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Norberto PIETRI






A.K.A.: "Spiderman"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies - To avoid arrest
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 22, 1988
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: March 13, 1963
Victim profile: Brian Chappell, 31 (a West Palm Beach police officer)
Method of murder: Shooting (9mm semiautomatic pistol)
Location: Palm Beach County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 15, 1990
photo gallery

Florida Supreme Court

opinion 75844 opinion SC02-2314 & SC03-1044

AKA:  Spiderman

DC# 096867
DOB:  03/13/63

Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County Case# 88-11366-CF
Sentencing Judge:  The Honorable Marvin U. Mounts, Jr.
Attorney, Trial:  William Hennis – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal:  Peter Birch – Private
Attorneys, Collateral Appeals:  William Hennis & Celeste Bacchi – CCRC-S

Date of Offense:  08/22/88

Date of Sentence:  03/15/90

Circumstances of the Offense: 

Noberto Pietri was at Lantana Community Correctional Work Release Center awaiting a transfer to a more secure facility. On 08/18/88, Pietri walked away from the center. For the next four days he used cocaine and committed burglaries to acquire the money to support his drug use. One such incident occurred on 08/22/88. Pietri broke into a house and stole items including a 9-mm semiautomatic and a .38-caliber revolver.

Preceding the burglary, Pietri was driving a stolen silver pickup truck. A witness saw a man (later identified as Pietri) driving a silver pickup truck speed past Officer Chappell. Officer Chappell was on his motorcycle patrolling for speeding motorists.

After being followed by the Officer Chappell for approximately one mile, Pietri stopped the truck. Witnesses stated that Officer Chappell approached the truck with his gun in his holster. The officer was shot once in the chest within two to four feet of the truck.

Officer Chappell radioed that he had been shot. When the first officer arrived on the scene, he stated that Officer Chappell’s gun was still in its holster, but that the holster had been unsnapped. The shot resulted in Officer Chappell’s death.

Pietri left the scene and drove to his nephew’s house. He disposed of the truck by dumping it into a canal off the Florida Turnpike. Pietri’s fingerprint was found on the inside of the driver’s window. A search ensued for Pietri.

On 08/24/88, Pietri stole another car. An officer, who was not in uniform, identified Pietri. Pietri threatened to shoot the officer and proceeded to escape.

Later that same evening, Pietri stole a car from the driveway of a young couple. The wife was seated in the driver’s seat while the husband had returned to the home to retrieve something. Pietri jumped into the car and demanded that the wife drive. He said, “Drive, or I’ll shoot you.”  When she hesitated, Pietri pushed her out of the car and started to drive away. Pietri did slow down to allow the husband to take the couple’s child from the back seat.

A police officer spotted the stolen car. Pietri stopped the car and motioned for the officer to approach the car. As the officer approached with his gun drawn, Pietri sped away. A car chase that involved speeds of over 100 mph took place until Pietri lost control of the car. Pietri then jumped out of the car and proceeded to run away. While running he reached in his pants, pulled out a bag of cocaine, and placed it in his mouth. An officer caught up with Pietri and arrested him.

A forensic examiner testified that Officer Chappell was shot from a distance of three to eight feet and that the 9-mm bullet that killed Officer Chappell matched the casings of the bullets provided from the stolen firearms.

Additional Information: 

Pietri was previously incarcerated at the time of the offense for three counts of Grand Theft and three counts of Burglary committed in 1984; six counts of Burglary and two counts of Grand Theft committed in 1986.

Trial Summary:

09/22/88          Indicted as follows:

Count I: Escape
Count II: Burglary (Auto)
Count III: Grand Theft (Auto)
Count IV: Burglary (Dwelling)
Count V: Grand Theft
Count VI: Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony
Count VII: First Degree Murder
Count VIII: Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony
Count IX: Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
Count X: Burglary (Auto)
Count XI: Grand Theft (Auto)
Count XII: Robbery (Strongarm)
Count XIII: Grand Theft (Auto)
Count XIV: Attempted Kidnapping
Count XV: False Imprisonment
Count XVI: Possession of Cocaine

02/07/90          Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment, excluding Count IX.

02/23/90          Jury recommended death by a vote of 8-4.

03/15/90          Sentenced as follows:

Count I: Escape – 15 years consecutive to any active sentence being served and consecutive to Counts 2-5, 7, 10-12, 14 and 16.
Count II: Burglary (Auto) – 5 years concurrent with Count 3 and consecutive to Counts 1, 4, 5, 7, 10-12, 14, and 16
Count III: Grand Theft (Auto) – 5 years concurrent with Count 2 and consecutive to Counts 1, 4, 5, 7, 10-12, 14,and 16
Count IV: Armed Burglary (Dwelling) – Life concurrent with Count 5 and consecutive to Counts 1-3, 7, 10-12,14, and 16
Count V: Grand Theft – 5 years concurrent with Count 4 and consecutive to Counts 1-3, 7, 10-12, 14, and 16
Count VII: First Degree Murder - Death
Count VIII: Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony – nolle prossed
Count X: Burglary – 5 years concurrent with Count 11 and consecutive to Counts 1-3, 7, 12, 14, and 16
Count XI: Grand Theft (Auto) – 5 years concurrent with Count 10 and consecutive to Counts 1-5, 7, 12, 14, and 16
Count XII: Robbery (Strongarm) – 15 years concurrent with Count 14 and consecutive to Counts 1-5, 7, 10, 11,and 16
Count XIII: Grand Theft (Auto) – nolle prossed
Count XIV: Attempted Kidnapping – 15 years concurrent with Count 12 and consecutive to Counts 1-5, 7, 10-12, and 16
Count XV: False Imprisonment – nolle prossed
Count XVI: Possession of Cocaine – 5 years consecutive to Counts 1-5, 7, 10-12, and 14

As part of a stipulation between the State and the defense, Pietri was not adjudicated or sentenced for three counts and nolle prossed on one count.

Case Information:

Pietri filed a Direct Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court on 04/20/90.  Pietri raised 19 issues in the appeal related to his death sentence mainly pertaining to jury selection, pretrial motions, and jury-sentencing instructions.  The issues were found to have no merit or error, not preserved for review, or not supported by the evidence.  The Court vacated the sentences for the noncapital crimes and remanded for resentencing because guideline score sheets were not prepared.  

The Court affirmed Pietri’s convictions and death sentence on 09/29/94.  The rehearing was denied on 11/22/94, and the mandate was issued on 12/22/94.

Pietri filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on 04/21/95. The Petition was denied on 06/19/95.

Pietri filed a 3.850 Motion to the Circuit Court on 03/17/97, which was denied on 08/27/02.

Pietri filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court on 10/31/02.  On 08/26/04, the Court affirmed the denial of his 3.850 Motion. 

Pietri additionally filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Florida Supreme Court on 06/11/03, which was denied on 08/26/04.

Pietri filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the United States District Court, Southern District on 12/23/04.  The petition is currently pending.


Father of officer slain 20 years ago fears he'll never see killer executed

By Eliot Kleinberg - Palm Beach Post

Friday, August 22, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH — The pickup turned right from Southern Boulevard onto Dixie Highway.

Brian Chappell, a West Palm Beach police officer, had turned on his flashing blue light at Parker Avenue and his siren a block later. But the truck had sped up.

A block south of Southern, the truck turned onto Malverne Road and stopped. Chappell, 31, climbed off his motorcycle and walked to the driver's window.

Then, a single flash. A bullet from a 9mm semiautomatic pistol tore through Chappell's chest. He staggered back, grabbed his portable radio and spoke his last four words: "Officer shot. Officer shot."

Tom Chappell was around retirement age when his son died on Aug. 22, 1988, joining a list of slain officers from Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties that now numbers 24.

Today, 20 years later, Tom Chappell is in the twilight of his life. Norberto Pietri, the man who confessed to shooting his son, remains on Death Row. He has been there for 18 years, filing appeals and waiting out moratoriums on executions.

Chappell, 88, said there's a good chance Pietri will outlive him.

"The appeals process is way too long," he said. "I felt this way before my son was killed."

Chappell added: "I would forgive him if he would bring my son back."

In August 1988, Pietri, then 25, was at the minimum-security Lantana Community Correctional Center, nearing the end of a seven-year sentence on burglary convictions. He was an occasional landscaper, a two-bit burglar and a $600-a-day cocaine addict with 28 felony convictions.

He was nicknamed "Spiderman" for the 3-inch spider tattoo on his neck.

A board had recommended moving him to a more secure facility after an escape, but officials hadn't locked him up in advance of a transfer. On Aug. 18, he walked away.

Drug binge and a fateful encounter

Police said he began a four-day binge of snorting and stealing that led him to the Boynton Beach Mall, where he took a pickup on Aug. 21.

Early the next day, he burglarized the Riviera Beach home of a county deputy. By midmorning, he was heading to a gas station to work a swap for cocaine, police said. The loot included the deputy's semiautomatic weapon.

Just before 11 a.m., as Pietri watched the motorcycle in his rear-view mirror, "my intentions were to pull over and run," he later testified.

Instead, he said, "I grabbed the gun, stuck my head out the window and shot. I froze for about five seconds and took off at full speed."

The bullet tore through Chappell and caromed off a sidewalk across the street. Ralph Galan, then 13, testified that the officer "put his hand on his chest and said, 'Oh, my God.' "

Paramedics rushed from a fire station a block away and pumped on the officer's chest. An ambulance raced him to Good Samaritan Hospital. Doctors pronounced him dead at 11:26 a.m.

Tom and Julia Chappell had just returned from a trip to England and had a dinner planned in the next two days with their son, who was halfway through his sixth year as a West Palm Beach officer, the last two on a motorcycle.

The phone rang. It was Brian's ex-wife, hysterical. He had been shot.

Fifteen minutes later, Tom Chappell opened the door to a large group that included Police Chief Billy Riggs and the family priest. West Palm Beach had not lost an officer in decades, and Chappell said the idea of his son being killed "just never entered our mind."

Soon after, the South Florida law enforcement community was on a relentless search for a cop killer. By the end of the week, a reward was up to $10,000.

Investigators surmised that the person who shot Chappell must have been on the run from someone or something. The first break came Aug. 23, the day after the slaying, when a man said he saw at least one person push a silver or gray truck into a canal along Florida's Turnpike.

Police later said Pietri had dumped the pickup, taken a cab to the home of a friend and had the friend order a pepperoni pizza.

As wet as the Mazda was, investigators were able to lift a fingerprint. Then they got a tip from Pietri's niece. By Wednesday morning, two days after the shooting, he was the prime suspect.

That also was the day Brian Chappell's colleagues came to stand at his casket. He would be buried the following day.

Among the mourners was a 27-year-old female officer. The two had talked marriage and she had planned to say yes.

"It was difficult to come back to work after all that," she said in 2003. "You lose somebody and you start to wonder if it's really worth losing your life. And you start thinking about your own mortality."

But she stayed on, and now Delsa Bush is West Palm Beach's police chief.

Even as officers were leaving the memorial service, Spiderman's time on the run was about to end. At about 6:30 p.m., a detective saw him driving a stolen Toyota to his sister's house near Palm Springs.

Pietri, barefoot, bolted as officers surrounded the house. He led them through back yards and over fences, at one point leaping from a tree onto an off-duty Lake Worth officer.

Pietri jumped into a Honda Accord and pushed his way into the driver seat, ordering out a couple and their 5-year-old son. About an hour later, he wrecked the car in Delray Beach after a chase that reached 120 mph.

No remorse, judge rules

As police surrounded him in the parking lot of a synagogue, he stuck a hand inside his boxer shorts. An officer raised his semiautomatic pistol — the same kind used to kill Chappell — and was about to pull the trigger.

Instead of a gun, however, Pietri pulled out a bag of cocaine and put it in his mouth.

Later that night, photographers were at the county jail for a "perp walk." The streets had spit up a killer. The cops had their man.

At his trial, the man who had grown up in a home without plumbing in rural Puerto Rico said he panicked under the influence of the cocaine that defense attorney Peter Birch said "turned him into a monster."

Assistant State Attorney Charles Burton, who would later become a judge and preside over the 2000 presidential recount, told jurors not to buy it. They didn't.

The jury recommended death. Pietri stood and faced Chappell's parents.

"I'm very, very sorry. I'm very, very sorry."

But Judge Marvin Mounts told a shackled, sobbing Pietri that his was not an act of remorse, just a ploy to save his skin.

Tom Chappell figured Pietri would be executed in a dozen years at most.

When Pietri appealed to the Florida Supreme Court in 2004, he said he was a devout Christian and argued that jurors had not heard how he had been affected by years of cocaine abuse or was too high to have knowingly murdered Chappell. The court rejected the appeal.

The loss of their son "is something we think about every day," Tom Chappell said.

Behind him, on a wall, is a large photograph of his son in uniform, ready to face the future.



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