The judge overseeing the upcoming murder trial of Brandon Olivieri, an 18-year-old accused of killing two 16-year-old boys in South Philadelphia in 2017, rejected a request Wednesday from Olivieri’s attorney to ban relatives of the slain teens from commenting on the case on social media.
Robert Mozenter, Olivieri’s attorney, told Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara A. McDermott during a pretrial hearing that supporters of victim Salvatore DiNubile had been posting threats online and casting aspersions about the defendant, the court system, and even the District Attorney’s Office. One posting cited by the lawyer claimed Olivieri’s supporters have been threatened by DiNubile’s friends and treated “with disregard and disdain” by prosecutors.
“I have never seen a more vigilante-type conduct than in this case,” Mozenter said, later adding: “If we allow this kind of conduct, no one can get a fair trial.”
McDermott rejected Mozenter’s request, saying that she had not seen conduct that could be considered beyond the pale and that she would do everything possible to ensure a fair trial if it starts as scheduled next month.
“If people cross the line, there will be the appropriate steps taken," the judge said.
She also said she could take extra steps to empanel jurors who had not heard about the case.
Still, even an unsuccessful attempt to impose a gag order on the teens’ family members illustrated the extent to which the killing of DiNubile and Caleer Miller has been enveloped by hostility almost since the day it happened in October 2017.
DiNubile was a St. Joe’s Prep student, while Miller was a junior at Mastery Charter School’s Thomas campus. Olivieri had been a student at SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School. The three young men had at least loosely overlapping social circles, and prosecutors have said an Instagram feud may have initiated the fatal encounter.
According to testimony from the preliminary hearing, Olivieri, Miller, and at least one other friend had been wandering around South Philadelphia looking to fight when, at 12th and Ritner Streets, they ran into DiNubile.
Olivieri is accused of pulling a gun and shooting DiNubile, then mistakenly shooting his friend Miller before running away. Both teens were declared dead that night. Olivieri remains in prison without bail.
Despite the past tensions, Wednesday’s hearing was held largely in check by McDermott and sheriff’s deputies, who instructed supporters to sit on opposite ends of the courthouse benches.
That did not prevent Mozenter, however, from tearing into what he called “highly prejudicial” conduct from DiNubile’s friends and relatives, saying it was “an outrage and a shame" and could prevent his client from receiving a fair trial.
“This is America, not Venezuela,” he said at one point. “We have to stop this kind of nonsense.”
In a motion filed last month, Mozenter singled out DiNubile’s grandfather Pat Bianculli, who has written Facebook posts that include his disdain for Olivieri alongside updates about the case and remembrances about his grandson. Mozenter, in his motion, wrote: “Mr. Bianculli’s actions, combined with media commentary, and uninformed legal opinions as to the guilt or innocence of [Olivieri], have caused the public to vilify and humiliate [Olivieri].”
After the hearing, Bianculli said that he had done nothing wrong in his Facebook posts and that his family has been subjected to online threats and taunts from Olivieri’s friends.
He and other relatives have long said that friends of Olivieri have used social media to gloat about DiNubile’s death and call for Olivieri to be freed.
Friends of Olivieri’s, Marc Malerba and Rodney Outlaw, were also charged last year with discarding the alleged murder weapon and obstructing the case, according to court records. Their cases are pending.
In the days after the crime, Olivieri’s South Philadelphia home was riddled with bullets before he surrendered to police. His family have since moved out, saying that a threatening anonymous letter also contributed to their feeling unsafe.
And last March, DiNubile’s father, also named Salvatore, was arrested and charged with threatening a friend of Olivieri’s. His case is pending, according to court records.