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
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.
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.
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.
09/22/88 Indicted as
Count I: Escape
Count II: Burglary (Auto)
Count III: Grand Theft (Auto)
Count IV: Burglary (Dwelling)
Count V: Grand
Count VI: Possession of a Firearm
During the Commission of a Felony
Count VII: First Degree
Count VIII: Possession of a Firearm
During the Commission of a Felony
Count IX: Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted
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.
recommended death by a vote of 8-4.
03/15/90 Sentenced as
Count I: Escape – 15 years consecutive to any
active sentence being served and consecutive to Counts
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
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,
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.
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
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.
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
"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
Just before 11 a.m., as Pietri watched the motorcycle
in his rear-view mirror, "my intentions were to pull over and run," he
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
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
Police later said Pietri had dumped the pickup, taken
a cab to the home of a friend and had the friend order a pepperoni
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
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
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
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
"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.