
“Joe Joe” Barbarino — 15 years old at the time — was the primary suspect from the moment the nude body of then-missing Vincent Barbarino was found at a deserted construction site in Lodi. He‘d been stabbed three times across his stomach.
Joseph later failed a lie-detector test, but that is inadmissible in court. Prosecutors also have no knife, no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses.
What they do have, however, are members of the Barbarino family, who have split strongly on opposite sides ever since Joseph, 54, was charged with killing his brother nearly five years ago. Many of them still live in the same two-story duplex on Lafayette Place that they did when the boy suddenly went missing — only to be found, dead, two hours later. The subpoenas obtained by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office compel them to testify.
A key witness has become a third brother, Michael, who was only 4 years old at the time but insists he remembers the murder. Authorities said Joseph raped Michael that night, as well.
Sister Ann Barbarino Crane is openly supporting her accused brother. She says Michael concocted the murder tale as revenge against his brother for molesting him.
Several years ago, Ann tipped off detectives that Michael was carrying a loaded gun — for which he ended up spending six years in prison.
With both brothers locked up at the same time, investigators planted a recording device on Michael, hoping to get Joseph to confess the murder to him. Michael, instead, told his brother he was wired.
Cops who knew him said Joe Barbarino was a troubled kid sheltered by his mother, even though he bullied other neighborhood youngsters.
That hasn’t seemed to change over the years. Michael is the only one who’s been willing to defend his dead brother’s memory and challenge Joseph, who married Michael’s ex-wife.
It wasn’t as if investigators didn’t try. Subpoenas were issued in 1988, and all prosecutors got for it were conflicting stories in front of a grand jury.
Michael Mordaga, the retired chief of detectives for the Prosecutor’s Office, once told CLIFFVIEW PILOT he believes Joseph Barbarino‘s mother, Estelle, knew what really happene dbut didn‘t want to lose another son.
He also said records show that family members initially told detectives they often overheard Joseph saying “I killed Vincent” or “I should kill you like I killed Vincent.” They later recanted.
In fact, Mordaga said, records show Joseph Barbarino stabbed another brother, Peter, in the upper thigh during a fight years earlier. No police report was ever produced.
Mordaga’s former boss, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, without disclosing details, says this time things will be different. Time, circumstance and new “C.S.I.”-type techniques to analyze evidence apparently have convinced some family members to be more cooperative.
Why it took so long for the case to finally come to trial has become something of an afterthough.
Michael Barbarino said he endured years of therapy that turned him into a petty criminal. And now that he’s offered to testify, he said, he’s been ostracized by his own family. Had his brother been locked up right away, he claims, his life would have been different.
Six-year-old Vincent Barbarino was first reported missing by his mother shortly before 10:30 p.m. April 5, 1972.
Two hours later, Vincent’s stabbed, nude body was found inside the cab of a red fuel truck a few blocks from the Barbarino home. Forty feet away, police found his clothes and bloodstains.
Michael Barbarino told authorities in 1988 that he saw the murder, pinning it on his brother. A grand jury was impaneled, but family members’ stories don’t add up.
Molinelli made cold cases a priority when he became prosecutor. So in 2006, investigators from his office arrested Joseph Barbarino on murder charges after reviewing the file and interviewing family members and friends — including some people who either hadn‘t been spoke to before or gave only brief statements.
During a search of the house, investigators reported finding letters in which Joseph Barbarino described raping the girl.
And even though he is all but assured of dying in behind bars — where he already has spent nearly half his life — his brother’s death still must be avenged, and the cold case must be closed. At the same time, Michael Barbarino told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that his brother’s conviction might help turn his life around for good.
Given the circumstances, the trial is expected to produce plenty of fireworks.
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