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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 78.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily

CRIME

Joel Marino's dad on Madison cops: 'I've lost confidence'
Police are accused of botching opportunities, failing to pursue suspect

This police sketch of Joel Marino's killer closely resembles a man who's photo has been given to the police.
Credit:Madison Police Department
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Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, in his state of the city speech earlier this week, expressed supreme confidence in the ability of Madison police to find the person or persons who killed Joel Marino and Brittany Zimmermann. "If any police department can solve these murders," he said, "it's this one."

Lou and Debbie Marino, the victim's parents, have a different perspective.

"I've lost confidence in the police," Lou Marino tells Isthmus. "These guys, I've given up on them. They're in over their heads. They don't have the resources. I don't think they have the expertise."

Marino is referring to the case's lead detective, Matt Misener of the Madison Police Department's south precinct. He and Debbie say police -- with both the city of Madison and the university -- failed to ensure that UW-Madison students received timely notice of their son's murder, to generate information and protect safety. And they say Madison police have dallied in following through on a promising lead about a man who closely resembles a police sketch of the main suspect.

"It looks very close," says Lou Marino of a photograph taken of this individual and provided to the police. "The eyes, the nose, are very similar. The ears even." Debbie Marino agrees: "Straight nose, very identifiable lips, sharp eyes. It's a strong resemblance."

Isthmus has obtained the photographs and can confirm that the resemblance is strong. The paper is not publishing the photo so as not to compromise the investigation and because the man possibly has no connection to any crimes.

Joel Marino, 31, was stabbed by an assailant at his home in the 700 block of West Shore Drive, near campus, on Jan. 28, at about 1 in the afternoon. He tried to make his way to St. Mary's Hospital, but collapsed and later died from his injuries. A sketch of the man who is believed to have committed the crime was produced based on information from a witness who police spokesman Joel DeSpain said got "a very good look."

Brittany Zimmermann, 21, was murdered in her apartment in the 500 block of West Doty Street on April 2, in the middle of the afternoon. Sources close to the investigation say she also was stabbed. Police confirm similarities between the two murders, which occurred about a mile from each other.

Lou Marino says he tried, first through police and then through his state senator, Mark Miller, to have an alert sent to UW-Madison students: "I wanted to be sure UW students were safe and the community would be safe." He also wanted to enlist the "40,000 sets of eyes" that might have seen something of value to the investigation.

Debbie Marino says she spoke this morning with Dale Burke, assistant chief of the UW campus police. Burke, she says, told her that Madison police did not ask for such an alert and that "If somebody had come to them, they would have put it out."

"Possibly in some fashion," qualifies Burke. "We would have at least looked at what it is we would say and how we would want to say it." But he notes that any such communication would inevitably "direct people back to the Madison Police Department and if they're not set up for that, it's not a good idea."

Of course, the campus police could have put out an alert on their own, but, says Burke, "There really was nothing to indicate a campus connection."

An alert to UW students eventually did go out. Burke says it was "a couple of weeks ago," before Zimmermann was killed. Lou Marino says it happened five weeks after he asked for it, and thus police "lost a chance of 40,000 kids maybe remembering something." He says Det. Misener apologized for failing to make this happen sooner, telling him, "I take full responsibility."

But the biggest botched opportunity, say the Marinos, was over the identification of a potential match to the man in the sketch. Indeed, they wonder if police would have looked into this lead at all, if they hadn't intervened.

Late on the evening of April 1 -- actually past midnight and into the early morning hours of April 2 -- Madison resident Bregan Fuller noticed that a patron at the Crystal Corner Bar bore a strong resemblance to the sketch of the suspect in Marino's killing. The man, says Fuller, "wanted to fight my friend and I for no apparent reason." He says he was told by other patrons that the man had earlier shouted, "I can't wait to get back to Iraq so I can kill more f---ing Iraqis."

Fuller happened to have a digital camera and was able to snap several pictures of the man.

The next day, Fuller contacted Det. Misener to report what he had found. "He seemed rather disinterested on the phone," relates Fuller. He says Misener "was so ambivalent about the subject it really blew me away."

Fuller says Misener suggested that he email the photos but that he decided to deliver them in person, on a compact disc. When Fuller got to the south precinct, he says he was told that Misener was at the station but away from his desk. Fuller was hoping to talk to the detective, in case he had questions. But he was asked to just leave the disc. He says it was labeled, "MPD Files, Re: Marino case."

It was this same afternoon that Brittany Zimmerman was killed.

Fuller contacted the Marinos to let them know of this development, and later dropped off a disc containing the photos. Debbie Marino says she looked at these on Saturday night. She was struck by the resemblance and called Misener on Monday, April 7, saying, "The picture is a good resemblance not perfect, but a very strong resemblance. I hope you're looking at that."

Misener, she relates, admitted that he hadn't seen the photos -- he was now working on the Zimmermann murder -- but would that evening.

"I'm appalled that this is the first time he's looked at them," says Lou Marino. "As far as I'm concerned, they basically ignored Bregan."

Lou Marino says he spoke with Misener on Tuesday and that police finally paid a visit to the Crystal Corner that afternoon. Both Fuller and Lou Marino say the bartender at the Crystal told them the man had returned to the bar on Friday and been ejected for his bad behavior.

Marino is incensed. "They had pictures on Wednesday, they didn't look at them until the following Monday. In the meantime, the guy comes back on Friday and gets thrown out." If the police had acted promptly, they could have asked the bar employees to notify them if and when this patron returned.

Det. Misener declines to comment, referring a reporter to a supervisor who did not return a phone call.

Debbie Marino is now trying to get police to request that DNA recovered at the crime scene be compared with that of active military officers. She spoke with a military representative about the process for doing so and provided Misener with a name and phone number.

"Please follow through today," she wrote. "I know you are really busy but this lead should not be put on the back burner."

Both Marinos are troubled that they have to be concerned about how the police department is doing its job. But they are determined to do whatever it takes. "We've got to find out who did this," says Debbie Marino. "I don't want this to happen again."

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