A jury has found Brick resident Anthony DiGilio not guilty of vehicular homicide and assault by vessel in connection with a fatal Aug. 3, 2008 boating accident.
The jury of eight men and four women began deliberating just after 2 p.m. Monday following the end of closing arguments in the three week-long trial. The verdict was read in Superior Court Judge Francis Hodgson's court room at about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Minutes after the verdict was read, family and supporters of DiGilio, 33, were outside the court room making emotional phone calls, often crying with joy spreading the news.
Family members and friends of Robert Post, the 49-year-old Essex Fells resident who died in the boating accident, were visibly upset as they quickly exited the court room after the verdict had been read and headed to the exit of the court building.
"We feel vindicated for Tony and his family," said defense attorney Joseph Tacopina on the steps of the Ocean County Justice Complex in Toms River. "The fact that this verdict was returned in less than an hour speaks volumes, I think, about how this jury was able to get through the emotional aspects of this case."
"Twelve people from the community, from different walks of life, came together and immediately assessed this for what it was - this is not a crime, it was never a crime, it is a tragedy," said Tacopina.
DiGilio said he and his wife, Krista, will now "have a busy life to get back to" with their four children.
"I feel a hundred pounds lighter," said DiGilio, moments after his emotional, wide-eyed and tearful reaction in the court room following the reading of the verdict.
The 1 a.m. accident rocked the Jersey Shore boating community and a subsequent investigation led to charges being brought against DiGilio, who was at the helm of a 27-foot Imperial performance boat when the accident occurred in the area where the Metedeconk River converges with Barnegat Bay in Brick.
Post was piloting a 17-foot Boston Whaler when the two boats collided.
DiGilio continued on without stopping after the accident, but then contacted authorities through an attorney 10 hours later, saying he heard from media reports that there was an accident the previous night. DiGilio said he did not know he hit another boat, but thought he may have hit a log or a buoy.
The prosecution's case against DiGilio hinged on whether jurors believed the accident was caused by recklessness on the part of DiGilio – specifically, whether he failed to illuminate his boat's bow light and whether he was travelling at rate of speed too high for the conditions at the time.
The factor of recklessness was crucial since a New Jersey State Police trooper testified that DiGilio's boat had the right of way at the time of the crash.
But jurors may have been swayed against convicting DiGilio based on the prosecution's own video of DiGilio's boat passing through a channel beside the Wharfside Patio Bar restaurant – where DiGilio was the night of the accident – which showed a boat resembling the Imperial driving by with all of its lights on at the same time DiGilio would have been leaving.
Tacopina also attacked the prosecution's star witnesses in the case, including a security guard at the bar who waited until Sept. 2012 to come forward with a statement on seeing DiGilio's boat without lights – and shouted it out in a class at the Ocean County Police Academy that was being taught by one of the assistant prosecutors in the case.
Tacopina also brought in experts in boating accident reconstruction who contested the prosecution's allegation that DiGilio's boat was travelling between 51 and 69 m.p.h. at the time of the crash.
The Post family was not immediately available for comment.