By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Workers blamed for the deaths of two firefighters in the Deutsche Bank building are a step closer to learning their fate as jurors prepare to hear summations in their manslaughter trial Tuesday.
Jurors will first hear from the attorneys for foreman Salvatore DePaola, 56, and Jeffrey Melofchik, 49, and the site safety manager for the general contractor, who allegedly ordered the emergency water pipe dismantled, cutting off the supply to firefighters who later arrived to put out a fire sparked by a worker's illegal cigarette butt.
After more than two months of testimony, the jury will decide whether to convict or acquit DePaola and Melofchik, while Mitchel Alvo, 52, the abatement director, left his fate in the hands of a judge instead of the jury. As a result, jurors will not hear closing arguments from Alvo's attorneys.
The DA charges the broken pipe was the reason that FDNY responders died in the middle of a blaze that raged out of control, rapidly trapping them inside the building near Ground Zero that had been damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Firefighters Joseph Graffagnino, 33, and Robert Beddia, 53, died of smoke inhalation while trapped without water on the 14th floor of the downtown skyscraper that has since been demolished.
Lawyers for the workers blame the deaths on the many government inspectors who failed to cite the basement abatement team for cutting the pipe.
Even Joseph Graffagnino Sr., the outspoken father of one of the fallen responders, has criticized prosecutors and the city, on the grounds that they did not hold the right people accountable.
"I told the DA I wanted nothing to do with this criminal trial," Graffagnino said. "I consider this a boycott."
He said he still thinks the city, state and other agencies "should be blamed more than three individuals."
The trial, which was slated to last about four months, began with opening statements on April 4 before Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Rena Uviller. It is wrapping up sooner than had been expected, in part because the defense called only a single witness.
Alvo, DePaola and Melofchik face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. The John Galt Corp., Alvo and DePaola's employer, was also charged and could face fines if the company is found guilty.
With Julie Shapiro