Father of girl slain by mother channels grief into new law
By WAYNE PARRY
The Associated Press
November 27, 2006 1:46 PM
UNION, N.J. - Anguish has marked John Giovanni's life since his ex-wife bludgeoned their daughter to death nearly two years ago. First there was the news of the killing, committed as the teen slept. Then there was the moment he looked into her casket and realized how badly damaged her body was even after morticians did the best they could.
With his ex-wife's sentencing fast approaching, Giovanni now is channeling his grief into the statement he will read in court, and by pushing for harsher penalties for anyone who kills a child in New Jersey.
Nicole Giovanni, 14, was beaten to death as she slept in February 2005 by her mother, who used a hammer and a shovel in the gruesome pre-dawn attack.
"When I had to look in that coffin, I saw the damage," her father said last week. "It was horrible. She struck Nicole 12 to 15 times in the back of the head. It was a private service; I didn't want Nikki's friends to see her in that state. No parent should ever have to go through that."
The girl's mother, Lynn Giovanni, 47, is to be sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison, and must serve at least 25 1/2 years before becoming eligible for parole under a plea deal she struck with prosecutors last month.
Executive Assistant Prosecutor Robert O'Leary said Nicole's plans to leave her mother and go live with her father played a role in the killing.
"We all speculated it was to get back at dad because she was going to live with him and she wouldn't have any control over her," he said.
Neighbors and relatives have said Lynn Giovanni was depressed and dealing with financial problems shortly before the killing.
Her public defender, Peter Liguori, declined to speak on her behalf, saying his client had expressly asked him not to. A message left with her mother, in whose Roselle Park home the killing occurred, was not returned.
The Giovannis were divorced eight years before the killing, and had endured a stormy relationship. She wrote a self-published book under a pseudonym complaining about the court system and accusing her ex-husband of abuse. Part of the book advocates killing an abusive spouse or partner as they sleep, prosecutors confirmed.
He denies abusing anyone, and said she was verbally and physically abusive to him and Nicole, who was an accomplished student at Roselle Catholic High School and a member of the track team.
"She was bright, articulate, an honor student," John Giovanni said. "She had everything going for her. Why she (her mother) took her life, I'll never know. How can you kill a child - anyone's child, let alone your own child?"
A self-employed contractor, Giovanni has been working for the past month on the victim impact statement he is to read at his ex-wife's sentencing.
"This is beyond cruel and evil," he wrote. "Lynn Giovanni brutally slaughtered my precious 14-year-old daughter Nicole. She was defenseless and asleep. Why did you have to kill her? She was only a child! Your child! My child!
"A part of me died when Nicole died," the statement reads. "My heart has a huge void in it that can never be filled. I will never see Nicole driving her first car, graduating from high school and college, starting a career, getting married and having children, and blessing me with grandchildren. I think about Nicole every day and I cry."
John Giovanni said two weeks before the killing, Lynn called him and said she wanted Nicole to go live with him.
"Lynn said she was having problems with her, that she was running away and that she was nothing but trouble," he said.
They agreed that Nicole would move in with her father in two weeks. A week later, she was dead.
John Giovanni is working with several state legislators to get a new law passed that would mandate life in prison without parole for anyone convicted of killing a child aged 16 or younger. Currently, mandatory life sentences are reserved only for those convicted of killing a child in a sexually related assault.
Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, said he hopes lawmakers will vote on the bill in December.