Trial of James Fagone
James Fagone and Larissa Schuster were tried separately for their roles in the murder of Tim Schuster. For James Fagone, the courtroom fight for his life began on November 27, 2006.
With a videotaped confession and much corroborating evidence, James Fagone's defense attorney Pete Jones had an uphill battle at trial. Unsurprisingly, he blamed everything on Larissa, whom he portrayed as the mastermind who had manipulated his client into assisting in murder: "The road to perdition for Mr. Fagone begins with a sick, sadistic, sociopath named Larissa Schuster," Jones said.
James Fagone took the stand in his own defense and told the jury that the murder plot had been all Schuster's and that he had allowed himself to be dragged along because he was deathly afraid of her. Fagone told jurors that his boss was mercurial like Jekyll and Hyde. "In the beginning she was a nice boss, incredibly charming with so many good qualities, but that's not what she turned out to be."
Fagone admitted Larissa had paid him $2,000 to help her, but he thought the plan was to simply burglarize Tim Schuster, not kill him. He said that he thought there would be reprisals against him if he chose not to help in the crime: "She said she had friends who were criminals," he declared, "she had clout; she had money; she had friends in high places; she was involved with the Masons; she knew everybody. I was scared of her."
After taking Tim back to Larissa's, Fagone said he was struck "dead silent" by the sight of her pouring roughly three gallons of acid into the barrel where the body had been stashed. "I was completely scared after seeing someone murdered in front of my eyes and forced to participate. I wished to God it was only a nightmare. I figured that if she had killed him, what would she do to me since I knew everything that had happened."
Fagone added more macabre details, recounting the transport of the barrel from Larissa's home to her office two days after the murder. When they opened the barrel, Fagone was overcome by the horrible smell. Still, he poured more acid into the barrel at Larissa's behest. When the additional acid forced the body above the lip of the barrel, they could not close it. So Larissa allegedly cut off Tim's feet to enable them to get the top back on.
Prosecutor Dennis Peterson went after Fagone on cross-examination. He pointed to the $2,000 payment from Larissa Schuster as the price for murder. Still, Fagone insisted he thought the money had been given to him to enlist his help in a robbery, not cold-blooded murder.
On December 12, 2006, the jury sided with prosecutors, and James Fagone was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. After the trial, two Fagone jurors were moved to write the judge and ask leniency for the young man they believed was unduly influenced by an older woman.