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Closing Statements in State v Motta

Stephen Wyse July 9, 2019

A Closing argument is the summation of the case where the lawyers attempt to weave the facts and law into a compelling argument to persuade the jury to their side of the case. The Motta jury found him NOT-GUILTY of Assault 1st Degree (5 to 15 years prison), NOT-GUILTY of Armed Criminal Action (3 to 99 + years in prison), NOT-GUILTY of Assault 1st Degree (5 to 15 years prison), and GUILTY of Assault 4th Degree (up to a year in county jail – sentenced to the 288 days already served). Which is the result we were trying to achieve.

Closing Argument by State

THOMPSON: On January 16, 2017, the defendant was angry. He was furious. His mother described his mood as infuriated and out of sorts. You heard testimony from Gus, Brianna and Kim Piaggio that he was angry and upset. You heard the defendant describe his mood as, in the words he could best describe it as, a guttural roar. He’s so angry he’s having trouble unclenching his mouth. And while this is happening he’s using drugs. The testimony is that he’s intoxicated. You heard testimony from his sister and his mother and Brianna that he’s under the influence of something. The defendant admitted that he was taking drugs, non-prescription drugs. While this was happening he’s fighting over a cat, he’s packing up stuff, he’s throwing stuff against the wall, but he’s not in trouble for having a nasty breakup with Brianna. That’s not why he’s here. He’s here for what happened after he went inside that house. He’s not in trouble for what he did with a handgun outside. He’s not in trouble for what he did with a wooden block outside banging on the door. He’s in trouble for grabbing a knife and entering that residence. What was his intent when he was going inside that residence? Well, let’s look at what you’ve heard during the trial and let’s try to figure out what he was thinking when he was going inside that residence. You heard testimony from Vince Pernice with the Liberty Police Department. He interrogated the defendant’s mother shortly after this happened, and he asked Ms. Motta if the door was locked. The garage door, was it locked? She said oh, no. He asked if she had any trouble trying to get it open. No. The defendant had no trouble getting that door open. So any kind of suggestion that that knife was used as a tool or anything but a dangerous weapon isn’t supported by the evidence. The defendant’s own mother said that. Even if it is true, even if you want to believe the defendant grabbed that knife for the purpose of jimmying that door, he didn’t have to keep it in his hand when he went inside the kitchen. There’s a hallway, there’s a garage. He kept that knife in his hand.When he goes inside that residence the defendant, in his own words when he was talking to Detective Pernice, he says he saw Kim and he came at her. She came at him, and she came at her, but only one person had a knife there, and that was the defendant. What other evidence do we have of his intent? Well, I think the best evidence of the defendant’s intent is his own words. You heard testimony from Gus, Brianna and Kim that the defendant was saying things like, I’m going to fucking kill that bitch, I’m going to kill her, as he’s waving the knife around. Their testimony is he’s waving that knife around saying, I’m going to kill her. That’s evidence of his intent when he goes inside that house. We also have the defendant’s own statements. He is furious that they had locked him out. That’s what he said to Detective Pernice when he talked to him, that he was furious that they had locked him out. He made statements along the lines of, how much more can you take from me. We also have evidence in the defendant’s own words, he admitted it on the stand, he says, I’m not going to hurt Kim. When this is all going on, he says, I’m not going to hurt Kim. He didn’t say, I’m not going to hurt Gus. He didn’t say, I’m not going to hurt Brianna.

WYSE: Objection. Shifting the burden.

THE COURT: Overruled.

THOMPSON: And the reason he didn’t say that, the testimony’s pretty clear, he had violence on his mind. The defendant testified that when he went back to shoot himself in the head in the back yard that he was concerned about the safety of others, but he didn’t have concern for the safety of others when he entered that residence with a knife in his hand, waving it around and saying, I’m going to kill her. In fact, if you look at the evidence, the defendant confirms most of what Gus, Brianna and Kim tell you happened inside that house. He admits to being angry. He admits to packing his belongings. He admits to banging on the door with the leg. He admits to having a knife. He admits to having a gun. But then once he gets inside the kitchen there’s a divergence. When he first talked to Detective Pernice about a week after this incident he couldn’t remember what had happened. In fact, if you remember from the interrogation he asked if everyone was okay. He didn’t have any memory of that. Now, after he’s had a chance to prepare his testimony and listen to all the evidence, he was concerned for them also, but he didn’t think of them at the time. He says he doesn’t remember saying that he was going to kill Brianna. Now he remembers who punched him. He also says he doesn’t, he never stood over Gus with a knife in his hands. So ladies and gentlemen, the State’s asking that you find him guilty.

Now, you’re going to be provided with jury instructions. You’re going to get paper copies of this, and when you do, I will direct your attention to Instruction Number 8, and I’d like to go through that instruction with you and show you how the State’s established its case beyond a reasonable doubt. First, on January 16, 2017, in the State of Missouri, the defendant attempted to cause serious physical injury to Gus Piaggio by standing over him with a knife and thrusting down with it. You heard testimony from Kim Piaggio that while Gus and the defendant were scuffling Gus fell over backwards and was laying prone on his back, and when that happened the defendant stood above him with his arms raised and a knife in his hand. He was getting ready to stab him. Brianna (sic) intervened and prevented that from happening, but the defendant, according to the testimony of those witnesses, stood over him with a knife and was in the middle of stabbing Gus before Kim stopped him. And second, that the defendant did that while not acting under the influence of sudden passion arising out of adequate cause. So sudden passion is a passion arising out of provocation by Gustavo Piaggio, or another acting with Gustavo Piaggio. The provocation didn’t come from the Piaggio family. The Piaggio family’s inside the residence. They’re in the kitchen. They locked the doors, they’re huddled. They’re waiting for the police to arrive. There’s no provocation there. The provocation comes when the defendant enters the residence with a knife in his hand saying he’s going to kill Brianna. The State has established its burden on Instruction Number 8. As far as Instruction Number 12, that’s Count II. That’s that the defendant is guilty of Assault in the First Degree, the one I just mentioned, and he did that offense with the knowing use of a deadly weapon. Well, ladies and gentlemen, you saw this. We’ve admitted this into evidence. Everyone’s pretty consistent. This is the knife the defendant had in his hands when he entered the residence. This is a deadly weapon. The State’s met its burden as to Count II.

As to Count III, that on January 16, 2017, in Missouri, the defendant attempted to cause serious physical injury to Brianna Piaggio by entering the residence at 436 Spring Avenue, Liberty, Missouri, with a knife and threatening to kill Brianna Piaggio. So both of these offenses, the ones with Gus and the ones with Brianna, they’re attempts. They’re attempted offenses. And how do you know what he was attempting, right? An attempt is when someone does a substantial step, and that is conduct that is strongly corroborative of the firmness of the actor’s purpose to cause that serious physical injury. We know the defendant’s purpose because he told Gus and Kim and Brianna his purpose. He was going to kill her, and that fits in with the testimony you heard throughout the trial. The defendant’s angry. He’s had enough of this shit. He wants to see Brianna one last time to tell her how much she has hurt him. He was going inside that residence and he was going to use that knife to hurt Brianna.

Finally, as to Count IV, that January 16th, the same date, the defendant caused physical injury to Andrea Kim Piaggio by cutting Andrea Kim Piaggio’s hand with a knife. Exhibit 18. There’s very little doubt. This is Andrea Kim Piaggio’s hand. This picture was taken that day by Detective Pernice. She identified it as her hand. She was wounded by the defendant, and she testified that this wound was caused by that, the knife the defendant was wielding. I would like to talk a little bit about Gus and Kim’s actions when the defendant entered the residence with a knife. The defendant entered that residence — and there’s no dispute. Kim and Gus will tell you they touched the defendant first, and the reason they touched the defendant first is because he’s walking into this residence, he’d just discharged a firearm outside the residence, he has a knife in his hand, and he’s saying, I’m going to fucking kill that bitch. So what do they do? They protect their daughter. That’s reasonable. That’s reasonable under the circumstance. The defendant’s behavior was not reasonable. It was drug-fueled. It was full of anger. In his own words he was so angry he couldn’t open his mouth.

THE COURT: Ten minutes remain.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Judge. That anger caused him to grab a knife, unsheathe that knife, walk to the garage door, open the garage door, walk through the garage, walk through a hallway, approach Kim Piaggio and engage in physical contact with Kim and Gus. Ladies and gentlemen, the testimony you’ve heard, the physical evidence you’ve seen, the photos you’ve seen, all point to the fact the defendant is guilty on all four counts beyond a reasonable doubt, and I ask that you find him guilty. Thank you.

THE COURT: Thank you, Mr. Thompson. Mr. Wyse?

WYSE: May it please the Court?

THE COURT: You may begin, sir.

Closing Argument by Defendant

WYSE: Counsel. You’ll remember before we did Phase I of this trial we did jury selection, and we talked about the burden on the government. We talked about levels of proof and we talked about the presumption of innocence, and we talked about the lowest, preponderance, more likely than not and you award money. Clear and convincing, and the government takes someone’s children away. And proof beyond a reasonable doubt.You have heard two compelling alternative versions of the events of that day. If you believe Nicholas Motta, Sheila Motta and Lynette (sic) Motta Flora, excuse me you know that Nicholas Motta was the victim of an assault by Gustavo Piaggio. That his wife, Gustavo Piaggio’s wife had grabbed Nicholas Motta in a bear hug. Gustavo, infuriated by learning that his daughter was a stripper, seized the person who informed him that his daughter is a stripper, and he goes and he hits him with every bit of force that he has. Gustavo Piaggio told you he hit him with everything he had.Now, Gustavo says, well, I only hit him once. Nicholas Motta had injuries over his entire body. The injury to his face visible that day was indicative of a severe blow to the face, and his mother told you, and he told you that those injuries became more and more apparent as the days went by, his face turning black on the side of it. The day of, visible injury. As time goes by, the injury and the blackness and the swelling become more and more compelling. Fractured orbital socket, broken nose, damage to his body from bumps and bruises.

Now, Gustavo Piaggio says that Nicholas Motta’s an evil man, and he says that while Kim Piaggio had Nick in a bear hug, that Nick was throwing the knife back and forth between his hands, and at several points during the encounter that day that Nick was throwing the knife back and forth between his hands. That takes a lot of skill if you’re standing unencumbered. If you’re encountered with somebody and you’re twisting and trying to get away, that’s almost an impossibility.

Both Kim Piaggio and Brianna Piaggio testified Nicholas Motta raised his hands above his head with a knife in his hands. Neither of them said that Nick brought his hands down. Only Gustavo Piaggio said that when he slammed his hands on the desk. Only Gustavo said that. Nicholas Motta said, no, he didn’t do that, he wasn’t trying to stab. But let’s talk about how Gus describes the stabbing.

I asked Gus, tell me how Nick was standing when he tried to stab you when you were laying on your back, prone on the floor before him. He says his legs were apart, he’s got the knife above him, and I acted it out, and Gustavo said that’s how he tried to do it. He said that Nick tried to stab him like this as he’s laying in front of him. I’m not very little, but that doesn’t make sense. It does not make sense. You can’t stab somebody laying in front of you on the ground in the chest with a down stroke when you’re standing up. It can’t happen. It’s physically impossible. Now, when I started confronting Gustavo Piaggio with his inconsistencies, he said, well, English is my second language, I may not have known what I was saying. Please, he has lived in this country, he has adult children in this country, he speaks English well. There’s no way. He tried to get the Liberty Police Department infuriated with Nick saying that Nick had raped his daughter.

You heard Brianna tell you that prior to January 16th, 2017, that Nicholas Motta had never harmed her, and he tried to harm her on that day. Accusing someone of rape, trying to get them in trouble is despicable. The Piaggio family was put into a quandary. As Kim Piaggio tried to restrain Nicholas Motta coming in the house, her husband saw his opportunity to vent his fury, and he comes and he beats Nicholas Motta around the kitchen, and the struggle goes on and, as Nick described it, he arched himself off the back of the refrigerator as he’s being beaten, and they start doing this push-pull thing around the kitchen, and eventually Gus falls, and then during the time when he’s trying to get up he does at one point start to try to raise the knife to try to get Gus to stop his continuing assault, and as he’s raising the knife in one hand, Kim Piaggio comes and throws him to the ground, and then Gustavo is on him again, on his back pounding him, on his back while he’s on his stomach, and at some point it feels to Nick like he’s trying to force the knife up into his stomach, and Nick’s like, I don’t want to go that way, I’m done. I don’t want to go that way, let me go this way, I’ll slit my wrist. He tries to slit his wrist. Fortunately, the Piaggios stop him from killing himself by slitting his wrist. They deserve some credit for that, but that doesn’t mean that they can create and fabricate an attack that never happened. You heard Nick’s sister, a teacher here, talk about how Brianna was yelling, come at me, come at me. Now, Brianna denied that on the stand. Now, true, she is Nick’s sister, but she doesn’t want, she is a teacher, she is a good citizen, she just wants to tell the truth, and that’s what she did. She told the truth, impeaching Brianna Piaggio. Now, we know that Brianna Piaggio is expert at deception. She hid from her mother for years, and her father for years that she was a stripper. In fact, Nicholas told you that she hid for the first few months of their relationship that she was a stripper. That takes skill in deception. That takes skill in deceiving significant others in your life about a lifestyle choice that most people find unacceptable. But that deception shows you the sort of person she is.

Now, you also heard that Brianna Piaggio had another reason to be infuriated with Nick Motta. In addition to the fact he was breaking up with her, which she found completely unacceptable, and she called his mother who she knew that Nick had had a strained relationship with his mother, and he was trying to rebuild it, but it was on shaky ground. So she called and said your son’s overdosed and he’s vomiting, he’s going to choke on his own vomit. Well, folks, Nicholas Motta was a mess that day. There’s no doubt about it. He admits it, he was a mess that day, but trying to damage, damaging his relationship with his mother was just another petty example of the emotional drama and the emotional abuse that was why this relationship was ending. Now, relationships can end badly, and the relationship ended badly for all to see, but the destruction, when Nick destroyed her significant amount of cocaine, the eight balls, the gram bags and the big Baggie, that infuriated her. That’s money she’s lost. That’s money she’s going to have to repay. That’s why when he gets back to the apartment it’s all the more disheveled because she has been searching the house. Did he just simply put the cocaine some place else, or did she put the cocaine some place else? She doesn’t know, but that is the reason why when they get back, when Nick and his mother and his sister get back to the house, that’s the reason the house is all the more disheveled, because she has been searching for it. Now, you heard about the confrontation, the brief confrontation between Brianna and her mother over the marijuana pipe. You heard Brianna deny it, but Sheila Motta, Natalie Motta — Flora, excuse me — both told you that’s what happened. Nick walked through a very difficult day’s life, and the end of a very difficult relationship, and he was unrelentingly honest with you. He admitted to abusing Adderall, I think that’s the right drug. He admitted to all sorts of problems. He admitted to the desperation that he felt and his desire to end his life, and how he took the pistol to go and end his life. He’s not being charged with attempting suicide. He’s not being charged with shooting a pistol off. These are charges that the government might have a legitimate basis for. They want you to consider putting him in prison for at least five years, possibly for the rest of his life based upon the contradicted testimony of Gustavo Piaggio.

You remember that Brianna Piaggio couldn’t remember certain details, that certain details were incorrect. She at one point testified when she talked to the police that she pushed her mom out of the way and disarmed Nicholas Motta. No one else saw that. No one else saw that, not her mom, not her father, not Nicholas. When you create a lie it’s hard to keep a consistent lie. They knew that when Gustavo attacked the subdued Nick Motta and beat him and broke his eye socket and stomped him and fought around that living room (sic) and got on his back and was hitting him, causing him to bleed, causing blood to come all over his clothes, they knew that Gustavo had committed a serious felony, and Gustavo does not brook disrespect or disloyalty in his family.

They knew they had to protect him, and they protect Gustavo by blaming Nick. Nick, well he was trying to kill Brianna. And Gustavo, Gustavo alone, he was trying to kill me, he was trying to kill Kim. Only Gustavo says that, but they all say Nick was threatening to kill Brianna. There are more doubts in the case presented here today that require, require if you perform your duty to hold the government to its burden to produce proof beyond a reasonable doubt before the presumption of innocence is overcome. Messy, yes. Sad, yes. Criminal in the manner charged by the government, no. was Kim at some point injured in the hand with a knife?

Yes. was that ever intentional by Nick? No evidence of that. Even Kim doesn’t say he intentionally stuck her with a knife. How did it happen? Not exactly clear, but she did have an injury. But she did not have injuries like this. There were no injuries to her eye socket. There were no injuries to her nose. There were no severe beating over her body. Gustavo Piaggio was infuriated to find his daughter was a stripper, and he blamed Nicholas Motta. She was living with you.

And you heard Sheila Motta tell you that when they were at the police station Gustavo Piaggio is blaming them. How’d your son let this happen? He is furious. He feels disrespected that his daughter was a stripper, and he feels viciously angry that Nicholas Motta was around and didn’t stop it because in Gustavo’s world the man is in charge. The man tells the woman how to live her life, and she obeys. We don’t live in that world. We don’t live in that world. This case is wrong. Nicholas Motta did not try to kill, did not threaten to kill Brianna Piaggio. He wanted his cat. He wanted his cat and he wanted to be done with the relationship, and if he couldn’t leave, he reacted badly. Suicide is never appropriate. Suicide is never appropriate, but he felt desperate. He felt desperate. He wasn’t wanting to hurt anybody else. When confronted with no way to escape, he wanted to hurt himself, first with a gun outside and then, while pinned on the floor with Gustav on his back pounding him, with a knife to his wrist. He never tried to stab anybody else. He did lift the knife once in trying to defend himself, but he wasn’t trying to harm anybody. He was trying to stop Gustavo from beating him any more. You have the right to defend yourself. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s reasonable doubt here. There are two competing versions in contradiction to each other. I think the evidence is clear that the testimony of Nicholas Motta, Sheila Motta and Natalie Motta Flora, combined with the supporting testimony of Brianna Piaggio and Andrea Piaggio, clearly shows reasonable doubt.

THE COURT: Two minutes remain.

WYSE: Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention to this matter. I ask that you return the only reasonable verdict of not guilty on all counts, and let’s end this day and go home. Thank you.

THE COURT: Thank you, Mr. Wyse. Mr. Thompson?

THOMPSON: Thank you, Your Honor.

Final Argument by State

THOMPSON: Well, the defense and I agree you have aright to protect yourself and you have a right to protect your family, and that’s what Gus and Kim did when the defendant entered that residence with a knife, protected themselves and they protected their family. And of course Gustavo punched Nick Motta as hard as he could because Nick Motta had the knife in his hand. The injuries that Nick Motta sustained as a result of that punch are not a mitigating factor in this. That’s a natural consequence of criminal behavior. That shouldn’t be factored into your decision about whether or not he’s guilty of this crime. That’s just what happens when you try to stab people with a knife. The defense attorney spent a lot of time talking about everything else besides what happened in that kitchen. We’ve heard about marijuana pipe, Brianna’s employment, drug use, nasty comments exchanged back and forth, but let’s talk about what happened in that kitchen because that’s the thrust of this case. That’s what this case is about. It’s about what happened in the kitchen. It’s about what the defendant was thinking when he entered that residence with a knife. That’s what, when you go through all the smoke, that’s what this case is about. The defendant never said I want my cat. The first time you heard about a cat is during this trial. His sister, his mother, the Piaggios, when he talked to Detective Pernice, the cat didn’t come up at all.

WYSE: Objection. Facts not in evidence, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled. THOMPSON: I agree those weren’t in evidence, but today at trial we hear that stuff. It’s obvious the defendant’s sister and the defendant’s mother care about him. That’s obvious. It’s okay, but they weren’t there inside the kitchen when this happened. The Piaggios were, and the defendant was. The Piaggios say the defendant came in with that knife in his hand saying, I’m going to kill her. We know his intent. We know that he took a substantial step because he came inside that residence waving the knife around.

Now, the defense talks about how Gus is looking for his opportunity to get Nick where it’s payback time. You heard testimony from Gus that he was at work in Excelsior Springs. You heard testimony from Kim that she’s at work, and they get this call from defendant. The defendant initiated this. We want to talk about everybody else, but the focus remains on the defendant. Gus and Kim didn’t force the defendant to abuse prescription drugs. They didn’t do that. They didn’t force him to go get a knife, unsheathe it, throw the sheath on the ground, open a garage door, walk through a garage, walk down a hallway into the kitchen saying I’m going to kill her. They didn’t do that. That’s all defendant. We also talked about this cocaine. The first time we heard about it was at trial again. There’s no evidence of that besides the defendant’s testimony at trial. That’s it. He didn’t tell the police about that. Brianna didn’t talk about that. No one else talked about that. In order for you to believe the defendant’s version of events, Gus and Kim were both at work across town, and they’re going to assist their daughter in her revenge plot because the defendant flushed all her cocaine down the drugs (sic).

That’s not reasonable. That’s just not very believable. We can also talk about how when the defendant was standing above Gus with a knife in his hands that he was going down for a down stroke. Gus testified to that. You heard that testimony. The defendant was also much shorter than the defense attorney. So it is not impossible for the defendant to have stabbed the defendant in that manner. That’s not impossible.

Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about the defendant’s actions and his intent. You couple his actions with his intent to find him accountable. His actions, that day his actions. He grabbed a knife. He entered the residence. And then we need to know about his intent. Well, he told you about his intent. Gus came around, and they told you about his intent. His family told you about his mood. The defendant told you about his mood. All that leads to one conclusion, that you should find the defendant guilty on all four counts. Thank you for your time.

* * *

[Whereupon, the matter was adjourned.]