We would like to introduce you to our friend, Joe Labriola. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1965 at the age of seventeen, and he served as a squad leader with Delta Company, First Battalion, First Marine Division in Vietnam. He was among the very first of American troops to make a helicopter assault landing into Viet Cong controlled territory in 1965 and 1966. After being severely wounded in combat, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with combat “V” (for valor). (See star and citation.)
After service in Vietnam (twice), Joe was selected to be a primary marksmanship instructor at Quantico — a top honor and tribute to his skills as a marksman and leader. He trained the elite of the elite to be snipers, including members of various agencies as well as other military personnel. When he completed his assignment at Quantico, he completed recruiter school and had the distinction of being the youngest recruiter in the entire country when he was stationed in Brockton, Massachusetts.
In his twenties, Joe and the Marine Corps went their separate ways. Joe sought the freedom of a somewhat gypsy lifestyle. In the early 1970s, employment for a Vietnam veteran, even a highly decorated one, was hard to come by — thanks in no small part to the Hollywood stereotypes of what Vietnam vets were like. Antiwar sentiments ran deep in our nation. Protests, marches, demonstrations, and campus sit-ins were the norm. All vets were named Calley, having fired rounds in a remote village called My Lai. And Americans saw stark images nightly of the horrors of war, including images of women and children burned by napalm.
This was the social and political backdrop of the time during which Joe became entangled with a drug dealing, government informant, ex-con named Arthur Motsis. Arthur Motsis sold him marijuana which Joe resold, thus beginning a nightmare struggle with the Massachusetts “Just Us” system. In 1973, Joe was convicted of killing Arthur Motsis and sentenced to serve the rest of his natural life at hard labor.
Joe's trial, in Dedham Superior Court, was infected with ethnic and political biases, raising similarities with another trial (coincidentally in the same courtroom): that of Sacco and Vanzetti. Sacco and Vanzetti were characterized as anarchists and referred to in court as “grease balls” and “wops” (referring to their Italian heritage). In those days, being labeled an anarchist was comparable to being labeled a member of “Al Qaeda” today. Although Joe was not called an anarchist, he was labeled a Vietnam veteran, which in the late '60s and early '70s conjured up visions of mentally deranged killers. It was the time of the White Tower sniper in Texas and of My Lai, and Joe's Vietnam service record was used to greatly damaging effect by the prosecutor.
Where Sacco and Vanzetti were called “greaseballs” and “wops,” our friend Joe was called a “hitman” by members of the prosecution team. In this instance, the ethnic bias hung in the courtroom throughout the trial, as though having an Italian surname created a pathway to organized crime. There was a tremendous amount of inference because “Crazy” Joe Gallo, Joe “The Animal” Barboza, Joe Vallachi, and Jimmy Hoffa were also nightly news stories. What wasn't said was that there was another man living in Massachusetts, also named Joe Labriola, who was a mob associate.
This venomous atmosphere helps explain how an innocent Marine could be convicted of a crime without direct evidence. Consider these key events and decide for yourself how fair you think the trial was:
- Joe's attorney, Richard Barry, had been a law partner with George Burke, then the head of the Norfolk County District Attorney's office (which prosecuted Joe).
- Joe was denied access to, and copies of, all police reports in his case.
- Joe was, and still is, denied a copy of the Minutes of the Grand Jury that delivered his indictment. (See refusal. and see Joe's recent motion.)
- Joe's then roommate, Bobby Rogers, was jailed for two days and threatened by the prosecution that if he did not testify he would remain in jail. This information was later provided to an appellate court through an affidavit (but was dismissed as irrelevant). Additionally, Rogers' own criminal record was not made known to the court.
- Joe was not allowed to sit with or confer with his attorney throughout the trial and was banished to the second row of the spectators' section, flanked by armed and uniformed deputy sheriffs (see diagram).
- Joe was unable to hear testimony against him due to a hearing loss suffered in Vietnam and due to his placement in the back of the courtroom. Some 26 times the court reporter recorded Joe's complaints about not being able to hear testimony.
- The DA used Joe's honorable service against him and screamed at him while he was on the stand, "Isn't it true that you were in Vietnam? Isn't it true you are used to killing people and killing is no big deal?" (See transcript.) The DA was admonished by the Court, apologized (see transcript), and the statement stricken from the record. However, its impact on the jury was made.
- Detective Bergin was allowed to use injurious comments made by third party non-testifying witnesses. Were that to be done today, Joe would be granted an automatic new trial.
- The Judge, during his final remarks to the jury concerning the fact that there was no direct evidence (see excerpt), spoke at length to them about "circumstantial evidence." He used the phrase "moral certainty" nine times. Were that to happen today, Joe's case would have been thrown out as creating a standard of proof based on innuendo and likely causing confusion in juror's minds between moral certainty and "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Bear in mind also, a common phrase used by draft resistors at that time was that they were "morally opposed" to the war.
As stated earlier, our mission is to obtain justice for Joe Labriola. And by that, we mean FREEDOM. We are going to adapt, improvise, and overcome any and all obstacles, and we will seek out the truth because our mission is clear: FREE JOE LABRIOLA! He will never be left behind!
Joe accepts direct correspondence. He is a prolific writer, and he will reply at once if you write to him directly at:
P.O. Box 1218
Shirley, MA 01464
You can also reach Joe via email that we will pass along to him. He has no online access. Send any messages you have for him to the address below (include a street address for his return letter):