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Torture and trauma

News-Times, News-Times
Published 1:00 am, Thursday, April 7, 2005
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BRIDGEPORT - A Ridgefield teen faces charges he repeatedly tortured a 10-year-old Ridgefield boy who is mentally handicapped and couldn't tell anyone what happened.

Police said Braden Lionetti, 17, would jab the boy, who is unable to speak, daily with a 4-inch knife as they rode on a school bus. The students rode the bus between Ridgefield and schools run by Cooperative Educational Services in Trumbull and Bridgeport. The incidents allegedly took place in September, October and November of 2004. This week, details of the case emerged during a hearing in Bridgeport Superior Court. On Tuesday, Judge John Blawie refused to allow Lionetti - who is charged with second-degree assault - into a special program that could result in an outright dismissal of the charges. The 10-year-old's mother and lawyer, Giustino Capodilupo, of Ridgefield, argued against allowing the teenager into the program. The mother said her son, who has retardation and operates on the level of a 2- or 3-year-old, has regressed since the alleged assaults. The boy is being treated at the Yale-New Haven Hospital trauma clinic. He "rejects any form of affection because of the defendant's abuse," Capodilupo said Wednesday. He also chews and gnaws at his clothing, his mother said in court. Capodilupo said the attacks were premeditated and the victim, who can't speak could not "tell anyone what happened." Cooperative Educational Services draws students from about 14 towns and operates a variety of programs, ranging from magnet schools to special educational classes. Lionetti, who is not mentally retarded, was sent to C.E.S. following violent incidents at a Ridgefield school, according to court documents. "My position was that this young boy needed to plan his attack on my client," Capodilupo said in an interview Wednesday. "He needed to plan which areas of the body he was going to attack and abuse and he needed to plan which implements of torture he was going to bring on the bus every given day.'' In court Tuesday, Lionetti's lawyer, Jennifer Tunnard, of Ridgefield, asked the judge to grant a motion allowing Lionetti to attend a school violence education program. If the judge had granted the request, Lionetti would have been placed on probation and would have been ordered to undergo counseling. Reached on the phone Wednesday, Tunnard would not say for publication whether her client assaulted the 10-year-old. She directed questions to a supervisor, who did not return a call seeking comment. On Wednesday evening, Lionetti's father, Mark, declined to comment as well. Assistant State's Attorney Susan Filan argued against Lionetti entering the violence education program. She said his behavior was "too serious, not an isolated incident, and it's an ongoing pattern of abuse." The alleged abuse was reported to police in November 2004 after someone on the bus spoke out. Lionetti was charged by Trumbull police in December with second-degree assault and was arraigned in January. On Tuesday, his case was continued until May 11. Capodilupo filed a notice of intent to sue the Ridgefield school system over the incident, though he declined to elaborate why he believes Ridgefield is at fault. Ridgefield Superintendent Ken Freeston could not immediately be reached for comment. The executive director of Cooperative Educational Services, Nancy Cetorelli, said Wednesday this case "was a hard one to uncover; it was subtle." However, "we certainly hope that all of our students are safe as they are being transported. This was a particularly difficult case because the child was unable to communicate." But Capodilupo accused C.E.S. officials of not taking this incident seriously enough. "It's my understanding the school dismissed this as if he wasn't attacked by a 4-inch folding knife. The school did not address the issue," Capodilupo said. Capodilupo said both students are both back at school, but that they ride different buses. Cetorelli, the C.E.S. executive director, would not comment on the students.

Contact Karen Ali

at kali@newstimes.com

or at (203) 731-3341.