A Family Framed

The Periandris were vilified in the media, cast as rapists and murderers. Then, with little fanfare, the charges were dropped.

Woodland Halle Days Penitentiary Glen Reservation, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road in Kirtland 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., through January 6

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The parking lot of the Giant Eagle in Brook Park bustles with cars and shopping carts well into the evening. This makes for a rotten place to dump a body.

Yet it was here, around 8:45 on a crisp February evening, that a shopper discovered Tracy Mora.

She was dressed in an oversized Indians jacket, lying motionless on the pavement, face to the sky. A plastic bag was over her head and a telephone cord knotted tightly around her neck.

Mora was alive, but she was too groggy to tell Brook Park police what happened. She just knew she had been attacked. There were no witnesses.

But the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department had an idea who might have been behind the assault. Several months before, Mora told detectives of threats she had received -- letters, phone calls, signs on her lawn, warning her against pursuing a civil case.

Mitchell Periandri, a man she had worked with several years earlier, was a defendant in that case. She told detectives that Periandri and Kathy Bowman, a Cleveland police officer whom Periandri dated, were the authors. To deputies, it looked as though Periandri and Bowman finally followed through with their threats.

But Periandri could not have attacked Mora that February night. He was in jail, scheduled for an arraignment the next day in the rape of another woman. So deputies arrested Bowman, as well as Periandri's three brothers. They were jailed on charges of attempting to commit aggravated murder.

The Cleveland media swooped in. Mitchell Periandri was cast as a "serial rapist," his brothers as henchmen, Bowman as the cop gone bad. Their diabolical plot to beat and choke Tracy Mora made for a chilling narrative.

In the days following the attack, Mora told her story to reporters and prosecutors. She was the victim. No one dared question her word.

Yet in August, on the day before the trial, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office dismissed charges against Bowman and three of the Periandri brothers. A month later, they would dismiss similar charges against Mitchell Periandri. The investigation is still open, and the same five, though free, remain targets.

They deny attacking Mora, of course. But they also contend Mora staged the attack, lied to police, then used the Cleveland media to convince the public -- and the prosecutor's office -- that her would-be killers must be kept behind bars, lest their thirst for vengeance bring them to strike again.

It sounds like a standard defendant's conspiracy theory, save for one intriguing detail: Their explanation has evidence -- seemingly a lot more evidence than Mora has.

In 1991, Tracy Mora, then 21, was a receptionist at the Ethan Allen store in Middleburg Heights. She sat alone in the store's lobby.

Mitchell Periandri, a man with wide shoulders, long arms, and a square jaw, worked in the warehouse in back, loading furniture, organizing deliveries, and tending to the muscle-intensive labor.

"I felt very uncomfortable around him, because he stares a lot," Mora would later say in a deposition.

She left Ethan Allen, only to return 18 months later for an inventory position that would put her into more frequent contact with Periandri. Mora's lifelong friend, Wendy Sporcich, started working there about the same time.

In the spring of 1994, Mora and Sporcich reported to supervisors that Periandri's volatility made them anxious. In a later deposition, Sporcich recalled Periandri's fury when she couldn't find an ottoman that was to be shipped: "Open your fucking eyes!" he bellowed, kicking the ottoman in her direction. "It's right in front of your fucking face."

Mora said Periandri was "violent in the workplace toward any inanimate objects" and tended to punch furniture boxes when frustrated. He also began to make advances, which steadily grew bolder, she testified. First he asked the married Mora "questions about my personal life," then he asked her on dates, then he began grabbing her butt when the supervisor wasn't looking.

Mora claimed Kathy Bowman, who was dating Periandri at the time, was harassing her, too, telling her to stay away from Mitchell or "There will be hell to pay." In her deposition, she recalled a day when Bowman parked her squad car in front of Ethan Allen, grasping a gun as she sipped a wine cooler.

Mora reported the incidents to supervisors, but she claims they only offered to speak with Periandri, and nothing changed.

That summer, there was an altercation in the Suburban, a bar across the street. Mora testified that Periandri tried to pull Sporcich from a barstool. When Mora intervened, Periandri grabbed at her breast, says Mora.

In August 1994, Sporcich wrote a letter to Ann Formisano, then Ethan Allen's store manager, chronicling Periandri's lewd behavior. Sporcich claims Periandri told other co-workers he'd like to "get down their pants and never leave."

Formisano scoffs at this. "I think that was wishful thinking," she said in a deposition. The manager testified that Mora and Sporcich frequently socialized with Periandri, that they were "one big family," and that Mora seemed to make up excuses just to visit Periandri in the warehouse.

Formisano also vaguely remembers one of the women -- likely Mora -- alleging that Periandri raped her that spring. By this time, though, Formisano knew of the dispute at the Suburban. She suspected that Mora and Sporcich were conspiring.

"They were out to get him . . . fired," Formisano said in her deposition. (She declined Scene's request for an interview.)

Periandri also says that Mora was the aggressor, that she'd join him at the bar, then beg her way into his car and, finally, into his bed. He claims Mora joined him on a drive to North Carolina. The sex they had was consensual, he says, and Mora became angry only when Periandri broke off the relationship after learning that Mora was not separated from her husband, as she had claimed.

Bowman says she cannot comment publicly on the case, but her attorney, mother, and sister all deny that she intimidated Mora. They contend it was the other way around.

"Tracy and Wendy were calling her up at 3 a.m.," says Mary Pat Winkel, Bowman's sister. "They'd hang up, or Kathy would just hear them giggling."

Through their attorney, Dale Pelsozy, Mora and Sporcich refused comment for this story. But according to Pelsozy, Mora denies she had a relationship with Periandri. There was no trip to North Carolina, no consensual sex.

Whatever happened at Ethan Allen, the effect on the people involved was far-reaching. Mora and Sporcich received transfers that caused them to leave Ethan Allen. They would later sue the company. Formisano would be chastised by Ethan Allen management for failing to report the harassment claims, have a nervous breakdown over the stress, and finally be fired for not meeting sales goals, she later testified. Periandri would be suspended, suffer months of depression, and finally learn that his job was eliminated. But the worst of it was still years away.

The romance of Mitchell Periandri and Kathy Bowman was hot and cold for the better part of the '90s. They lived together, were briefly engaged, but fought often, especially over Periandri's tendency to see other women.

That habit not only sparked clashes with Bowman; it unleashed a flurry of legal troubles that persist to this day.

Periandri found steady work as a plumber by the late '90s. That's how he entered the home of Antoinette Egizio, who hired Periandri based on a referral from Yolanda Cossu, his sister.

Egizio had made a sheltered but safe life for her teenage daughter, Chiara, who was hearing-impaired. The disability hindered her comprehension, and diagnostic tests showed her to have the mentality of a 12-year-old. In May 1999, Chiara was three months shy of her eighteenth birthday, old enough to be left home alone when Antoinette began a new job as a flight attendant, causing her to be gone for days on end.

Not long after Periandri told Antoinette that her home required more plumbing than expected, an anonymous woman called to inform Antoinette that Chiara was staying overnight at Periandri's house. Antoinette asked Chiara, who confessed they were having sex.

Since Chiara was underage, Periandri was thrown in jail on rape charges. Cleveland Sex Crimes Detective Laura Parker investigated, but told the grand jury that the relationship was consensual. No indictment was issued, and Periandri was released.

Despite Antoinette's protests, Chiara continued to see her boyfriend. In November 1999, Antoinette came home from an international flight to discover that Chiara had moved out and was living with Periandri.

"She's naive," Antoinette says. "If you tell her, 'Come with me, I'm not going to rape you,' she'll go with you."

Not satisfied with the conclusions of the police or the grand jury, Antoinette worked the case on her own, quizzing her daughter about Periandri's behavior, then reporting what she heard to detectives.

In the meantime, Periandri broke up with Bowman. According to Antoinette, Bowman wrote insulting letters to Chiara and followed her to school in her squad car. Bowman's mother and sister deny this. They have answering-machine tapes of Chiara taunting Bowman.

If things weren't complicated enough for Periandri, Tracy Mora and Wendy Sporcich suddenly resurfaced, filing a civil suit against Periandri and Ethan Allen in September 1999. Periandri was accused of sexually harassing the two women when they worked together five years before. The company was accused of punishing Mora and Sporcich for complaining about his conduct.

Haunted by Antoinette Egizio's vigilance, by Kathy Bowman's jealousy, and by Mora and Sporcich's lawsuit, Periandri says that, by fall of 1999, all he wanted was a quiet, simple life with Chiara.

He says he was so burdened by fallout from relationships gone sour, he would never complicate matters further by threatening Mora. After all, the civil suit could only cost him money, and he didn't have much to take anyway.

Yet Mora claimed that, in July 2000, she received a note made with letters clipped from a newspaper. It threatened her with harm if she didn't drop the suit. A similar letter arrived at her workplace in October 2000, about the time her attorney, Pelsozy, received a letter stringing together such phrases as "hit list" and "I'd like to kill them all." These letters also warned against pursuing the civil case.

In November 2000, Mora and Sporcich told sheriff's Detective Anthony Quirino about the threats. They also told him that, in 1994, Periandri spiked their drinks with a date-rape drug and had sex with them. According to their depositions, neither woman went to police because they were sure Periandri or his cop girlfriend would make them regret it.

Quirino testified that, in December of last year, Mora's husband found an envelope in the couple's front yard. Inside was a picture of a heart with ketchup smeared on it. The words "have no suspects" and "the damage was a sharp object" were cut out and pasted on the heart.

Mitchell Periandri says he went to bed on February 9, 2001, with a clear conscience. He knew nothing of the threats against Mora and had only a vague idea about what Antoinette Egizio was doing to separate him from her daughter.

Deputies broke through his door at 6:45 a.m. and stormed his bedroom. "They dragged me out of my bed, threw me on the floor, and started laying boots on my head and in my ribs." He was jailed on the charge of rape.

In the search warrant affidavit, Detective Quirino expressed doubt about Cleveland police findings in the prior rape case involving Chiara. He added that two women -- Mora and Sporcich -- told him they were sexually assaulted by Periandri as well.

After their search of Periandri's home, deputies served a warrant at Kathy Bowman's West Side home. Detective Quirino was sure he would find the cut-up newspapers used to make the threats against Mora. He came up empty. Bowman was not jailed, but detectives and prosecutors suspected she had used her police connections to help Periandri.

"They said, 'Did you tell [Detective Parker] from Sex Crimes Division to change the report for him?'" says Mary Pat Winkel, Bowman's sister.

Yolanda Cossu, Periandri's sister, was pulled out of class at the Cleveland Police Academy for questioning by detectives and prosecutors. They wanted information about Mitchell and Chiara.

"I told them that, aside from her hearing disability, she's a normal human being," Cossu says. "They wanted me to tell them that she was not competent, that she was not able to make decisions for herself, but I wasn't going to say that, because it wasn't true."

A detective gave Cossu her statement to read. Cossu says important details were changed, and she refused to sign it.

On February 15, the day before Cossu was to graduate ninth in her 88-person class, she was told that, since she hadn't cooperated with investigators, she would not be allowed to graduate.

The very next week, on February 23, Mitchell Periandri was hit with another rape charge, this time for the assault on Mora and Sporcich nearly seven years before.

Two days later, Mora phoned detectives to report another threat. She found a wooden sign on her front porch. It was painted with the words "Drop the charges or die."

When they were children, money was tight, so the Periandris worked around their West Park neighborhood and were paid a quarter per household chore. Their mother taught all five to cook, wash clothes, clean, and crochet.

When their parents divorced, Dad left and Mom took on another job. Gino Periandri became, at age 16, the man of the house. "I used to kick a little butt," he recalls, "and they didn't appreciate it."

Mitchell resented Gino's heavy hand the most. The two, who are three years apart, came to blows regularly, and the sibling rivalry intensified as they became adults. Twelve years ago, they had a fight that involved lost teeth and rammed cars, all fueled by alcohol.

"From that point on, we didn't talk," says Gino. "It was like 'You're not my brother.'"

Marco, the youngest brother, took Mitchell's side and didn't speak to Gino either. Yolanda, the second eldest, tried to keep in touch with all of them, but admits it was hard. Dante, the fourth child, was only close to his cousin, Jerome Periandri.

All of the brothers would have scrapes with the law. Gino was indicted for grand theft auto in 1983 and was arrested for domestic violence in 1997. Dante was jailed for receiving a stolen car in 1990. Marco pleaded guilty to a drug-abuse charge in 1996.

But by 2001, the brothers looked as though they were ready to lead stable, productive lives. Each settled into steady employment. Gino became a mechanic. Marco worked construction. Mitchell was a furniture refinisher and a plumber. Dante became a roofer. Yolanda worked for E-check before her quest to become a police officer. All remained anchored to West Park.

But though they had settled down, the brothers still held grudges against each other. Their mother wanted the family to be together for holidays, but it rarely happened.

"We each have our own lives," says Marco.

February 2001 represented three years and two months of sobriety for Gino, to whom Alcoholics Anonymous was a salvation. His drinking led to the domestic violence arrest in 1997, and as a condition of probation, the court ordered him to AA.

He read the Big Book voraciously and attended AA functions nearly every night after he finished work at Merrick Chevrolet Geo in Berea. Absent alcohol, Gino and wife Angie found a harmony they'd never known. The couple and their nine-year-old daughter made a modest, happy home.

But a knock on the door at 4:45 a.m. on February 28 flung their lives back into chaos. Gino, who had fallen asleep watching television in the living room, staggered to answer it. He counted nine deputies on his front steps.

They were looking for Dante, but Gino says they wouldn't tell him the reason. He allowed deputies to search the home for his brother, whom Gino hadn't seen in months. Detective Quirino then told Gino he was being arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. Angie let out a scream. "I just started yelling, 'He was at AA all night,'" she says.

Before deputies converged on Gino's home, they had been to Yolanda's. Her husband opened the door to find gun barrels pointed at his chest. Deputies also went across the street, where the Periandris' mother lives, waking her up to ask about her sons and search her home.

Yolanda and her mother gave deputies addresses for each brother, and in the early morning hours of February 28, the Periandris were rounded up, as was Bowman, who was at her parents' home in North Olmsted. Deputies also arrested cousin Jerome Periandri on charges of obstructing justice.

Gino and Marco say they didn't know who they supposedly attacked until the TV reports named them as suspects in the attempted murder of Tracy Mora. Having had almost no interaction with Mitchell over the last 12 years, Gino says he had never even heard of Mora, nor did he know anything about her suit against his brother.

"I couldn't believe it," Gino says. "This is a nightmare. I just thought somebody had made a serious mistake and they were going to figure it all out."

Department policy bars Detective Quirino from speaking about the case, which is still open. Prosecutors also cannot comment until after it is closed.

But prosecutors are required to provide defense attorneys with witness testimony and evidence in advance of the trial. The most telling disclosures, say defense attorneys, are in Mora's statements to police.

Jack Corrigan, the attorney for Bowman, says that, on the day after the assault, Brook Park Police interviewed Mora. She mentioned only two attackers, a male and a female, Corrigan says. They both wore ski masks, but she remembered the male had blue eyes.

"She said that it was the same . . . body size as Mitchell," Quirino said in court. "She distinctly remembers seeing the eyebrows and the shape of his head."

But Gino, Dante, and Marco all have brown eyes. For this reason, and because Mora could not specifically identify them, all three were released from jail on March 1.

But when Mora met with Quirino the next day, she told him there were four attackers, a woman and three men, and that they had taken her to an undisclosed location -- a garage, most likely -- where they taunted and, finally, strangled her. She picked Bowman and the four Periandris out of a photo lineup, identifying Gino as the one who lay on top of her and simulated sex.

The Periandris, out of jail for a matter of hours, were arrested again.

Edwin Vargas, Gino's attorney, had no problem finding people to back his client's claim that he wasn't involved. On the night Mora was found in the grocery story parking lot, Gino was attending a Big Book discussion at the home of an AA friend. He was gone from 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., meaning he couldn't have participated in the attack.

"When the people from AA found out that Gino Periandri was arrested for trying to murder somebody that night, they started calling us," says Vargas. Seventeen members volunteered to testify at Gino's grand jury hearing. Prosecutors allowed eight to speak, and all said that Gino was with them the entire night.

Gino was indicted anyway, as were Marco, Dante, and Bowman.

Since deputies suspected Mitchell Periandri would threaten or seek revenge against his accusers, he was not allowed to make phone calls or take visitors in jail, and he was locked away in the protective custody section. About the only interaction he had was with a man named Clay Krcal, who occupied the cell next to him.

Krcal, who once graced the cover of Scene with the headline "Con Man of the Year," seemed an affable, pleasant guy, a rare commodity in jail.

"We started talking, and he had all these blueprints of houses," Mitchell says. "He told me he built 80 homes, that he was in the second phase, and that he needed a plumber. I had no reason not to believe the guy."

Of course, Krcal's home-building was the reason he was in jail. He had gained infamy for collecting down payments on land he didn't own and on houses he didn't plan to build.

Krcal consoled Mitchell, who wept and cursed his fortune. He listened intently as Mitchell told him his whole sad story. Though Mitchell was prohibited from phoning his family, Krcal offered to relay messages.

Mitchell's mother was worried about the injuries he suffered on the morning of his arrest, and Krcal assuaged her fears. "Clay let me know that [Mitchell] had gotten a doctor, that he was eating," she says, asking that her name be withheld.

Krcal spoke with Mitchell's mother every night for a month. At the time, Mitchell was writing letters to his mother and sister, but Krcal warned him about nosy deputies.

"If you're worried about your notes, they're going to take all of them," Krcal told Mitchell. "If you want me to hang on to them, I will." Krcal said he would place them in the envelope he sent to his secretary every Monday, and the secretary would make sure the letters reached Mitchell's family.

What Mitchell didn't know was that Krcal had no secretary and was actually giving the letters to detectives, who forwarded them to prosecutors. In a letter to Scene in July, Krcal claimed he was offered a deal on his case in exchange for incriminating evidence against Mitchell.

"They called me up to tell me they had another project for me," Krcal wrote. "They had placed this guy Mitch P. next to me. They told me that, after I got the information they needed, this would be the case to 'set me free.'"

"That's the one thing he's said that I believe is true," says Terry Gilbert, the attorney of Sam Sheppard fame, who represented Mitchell. "We have evidence that suggests [sheriff's detectives] hired Krcal to set up Mitchell." Deputies would not comment.

Not long after the Periandris and Bowman appeared on Cleveland newscasts, Krcal delivered a pair of damning letters to detectives. One, addressed to Mitchell's mother, contained the inscription "For Kathy only." In it, Mitchell asks Bowman to assemble his brothers to strangle Mora, preferably with a plastic bag.

Another letter, this addressed to a man named Tony Delgado, ordered the killing of Mora, Sporcich, Quirino, and his partner, David Schilling. "Start with girls now," the letter says. "I'll get cops address soon, very, very soon."

The authenticity of these letters is questionable, given that Krcal is a convicted forger, but they were persuasive enough to get Mitchell and Delgado indicted for conspiracy to murder a peace officer.

"I have no clue who that guy is," Mitchell says of Delgado. When he was arrested, Delgado told detectives he did not know Mitchell, either. He did, however, know Clay Krcal from his time in the county jail.

Elizabeth Kelley, Delgado's attorney, believes Krcal set Delgado up as the fall guy for a murder plot. "Clay had a number of felonies hanging over his head, and he was going to do whatever he could to lessen that time -- even set up innocent people."

Krcal, now serving time in the Lorain Correctional Institution, did not respond to requests for an interview. But he was scheduled to be a witness in the prosecution's case and last summer boasted of taking several hundred pages of notes on his conversations with Mitchell.

Mitchell says he didn't write the letter to Delgado. As for the letter to Bowman, Mitchell admits the third page contains his writing, his signature, and his doodle of Scooby-Doo. But he denies writing the first two pages, which contain the order to kill Mora. Those pages are written on different stationery.

On March 7, eight days after the attack, Mora went to an Akron hospital, complaining of pain on her inner thigh and buttocks. Nurses found words carved there and on her vagina. One read "Mitch," another "Marco," and one "Gino."

In the week after these discoveries, Mora took her story to the airwaves and newspapers, recounting the attack in vivid detail. She told reporters she had gone to the store for diapers and, upon stepping out of her car, was struck in the back of the head. She remembered someone shoving a pill in her mouth. She recalled names and sentences like "Marco, is she dead yet?" and "for my brother" and "Kathy, she's dead." The most grisly details were the carved names around her pelvis.

"When I went off the pain medication, the burning was so bad," Mora sobbed during her Fox 8 interview. Tylenol 3 was prescribed for her bruises, and Mora told the reporter it was the reason she hadn't noticed the markings for a week.

From their jail cells, the Periandris and Bowman watched incredulously as Mora described their supposed deeds. "I just couldn't believe the lies that were coming out of her mouth," says Mitchell.

What amazed defense attorneys was the complete lack of skepticism for Mora's story. She confessed to remembering almost nothing on the night of the attack, yet two weeks later, she was repeating whole sentences.

They wondered how the marks were missed by nurses and doctors at Southwest General Hospital, where she was previously examined. If she was drugged, why were no traces found in the toxicology test?

Jerry Emhoff, Marco's attorney, points to a comment made by a hospital psychiatrist who spoke with Mora on the night of the attack: "The patient was calm and pleasant," wrote the doctor. "This was incongruous to what had happened."

Yet the media and all of Cleveland seemed to believe Mora, and during the month of March, the Periandri name became synonymous with scum.

Though convinced of his innocence, Mitchell says that, when he saw how he was portrayed on television and the way Krcal tricked him into a written confession, he lost his faith in justice. "I thought, 'I'm going down. I'll be one of those guys you'll see on 60 Minutes that's been in jail 15 or 20 years and was never really guilty, was totally framed.'"

Things were not any easier on the outside. Bond for the Periandris was set at $2.5 million. Bowman's was set at $5 million. It took two months to get a court to even listen to the family's request to lower the bail.

"The petitioner's family ties seem to be the source of his problems," said Assistant Prosecutor Kristen Lusnia at Marco's bond hearing. "The best way to ensure that this family is neutralized and to assure this petitioner's presence at trial would [be] through maintaining the trial court's bail."

The court would lower Marco's bond to $150,000, and prosecutors agreed to lower the other suspects' bonds as well. The Periandris' mother cashed in her life's savings to pay for their release. The rest of the family financed bail with high-interest loans, maxed-out credit cards, or both.

After 62 days in jail, Bowman, Gino, Marco, and Dante were released, albeit shackled to electronic ankle bracelets. House arrest made employment nearly impossible.

On the night of the attack, Bowman was alone at the North Olmsted home of her parents, who were in Florida, says her attorney, Jack Corrigan.

At 7:06 p.m., not long before the attack was to have occurred, Bowman's daughter phoned. Corrigan says they spoke for 53 seconds. At 7:57, the daughter phoned again to tell Bowman that a talent show rehearsal was running late. The two spoke for 11 seconds. At 8:37, about the time Mora's body was found, Bowman was calling a former Ethan Allen employee. Corrigan says Bowman was looking for someone who might support her claim that she never intimidated Mora. "This is indicative of someone trying to defend herself," says Corrigan.

Marco did not have phone records or a parade of witnesses to support his alibi, but his wife Sheila says she was with him the entire evening. "I ate dinner, watched Friends, fell asleep," Marco says.

He was connected to the crime by Mora's claim that she recognized his "bushy eyebrows" through the ski mask and that she heard someone utter his name. She also found "Marco" inscribed on her thigh.

Jerry Emhoff, Marco's attorney, says it still only boils down to Mora's claims versus a total absence of corroborating evidence. "The coroner wrote a 47-page analysis of the evidence in this case. There isn't a single piece of physical evidence that connects these guys with what happened to Tracy Mora."

Dante's alibi rings with the most truth, if only because it paints him in such a grimy light.

He told deputies that, on the evening of the attack, he hosted a backyard barbecue with his fiancée Renee, his five-year-old daughter, and his cousin Jerome. Around 8:30, Dante and Jerome took Renee's gold Camry and toured Brook Park's exotic dance circuit.

The Fox's Den and Gigi Lounge were among their stops. A friend, identified only as "Timmy," was picked up along the way because he had weed, as was a woman Dante knew from a tanning salon. During the early morning hours of February 28, while deputies rousted Dante's family and searched frantically for him, he says he was at the home of the woman from the tanning salon, having sex till 4 a.m.

"Who would make up a story like that?" chuckles one defense attorney.

Dante declined Scene's interview request, as did Jerome Periandri, who was with him most of the night. Their attorneys also refused to talk.

But sheriff's detectives had suspected that a gold Camry owned by Dante's fiancée was used to transport Mora to wherever she was strangled. The car was impounded, but the coroner reported finding no hair belonging to Mora, nor fibers from her clothing.

In mid-August, a few weeks before trial was to begin, the case got weirder. Prosecutors told defense attorneys that Mora had added a new wrinkle to her story.

Mora was now saying that, on the day she was attacked, she received a letter at work that threatened harm to one of her children. The letter requested a meeting with her at a donut shop across the street from Marc's in Brook Park. Mora told prosecutors she went to the shop to see if she could spot anything suspicious. Finding nothing, she went to Marc's to pick up diapers, only to be attacked there, taken to another site, then dumped in the Giant Eagle parking lot.

Defense attorneys believe this part of the story was invented by Mora to answer what looked to be a troubling question for the prosecution: How did Bowman and the Periandris know Mora was headed to Marc's, if she spontaneously decided to fetch diapers?

Nearly six months had passed since the attack, and it seemed a strange time to approach prosecutors with new recollections. Defense lawyers think Mora's donut shop story finally destroyed the prosecution's faith in her.

Even Dale Pelsozy, Mora's attorney, admits it's strange for someone who, on the night of the attack, remembered almost nothing, only to recall fine details in the weeks and months afterward.

"It's something that happened very fast, very violently, and often times victims are the worst witnesses," says Pelsozy. "Your mind forms an impression. She's lying in a hospital bed, trying to put two and two together . . . based on memory and speculation. Is it true? Maybe not. But is it true in your mind? Maybe."

On August 31, one day before Bowman and the four brothers were to be tried for the attack, the state dismissed the charges against them. The rape charges kept Mitchell in jail an extra month, but these, too, were dismissed at the end of September.

To the accused, this news was bittersweet. On one hand, it liberated them from house arrest and saved them the anxiety of casting their fate before a fallible jury. On the other, the dismissal gave prosecutors the option of refiling charges if they choose. The Periandris and Bowman wanted to defend themselves in court. Instead, prosecutors told Cleveland media that they were the likely perpetrators; it would just take a bit longer to build a case against them.

Gino sits in a worn-out velveteen chair in his West Park home, smoking a Camel Light. "Being sober for three years, two months, and this is what it gets me?" He shakes his head. "It has driven me nuts trying to understand why.

"There's 17 alibis. Look around," he says, sweeping an arm toward a cramped and tattered living room. "I'm not a millionaire. We can't pay people to come to court and lie for me."

The day after he was arrested, Gino lost his job of six years at Merrick. He emerged from jail only to be placed under house arrest. His family went on welfare. Gino, the lone breadwinner, could do nothing to get them out.

"I'm financially crippled. I have no retirement. I'm trying to support a household, a 10-year-old daughter. I'm trying to be responsible, but I have no job. I want to know why people won't hire me. One guy told me they don't want my name in their business."

Wife Angie says they've thought of changing their last name. They're off welfare now, and Gino eventually found work, but they still have $32,000 in debts from the case.

The Periandris remain under investigation, and they still live in fear. During the last eight months, Yolanda Cossu was certain deputies would pick her up. "There were times I thought they'd take my mom away . . . I hear a car door slam and I think, 'Oh God, they're coming.'"

Since the dismissal, Cossu has contacted the Public Safety Director's office about receiving her police certification. Six weeks' worth of calls and letters have not been returned.

Her mother spent all of her money freeing her children. Since the arrests, she's been depressed and sleep-starved, but she says she's too broke to get counseling.

Bowman's debts forced her to sell her house; she's moving into her sister's basement. The case has cost Bowman and her family more than $150,000.

Marco and Mitchell bear their grief stoically, channeling it into a grim resolve. "My life ain't going anywhere," says Marco through clenched teeth. "Not until I get these people back for this. I don't care if I have to bring in Johnnie Cochran."

The Periandris will sue Cuyahoga County over their ordeal. That is one cause for which the brothers are united.

Since the arrests, their spouses have met, and they speak with their mother more frequently. Marco and Gino had a long conversation. Tension remains between Mitchell and Gino, but both want it to ease.

"Through all of this, the one good thing that would come out is that this family banded together," says Gino. "It didn't grow further apart. My mom, that's one of the few things she ever wanted from us. We have grown closer. But that's a pretty heavy price to pay, and it doesn't make what happened to us just."

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