A Philadelphia judge limited access to her courtroom Tuesday and more than a dozen police officers and sheriff's deputies had to patrol the hallway after a scuffle erupted at the Criminal Justice Center among friends and relatives of two 16-year-old victims and the accused teenage shooter from a double homicide in South Philadelphia last fall.
The brief melee began about a half-hour before the scheduled court proceeding for Brandon Olivieri, 17, accused of killing Salvatore DiNubile and Caleer Miller in October during an Instagram-fueled confrontation. Although it was not immediately clear who started the shouting and shoving match at the courthouse, Common Pleas Court Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis subsequently said that due to "safety concerns," she would allow only selected family members, lawyers, two reporters, and court staff into her courtroom, despite a sizable presence of potential spectators outside.
In the hallway, more than 12 law enforcement officers sought to contain interactions among relatives of DiNubile, Miller, and Olivieri, although tensions occasionally flared as new supporters arrived on the courthouse's 11th floor. When several of Olivieri's relatives walked toward the courtroom, for example, some DiNubile supporters cursed at them and screamed, "Murderer!" Relatives of DiNubile said Olivieri's family members waved shirts in their face proclaiming Brandon's innocence.
From the bench, Lewis referenced the chaos in the hall, but said simply: "This courtroom will be conducted with order."
At issue was whether the 17-year-old Olivieri would be tried as a juvenile or an adult in his murder case, a matter that proved perfunctory as Olivieri agreed to let the prosecution move forward in the higher court.
Still, the afternoon's theatrics seemed to overshadow the legal developments — and proved to be the latest example of the ongoing pressures that have enveloped the case since the killings.
Olivieri's lawyer, James Lammendola, said of the scuffle: "To tell you the truth, I have to sort it out myself." As for the decision to proceed in adult court, he told Lewis he did not want sympathetic victim-impact statements to be read into the record. Proceeding with the hearing, he told Lewis, would be "an exercise in futility."
At a preliminary hearing in December, prosecutors said Olivieri, Miller, and at least one other friend had been wandering around South Philadelphia looking to fight when they came across DiNubile at 12th and Mifflin Streets. DiNubile and the teens allegedly had been feuding on Instagram, although prosecutors did not specify what the dispute was about.
Olivieri is accused of pulling a gun and shooting DiNubile, then mistakenly shooting his friend Miller during a scuffle. Both DiNubile and Miller died that night.
After police identified Olivieri as a suspect — but before he was arrested — his family's South Philadelphia home was riddled with bullets, causing the police commissioner to publicly worry about tensions spiraling out of control.
In the months since, emotions have remained raw.
DiNubile's father, also named Salvatore, was arrested in March and charged with threatening a friend of Olivieri's. He is awaiting trial on charges including terroristic threats and simple assault, according to court records.
The elder DiNubile and his relatives, meanwhile, have said that Olivieri's friends have antagonized them, gloating on social media about the 16-year-old's death and calling for Olivieri to be released from prison.
A friend of Olivieri's, Marc Malerba, was charged in April with discarding the alleged murder weapon and telling a witness not to cooperate. Malerba, 20, is in custody awaiting a preliminary hearing on charges including witness intimidation and conspiracy, according to court records.
Olivieri's relatives also have said they received threatening letters and Facebook messages, forcing them to move out of the city. After the hearing Tuesday, several of his family members said he was innocent.
In a victim impact statement that DiNubile's sister, Ciarra Bianculli, had prepared for Tuesday's hearing, she wrote: "Life without Sal now is depressing, it is dark, it is unbearable: We sit in silence, eat in silence, and move in silence, to simply get through each day, as each day brings us one day closer to him." She did not read it due to Olivieri's decision to move forward in adult court.
Lewis, the judge, said that other victim impact statements suggested Miller shook the hand of one of DiNubile's friends in an apparent gesture of peace before gunfire rang out. As she ended the hearing, she implored the adults in the room to remember the example.