An emotional John J. Famalaro asked to leave the courtroom during the penalty phase of his murder trial Wednesday as his older brother testified about their years growing up together and steadfastly denied ever molesting the defendant when they were children.
The testimony of Warren Famalaro, 44, clearly affected his younger brother, who sobbed quietly as he had the day before when his sister, Marion Thobe, testified. He left during a break toward the end of his brother’s testimony.
“John is extremely upset,” Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia said outside court. “This was a bizarre, terrible situation to grow up in.”
The defendant, convicted last month of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering Newport Beach resident Denise Huber, arrived in court in a wheelchair because of an infection in his left leg that required overnight hospitalization, Gumlia said. The proceedings began 90 minutes late because of Famalaro’s medical treatment, but his ailment is not expected to interfere with the penalty phase.
This stage of the trial has focused on the troubled Famalaro family, particularly the behavior of mother Anne Famalaro.
Warren Famalaro testified Wednesday that his mother pushed his maternal grandmother down some stairs during an argument when the grandmother was in her late 80s or early 90s.
Warren Famalaro, convicted of molesting a 10-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl in 1980, was a reluctant witness and agreed to testify only after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.
On Tuesday, Judge John J. Ryan refused to allow the jury to hear the sister’s testimony that in the same month as Huber’s murder, John Famalaro told her that their older brother had molested him as a child.
On Wednesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans brought up Warren Famalaro’s admissions that he had tried to fondle his younger sister on a few occasions and that he had molested two minors, leading to his conviction. Then Evans asked him if he had molested the defendant.
The brother denied it.
Not satisfied with the denial, defense attorney Gumlia repeatedly confronted Warren Famalaro about the allegation, suggesting that Warren was worried that he may have contributed psychologically to whatever led his brother to murder Huber.
But Warren Famalaro again denied it.
Warren Famalaro provided the jury with further insight into the family’s life, remembering a small “frail” brother who was often sickly, had a nervous twitch and was often picked on by other kids.
“John had a tough road to go,” the brother said. “He was ill with something all the time. He had a hard time. Things were slower coming to him. He got the wrath of my mom.
“I feel really feel bad, I feel bad about John and the way things were in that household. It was really tough.”
The brother said Anne Famalaro bathed the children until they were about 10 and said that when she would scrub their genitals, her “breathing changed, kind of escalated. It just felt like an energy surge of some kind.”
He also discussed his brother’s adult years in which, he said, there were tremendous mood swings. The highs were “just powerhouse, beyond type-A, very top-end manic” and lows that saw his brother “just barely able to breathe or keep his eyes open.”
He said his brother was “crushed and devastated” when John’s pregnant girlfriend, identified only as Ruth, left him and gave their child up for adoption. He said his mother’s behavior contributed to that breakup.
“I remember events where Mom would just be way off behaviorally in front of that family and I think it just scared them,” he said.
Evans focused his questions on positive aspects of the family’s life, such as swimming lessons, dance lessons, piano, Little League, martial-arts training and coaching and tutoring.
The prosecutor mentioned the particularly close relationship the defendant enjoyed with his maternal grandmother, who lived with the family for a period. John Famalaro routinely spent weekends with her as a child and shared an apartment with her as an adult, family members have testified.
Evans also focused on their 80-year-old father, Angelo Famalaro, who the brother said had unconditional love for the children but who generally deferred to his wife in order to keep peace.