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Backwards Verdict In Smolinski Civil Trial
Paula Bell, left, and her parents, Bill and Janice Smolinski, at the vigil on the Green in Naugatuck.
(Editor’s note - A vigil was held on the Naugatuck Green, August 26th, to mark the 8th anniversary of the disappearrance of Billy Smolinski. Congressman Chris Murphy, Waterbury police chief Michael Gugliotti, CT’s Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz, the Smoliniski family, and Waterbury Observer publisher John Murray all spoke. The following are the remarks Murray delivered at the vigil)
Photographs By John Murray
While much of Connecticut enjoyed another glorious summer day in New England, I spent most of mine trying not to vomit as I closely read through the verdict in the civil trial between Madeline Gleason and the Smolinski family. The lawsuit, filed by a named suspect in the disappearance of Billy Smolinski, took six years, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and three days in court. After all of this, Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino ordered Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell to pay Madeline Gleason $52,000 in damages for allegedly harassing her, defaming her, and falsely accusing Gleason of having anything to do with the disappearance of Billy Smolinski.
Judge Corradino declared the Smolinskis conduct to be so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.
Geez, I don’t know about you, but that sounds more like Bonnie and Clyde than Bill and Jan Smolinski.
So what did the Smolinskis do to deserve the wrath of Judge Thomas Corradino? What was the atrocious behavior that Corradino said threatened civilized society?
It all began when Billy Smolinski vanished from his life on August 24th, 2004. The family had immediate difficulty in snagging the attention of the local police, so they organized their own search parties to scour the woods and rivers around Waterbury. The Smolinskis, along with their extended family and friends, started hanging missing person flyers all across western Connecticut. They hung thousands of flyers on telephone poles, in restaurants, convenience stores, shelters, hospitals and inside police departments. They had no suspects, and absolutely no clue what happened to Billy. Within a month clues began to stream in. Billy had been involved in a love triangle with Madeline Gleason and Chris Sorenson, a married politician in Woodbridge. Phone records showed that the last phone call Billy ever made was to Chris Sorenson’s house at 11 am on the day he vanished. Billy left a threatening voice message telling Sorenson to “watch his back.”
Billy Smolinski was a vigorously fit 31-year-old man when he vanished.
Then, surprisingly, the Smolinskis began to receive reports that Billy’s missing person flyers were being torn down in Woodbridge, Ansonia and Seymour. They placed more flyers up, and they were torn down, slashed, and defaced by someone spray painting “Who cares?” across a mutilated image of Billy’s face.
The Smolinskis hired a private investigator to find out who was tearing down the flyers, and eventually staked out the area themselves. When the culprits revealed themselves, the Smolinskis were stunned – it was Madeline Gleason and her friends.
Madeline Gleason, a school bus driver in Woodbridge, Connecticut, would stop her vehicle in mid day to destroy missing person flyers of her ex-boyfriend, Billy Smolinski. According to multiple police reports, Gleason's son, Shaun Karpiuk, is suspected of murdering Billy Smolinski on the night of August 24th, 2004.
Madeline Gleason's best friend, Fran Vrabel, left, was so bold as to tear missing person flyers down directly in Janice Smolinski's face. Janice calmly walked back to her car, got a new flyer and posted it back up. Vrabel tore it down and threw it at her feet.
The Smolinkis went to the Waterbury Police Department who advised them to videotape Gleason in the act, and to try and get her license plate number on film. They did, and Janice and Paula also filmed Gleason, a school bus driver in Woodbridge, stopping her bus to destroy flyers. The Smolinskis placed flyers up every day, and Gleason would tear them down. With Woodbridge and Waterbury PD reluctant to get involved with the poster skirmish, the cat and mouse game continued for several months.
Gleason had been interviewed about Billy’s disappearance by the Waterbury police and had declined to take a lie detector test. The Smolinskis were astonished that no law enforcement agency was vigorously investigating what happened to Billy on the night of August 24th, and were determined to continue hanging flyers in Woodbridge until there was a break in the case.
Billy Smolinski, left, was tangled in a love triangle between Madeline Gleason, right, and Chris Sorenson, below, who at the time was a married politician in Woodbridge.
When the break came, it was a bad break, and another shocking twist in the story. Janice Smolinski was arrested for hanging flyers in Woodbridge, the very town Gleason worked, and Chris Sorenson was a powerful politician. They clearly had home field advantage. In the police report of Janice Smolinski’s arrest it is written that Madeline Gleason is a suspect in the disappearance of Billy Smolinski, and according to the Waterbury Police Department, would remain so until she took a lie detector test. She has never taken that test, so as of today, August 26th, 2012, one can only conclude that Madeline Gleason is still a suspect.
Eighteen months after Billy vanished, with impossibly strong leads to follow, law enforcement said the investigation was stone cold. Janice had been arrested, and the Smolinskis had been ordered to stay out of Woodbridge.
In March 2006 The Waterbury Observer published a 10,000 word story on the case, and challenged the Waterbury police to intensify their efforts into solving the mystery of Billy’s disappearance. In that story we published images of Madeline Gleason tearing down flyers, and aired out the love triangle, and the Smolinski’s belief that their son had been murdered.
Three months later the Waterbury Observer, Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell were all sued by Madeline Gleason for harassment and invasion of privacy. It took four years and thousands of dollars in legal fees, but my lawyer, Atty. Mark Lee, successfully had all the allegations against the Observer dismissed.
The case against Janice and Paula chugged forward as a largely she said- she said case. Madeline Gleason accused the Smolinski’s of calling her a murderer and interfering with her job as a school bus driver. Gleason, while not producing one shred of evidence, asked for $125,000 in damages. The testimony for the trial took place in December 2011 and remained a she-said, she-said case. Gleason accused the Smolinskis of harassment and inflicting extreme emotional distress upon her. The Smolinskis testified they were hanging flyers on public property and were simply trying to find their son.
The case came down to credibility. Who would Judge Corradino believe?
Waterbury lawyer Mark Lee, left, successfully had all charges against the Waterbury Observer newspaper dismissed. He subsequently became the lawyer for Paula Bell and janice Smolinski. Atty. Lee has filed an appeal of Judge Corradino's verdict.
During the trial Gleason may have committed perjury when she testified under oath that the Smolinskis had fabricated the love triangle between herself, Billy Smolinski and Chris Sorenson. She swore that a love triangle never existed, a statement that directly contradicted statements she gave to the Waterbury PD in September 2004, and in August 2005, when she admitted the affair was still ongoing.
Judge Corradino did not address this apparent perjury in his verdict.
In April, the Judge called the lawyers and their clients back to court to answer several questions. The Smolinskis had nearly 20 supporters in the courtroom, while Madeline Gleason didn’t even show up.
Judge Corradino said he had to rule within 120 days, and promised to do so much sooner. Corradino said this case was his top priority.
His verdict was rendered 120 days later, at the last possible moment before a mistrial.
That in almost every instance Judge Corradino sided with Madeline Gleason is shocking, but that he did so with no evidence to back up her claims is frightening. In one passage in the verdict Corradino said the Smolinskis had a motive to harass Gleason, therefore he believed they did. That’s like saying, “Since you don’t have enough money to pay your mortgage, you must be the dude who robbed the bank.” That’s un-American, and dangerous.
The judge ignored Gleason’s conflicting testimony, and came to the conclusion that the Smolinkis had targeted Gleason before she began destroying the flyers. His reasoning was based on the fact that after Bill and Jan Smolinski found Gleason inside Billy’s house at midnight, three nights after Billy vanished, they changed the locks the following day. Bill Smolinski testified that Madeline, who was no longer in a relationship with Billy, had no business inside Billy’s house. Judge Corradino concluded that statement to be hostile towards Madeline Gleason.
It appears in incident after incident that Judge Thomas Corradino found Madeline Gleason’s story to be more credible than the Smolinski family’s. Judge Corradino gave Madeline Gleason an extra $7500 in damages for defamation because Gleason testified someone in her gym told her that the Smolinskis had entered the gym and called her a murderer. There was no direct testimony from a witness to corroborate Gleason’s story, but Judge Corradino decided to believe her.
After sitting through every minute of the trial, reading every line of the court transcripts, and reading every line of the verdict, here is my take on Judge Corradino’s decision – it is extreme, offensive, and cannot be allowed to stand.
This verdict has already been appealed. If you want to award someone money for enduring extreme emotional distress, I would flip this story around and say it is the Smolinski family that has suffered at the hands of Madeline Gleason. Police reports name Shaun Karpiuk - Madeline Gleason’s son - as the most likely suspect in the murder of Billy Smolinski. FOI requests reveal that Shaun Karpiuk, a former grave digger, is accused of strangling Billy Smolinski in Madeline Gleason’s apartment. At the time Billy vanished Karpiuk was working at a landscaping business with access to heavy earth moving equipment, and it is Karpiuk and Chad Hansen that are suspected of burying Billy’s body somewhere in the lower Naugatuck Valley. Madeline Gleason is a named suspect in Billy’s disappearance. She destroyed thousands of missing person’s posters, some directly in Jan Smolinski’s face. And she is the one who wins $52,000?
This verdict smells worse than bucket of rotten fish guts.
The Smolinskis have been dealt a devastating hand of cards, but they are not giving up. While some may question the actions they took to try and find their missing son, they acted out of love, like any parent would. If the police weren’t going to help them find Billy, they would do it themselves.
While Judge Corradino wrote the Smolinski’s actions were “atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community, I would act just as “atrociously” if my daughter went missing. Wouldn’t you?
Janice Smolinski's search for Billy led her to Washington D.C. where she testified before Congress on "Billy's Law", legislation that would reform the way law enforcement officers respond to the report of a missing adult. Connecticut Congressman Chris Murphy, left, co-sponsored the bill with Texas Congressman Ted Poe, right. The bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives and is now pending in the United States Senate.
When we rise above this wretched story, the actions of Jan and Bill Smolinski are the only decent ones in this eight year nightmare. Their son was murdered, the police botched the investigation, and the Smolinskis responded by fighting to reform the way local, state and federal law enforcement officers respond to the report of a missing adult. The Smolinskis deserve the support of the community, and supporters around the world are rallying to help them overturn this horrid decision.
The only sane conclusion to the insanity of the past eight years is that Billy will be brought home, and the monsters who murdered him will be brought to justice. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.”