Girl says Koskovich seemed ‘wrecked’ night of killings — (The Star-Ledger)

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The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)

April 16, 1999

Author: Fred J. Aun; Star-Ledger Staff

Flashing coy smiles at Thomas Koskovich and mouthing “I love you” during her testimony, the 17- year-old girlfriend of the accused killer told a jury yesterday that he appeared “wrecked” on drugs or alcohol after returning home on the night two pizza makers were slain in Sussex County.
Called as a defense witness in the Newton trial, Kim Prestidge said Koskovich and his friend, Jayson Vreeland, had glassy eyes, abnormal speech and “were falling all over the place” when they came back to Koskovich’s home in Franklin at about 11:30 p.m. on April 19, 1997. Authorities contend that, before returning home, Koskovich, 18 at the time, and Vreeland, then 17, carried out a plan to lure pizza deliverymen to their deaths by placing a bogus order. Sussex County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Briegel, who called the final prosecution witness Wednesday, says the duo, using stolen handguns, shot to death pizzeria owner Giorgio Gallara, 25, and his 22-year-old employee, Jeremy Giordano, on a barren stretch of road.Defense lawyers Pamela Brause and Lucas Phillips, while acknowledging their client participated in the homicides, hope to convince the jury that Koskovich’s drug use was the catalyst for the killings and impeded his ability to act rationally. Prestidge, who said she now lives in New York state, offered testimony intended to support the intoxication defense.   Under intense stares of the victims’ relatives and the jury, Prestidge fiddled with one of her rings and repeatedly smiled at Koskovich. During one smile, she poked her index finger into a dimple on her cheek.

The defendant, who appeared to dab tears from his eyes when Prestidge walked to the witness stand – his first sign of emotion during the trial – communicated silently with the young woman by mouthing words, to which she responded.

Prestidge said Vreeland and Koskovich told her they were going to make some prank phone calls to a friend in Vernon as they left the house at about 9:30 on the night of the killings. She said they grabbed two guns and some bullets before leaving and also wrote down the names of pizza restaurants.    Seeing the weapons did not surprise Prestidge because Koskovich had revealed them prior to that evening, she said. Authorities say Koskovich stole the guns from a borough sporting goods store, but Prestidge said her boyfriend told her he got them from a friend.    “He asked me if I would ever hate him if he had a gun, and I said no,” she testified. “And then he just showed them to me and told me not to tell anybody. . . . He told me he was going to sell them.”

Koskovich and Vreeland were acting normally in the early evening of April 19 as they strapped on the guns and prepared to leave, said Prestidge. “They were fine,” she said. “Tommy was making me laugh, as he always did.  Jay was being an idiot, like he always was.”    Prestidge told the jury she “hated” Vreeland. “He constantly used drugs and he acted like such an idiot, and I just didn’t like the way he acted,” she said.

Later, upon his return, Koskovitch’s behavior also displeased Prestidge, she testified.   “He just wasn’t himself,” she said. “They were definitely wrecked. . . . I didn’t like it because I’d never seen Tommy, like, high before.”    Before glancing at Koskovich and biting her lower lip to suppress a grin, Prestidge said Koskovich blamed his condition that night on his ingestion of some Prozac earlier in the evening.

Prestidge admitted she was curious about what Koskovich and Vreeland did while they were out, having heard on a police scanner that authorities were investigating a double homicide in Franklin and were searching for a car that sounded like her boyfriend’s.   Koskovich said he and Vreeland merely drove around in Vernon before coming back to Franklin, stopping at a local doughnut shop and bowling alley, Prestidge testified.

“He said, ‘Do I look like somebody who would kill somebody?’ . . . And I said, ‘No,'” she testified.   In a cross-examination attempt to undermine the intoxication defense, Briegel focused on Prestidge’s observations of her boyfriend and Vreeland before they went out that night. In a sometimes surly tone, Prestidge agreed the youths seemed sober as they armed themselves, flipped through the Yellow Pages and jotted down phone numbers of area pizzerias.

After he was arrested in the early morning of April 21, Koskovich breezily confessed to the slayings.  He said he and Vreeland, while they were “all stoned out” in the week or two prior to April 19, talked about shooting people and concocted the pizza delivery scheme.

He told detectives that possessing the stolen guns had a powerful effect. “When you get a gun, you go crazy,” Koskovich told police.