SIMSBURY, Conn. -- Retired Superior Court Judge Maurice J. Sponzo, a key figure in a 1970s murder case that cleared a wrongly accused Falls Village teenager, died Wednesday. He was 92.
Judge Sponzo served as a one-man grand jury in an investigation that cleared Peter Reilly in the 1973 slaying of his mother, Barbara Gibbons, died Wednesday.
Reilly confessed to the slaying after intense interrogation by state police and the 18-year-old was later convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Reilly recanted the confession while serving a six- to 16-year prison sentence.
Reilly's case drew attention of some celebrities including Connecticut author William Styron and playwright Arthur Miller.
Miller and others helped Reilly find a top defense attorney and raised awareness that the conviction had been based on a confession made after an eight-hour taped interrogation.
New evidence was presented in 1976 when an auxiliary state trooper and his wife said they had seen Reilly driving his car in Canaan at the time of his mother's killing at her home. The information led to the dismissal of charges against Reilly.
In December 1976, Judge John A. Speziale appointed Judge Sponzo to investigate possible police misconduct in the arrest and prosecution of Reilly.
Judge Sponzo's report, issued in June 1977, cleared Reilly and criticized State Police and Litchfield County prosecutors for focusing on Reilly without investigating other possible suspects.
Reilly, reached Saturday at his home in Tolland, said he was sorry to learn of Judge Sponzo's death.
"He was a very fair man who ran a very thorough investigation of the case," Reilly, now 50, told The Hartford Courant.