Gampero's family hired a lawyer and on Nov. 2, 1995, they all arrived at the courthouse ready to go to trial. What the Gampero family didn't know was that a few weeks before, the prosecutor had called the father of the victim to tell him that there were problems with the case and asked him how he felt about a plea bargain. The victim's father agreed to a plea that Gampero would be sentenced for a minimum of seven to 21 years instead of going to trial.
Ignorant of all that, the family met the judge, Francis Egitto, who had served on the bench 30 years and went by the nickname "Maximum Frank." That day, the family was told the prosecution was offering a deal of eight and a third to 25 years if their son pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge told the family that he would try to get a better deal of seven to 21 years (which was in fact the same deal which was already agreed upon by the victim's father and the prosecutor).
The judge warned that if Gampero didn't take the plea and the jury found him guilty, he would give him the maximum sentence of 25 to life.
The judge gave the family one night to think it over. That night, Gampero decided he would not take the plea, he would go to trial.
The next day, a Friday, two jurors had been selected when the judge asked the family to come into the courtroom to hear the verdict of another young man with charges similar to their son's. That defendant was found guilty and Judge Egitto sentenced him to 25 years to life to prison. The Gampero family was terrified. Gampero's attorney asked the judge for the weekend to consider their options with Charles Gampero, Jr.'s siblings, who were arriving from out of town. The judge said no. He gave them 15 minutes to think it over. Feeling defeated, Gampero agreed to take a plea of a seven- to 21-year prison term.
But after taking the plea, Gampero learned he then had to confess to every detail of the crime he had pled to. According to Gampero, when he tried to tell his version of what happened the night of the murder, Judge Egitto was not satisfied and demanded he tell him more. Gampero says that he ended up saying what the judge wanted to hear, "... it wasn't my story anymore," he told FRONTLINE. "[The judge] basically went down and said everything that happened. I just yes and no'ed."
In January 1996, Gampero began his prison sentence of seven to 21 years.
In the meantime, new evidence surfaced in the case. Three witnesses had come forward who said they saw other people beating the victim after Gampero had left. And Joseph Weingrad, the victim's father, who was a former investigator himself, began to have doubts about the police investigation and Gampero's sentence. He filed a wrongful death civil suit against the bowling alley and combed through all the facts and witness statements from the D.A.'s office.
Weingrad came to believe that the police investigation was sloppy, that the so-called witnesses were inconsistent, and that no one saw his son take the phone call. He felt that other people who previously had harrassed his son had to be involved and that Charles Gampero, Jr., who hit his son, was probably not the one who killed him.
Weingrad went to see the district attorney and, as he told FRONTLINE, "I just hit them straight on. I said, 'I believe that you did a terrific job in the courtroom. You bluffed that defense attorney.' I said, 'You didn't stand a Chinaman's chance of convicting Charles Gampero if they went to trial. As a matter of fact, if I had been the attorney I would have blew you out of the water. There's no way you could have convicted him.' I said, 'You know with your list of so-called witnesses, and the judge telling Gampero's lawyer, "You got 15 minutes to make a decision or else you're going to trial and if we go to trial and you're found guilty, you're going to get 25 to life and I won't entertain any pleas once the trial commences, the trial will go through to its conclusion and he'll get 25 to life if he's guilty" -- scared the hell out of everybody on that side and they caved in.'"
He left the district attorney's office unsatisfied. The D.A., he said, didn't say anything and didn't seem vaguely interested in taking another look at the case to examine what actually happened.
In October, 2002, after seven years in prison, Charles Gampero, Jr. appeared for the first time before the parole board. His parole was denied. The board stated that due to his status as a violent offender, discretionary release would be contrary to the best interests of the community.
Joseph Weingrad was sent a copy of the parole hearing minutes. He read through them and for the first time learned of the statements of the three new witnesses who had come forward saying they saw others beating his son. He brought a copy of the minutes to the D.A., Paul Gliatta, and told him that he would like him to reopen an investigation of his son's death. Gliatta responded that he would stick with his original witness statements.
The Gampero family hired attorney Bruce Barket, who filed a motion for a new trial in December 2003 based on three issues: the ineffective assistance of defense counsel for Gampero, Gampero's involuntary plea, and the new evidence. The motion is pending.
Gampero will be up for a parole board hearing again in October 2004. By that time, he will have served almost nine years in prison. If both the motion for a new trial and the parole are denied, he may not be out for another six years.