Joseph (Jo-Jo) Giorgianni, the 565-pound sex offender released from prison after his lawyer claimed the lack of air conditioning would be harmful to his health, was portrayed in court today to be healthy enough to spend hours at the gaming tables and to survive the heat of a ringside seat during a boxing match.
Despite claims that he suffered asthma and would be unable to walk the long distances required in prison, Giorgianni, according to testimony, was seen on several occasions gambling in Atlantic City, walking without canes, walkers, oxygen inhalers or other medical devices.
On videotape, Giorgianni was viewed at ringside for a fight in a room described by prosecution witness Barbara Cerne, a secretary, as "very hot -- maybe 90 degrees." He was seen on the tape jumping up and down and waving his white Panama hat with a black ribbon. Testimony at today's sentencing hearing also placed him at the blackjack tables for hours at a time.
Had Giorgianni shown any signs of medical distress, the prosecutor asked.
"He appeared," said Cerne, "to be having a very good time."
The controversial case of Giorgianni, which has assumed the proportions locally of the portly defendant, began this summer shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "carnally abusing and debauching the morals" of a 14-year-old girl in the back of his Trenton steak house.
Only one week of the sentence was served. Attorneys claimed that the life of the obese 33-year-old man would be endangered if he served his prison term and Mercer County Superior Court Judge Richard J. S. Barlow -- who had heard the original case -- agreed.
Barlow ordered Giorgianni released Aug. 6, though a co-defendant of normal weight continued to serve his time.
"To place a life in danger . . . was too severe a punishment to exact given the circumstance," the judge later said in explaining his decision.
Furor followed. A police officer in Wisconsin offered to give the state an air conditioner and to bring it to New Jersey himself if it meant getting the convicted sex offender back in jail.
The governor ordered the attorney general to join with the local prosecutor in appealing Giorgianni's release. There were letters and protests.
The attorney for Giorgianni's co-defendant argued that if Giorgianni remained free it would be unfair to keep his client in prison. ("He said he doesn't mind serving his time, he just doesn't want to serve Jo-Jo's time also," the co-defendant's attorney said.)
The mother of the rape victim dispatched her own protest as well. "Don't let that fat rapist off free," she wrote to The Trenton Times.
After an eleventh-hour bid for a delay was denied Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, Barlow convened court at 9 a.m. today to determine whether Giorgianni should be returned to jail.
Speaking before the judge, Mercer County prosecutor Philip Carchman said two things were at issue: the medical condition of the defendant and the ability of the Department of Corrections to deal with his medical problems.
But he also stressed what "must be considered paramount . . . that the defendant did brutally and sadistically rape a 14-year-old child."
His comments came over the objections of the defense attorney. "I don't see the pertinence of these comments at this hearing at all," he said.
The defense argued throughout the day that Giorgianni suffered a number of physical ailments, including asthma and hypertension, and that if he were incarcerated -- a condition that would be "stressful" -- the asthma in particular might be exacerbated, becoming "life-threatening."
Giorgianni did not appear at today's hearing, so the special double-width wooden bench that had been set up for him remained empty. Giorgianni, though, could be seen during the lunch break, driving slowly past the courthouse in a deep blue Cadillac.
Dr. John Wynant, an allergist and immuniologist called as an expert witness by the prosecution, challenged the defense's contention.
While noting that he had been unable to determine if hypertension existed because his blood-pressure device had been insufficient to wrap around Giorgianni's arm, he allowed that Giorgianni had some problems associated with "morbid obesity."
Those ailments included swollen feet and the possibility of heart problems. The doctor testified that Giorgianni's asthma, in his opinion, was "just not that severe."
For its part, the defense found it difficult to counter all the criticism. Scheduled to produce two witnesses to the prosecution's six, the defense, in the morning session, was unable to remember the professions of its witnesses.
Defense attorneys said that they had had insufficient time for preparation after they petitioned the Supreme Court for a delay.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday, when the judge is also expected to decide whether Giorgianni returns to jail.