Ronald Trimboli

I learned a very long time ago that when I find a case on one of the many reality crime shows I watch that they tend to slant things and quite often make them sound more cut and dry than they really are.  When I do my research for cases I often times look at comments made to articles as well and will see if I can verify some information.  Then when I sit down to type things up at least in the beginning I try to give all sides of the case, but I am human and in the end it generally falls on my gut feelings of the case.  There are cases where I believe innocent people were let go and I am confused as to how the jury could not see that.  There are cases where someone is convicted and yet, while I may believe in their guilt I am not sure the evidence was there.  And then there are cases where I absolutely believe in a convicted person's guilt but I feel as if the tactics that law enforcement and prosecutors used to get that guilty verdict could in the end harm a lot of people.  

This case I am not sure fits any of the descriptions above.  This is one of those rare cases that when I sit down to give the facts and tell about the case I am unsure how I feel about it. Now, that does not mean that by the time I am done here I will not have chosen a side or had an opinion.  It just means that this is not a cookie cutter case.

On the night of June 17, 1985, single mother Joanne Lemieux left work an hour early after working a double to get to her Arlington Texas home because she had been attempting to reach her two teenage daughters all day without any luck and was worried.  She obviously had the right to be.  When she returned home she found her twelve year old daughter, Renee dead in their bathroom.  She called 911 and in the process found her fourteen year old daughter Danielle also dead in her bedroom. Both girls had been bound and had multiple stab wounds.  Upon arrival the police began searching the house.  At one point they reached the laundry room of the small home and when they could not get the door open they were convinced they found the perpetrator.  No, they found another victim.  Seventeen year old John Bradley had, just within the last few days, been living in the home.  He too was bound and stabbed multiple times.  Upon seeing Danielle they immediately suspected she had been sexually assaulted as her underwear was nearly removed, but of course that was for someone else to officially determine.  

Several things make this case very interesting because things that were used then were fairly new whereas today they seem almost routine.  The first was criminal profiling and the other was the use of DNA.  This crime occurred in the time period where investigators were learning new ways to handle scenes.  They knew the technology that everyone had hoped for for years was out there but they were learning new methods on how to preserve things.  As technology grew so did skepticism and it was more important than ever that investigators watched their steps in how they did things.  It appears this was one of the first cases, at least in the Arlington area, where officers videotaped the crime scene.  That is a great idea and one would think would come in very handy and it did... for both sides.  Again, basically you had old school and new school detectives working and the defense in this case was quick to point out that notes made by detectives did not always match the video tape.  Was that because investigators had been inside and moved things before the video began? Was it because it was possibly changed later to make their case more solid?  These are some of the things that the defense tried to focus on.  Between the criminal profiling and the DNA, this also became a case that for that era was not very common but today we see all the time... a battle of the experts.  So let us get back to the story.

Joanne Lemieux was recently divorced and had moved from a nearby apartment complex into a new rented home.  Her daughter, Renee was very good friends with Ronald Trimboli's step-daughter, Hope, and soon the the Trimboli family also moved from the apartment complex to just down the street from the new Lemieux home.  While Ronald would claim that the two family were good friends, Joanne would claim that the parents were simply acquaintances because of their daughter's friendship.  Joanne and her daughters had recently met John Bradley at their local church.  He had had issues with drugs in the past and was living with another family at the church but it was not working out.  He moved into the Lemieux home on June 14th, three days before the murders.  This is important because the defense would later use his lifestyle and his issues in court.  It was reported that there was a large amount, almost toxic amount, of cocaine found around John Bradley's body when it was found in the laundry room.  I tried doing a bit of research on this and as I recall there was really only one thing I could find that said this but, regardless of if the cocaine existed (although could be very important) it was no secret that John had had his drug demons.  Just a few months prior to his own death his roommate had died in a drug related crime.  Rumors were that John had said he was "next" and was in fear.  There were also reports that at some point (although I was unable to determine exactly when) some people associated with John Bradley had been involved in a drug bust and it was reported that while searching the police found a map of the neighborhood where the Lemieuxes lived in with an X indicating their house.  The words "A Murder Mystery" were on the map.  This information was not allowed in court and while I was able to see a picture of the map, it was not allowed in court and I found very little more indicating just how valid this information was.  It did not stop the defense from trying to use it or at the very least imply things.  They were able to point out in court that by their assumptions the police did not look into this angle very well.  Whether they did or not is questionable.

So how did Ronald Trimboli become the prime suspect?  The simple answer is that he made himself the suspect, in more ways than one.  First, although the FBI started looking into and discussing criminal profiling in the early 1970's it really did not start to become really big until around this time.  I believe that part of the reason it started becoming more popular is that again, this was a era in which investigations were changing and detectives were becoming more open to new things.  On top of that when it comes to a complex case, ones that are considered extremely heinous or when leads have run their course investigators  start looking into whatever they can to solve a case whether they themselves support the theory or not.  This is why you often hear investigators talk about how they do not believe in psychics but they will contact one about a case and just see if it leads them anywhere.  In this case the FBI came in, looked at the crime scene photos and information and created a profile.  By the time they were done the investigators looked at their long list of suspects and realized that Ronald Trimboli matched nearly every aspect of the profile.  Now, some could argue that investigators told the FBI agents that Ronald Trimboli was their prime suspect, although he was high up on the list I am sure I cannot say before the profile he was the prime suspect, and that they created the profile to fit him.  Maybe this is true.  However, that being said Trimboli really did not help himself at all. 

According to the profile created by the FBI it was their theory that first off the perpetrator had to live near by.  They theorized this for a few reasons.  The first is that with three victims and the viciousness of the crime it appears that the perpetrator would have spent a significant amount of time in the home so they would have likely had to have known that Joanne was not going to be coming home any time soon.  Secondly, the large amount of blood in the home indicated that when the perp was done, he or she would have been covered in blood so they would not have wanted, or been able, to get far from the scene without being seen.  They theorized that the perpetrator was a man based on a few  things also.  First, there were three victims and it would be difficult even for a man to control three at once but all but impossible for a woman.  The second and biggest sign that the person was a man was the fact that it appears that Danielle was sexually assaulted.  The rest of the profile was based simply on experience and knowledge of behaviors.  They theorized that the man involved had had a recent , what they called stressor, in his life.  This could mean the loss of a job, a divorce or the birth of a child.  They also believed that the man involved had likely had at least some run ins with law enforcement and had difficultly holding down a job as well as relationships.  As far as childhood, they believed that the man likely had a domineering and overbearing mother and a absent or rarely present father.  Most importantly they believed that the man was at the very least keeping a very close eye on the investigation, maybe as much as to integrate himself thinking that would get him more information or to make himself seem important.  

As stated earlier all of these things matched up with Ronald Trimboli.  He lived just a few houses down from the home; he knew the family; he was on his third marriage; over the years he had had many different jobs; his wife had just given birth to a child the month prior; even his mother seemed to be overbearing while his father had been gone a lot with his work while Ronald was a child; and he seemed to be talking to every reporter available about his relationship with the family and the impact the crime was having on the neighborhood.

At some point, whether his behavior had made them suspicious, or talking with Joanne, Ronald had become a suspect.  Joanne would have likely been immediately interviewed about things that may have occurred over the last few days prior to the murders.  It was probably then that she mentioned that around 2 am the morning of the murders Ronald Trimboli had knocked on her door asking to use the phone.  He had said that his was not working and that his newborn son was sick.  She stated that he seemed very agitated and strange.  She had offered him some water while he waited for the doctor to return his call.  He had returned again around 5 am to call the doctor once again.  During one of these visits he had seen John Bradley sleeping on the couch and had asked in a strangely angry attitude why he was there.  Joanne explained he had become homeless and was staying with her family for a while.  She found it odd that Ronald would be not only so interested in John Bradley's presence, but irritated with him.  According to Joanne she was not necessarily friends with Ronald Trimboli, she simply knew him because her daughter was friends with his step-daughter.  She told investigators that while there Ronald had only been in the living room, dining room and kitchen areas of the home.  Later, after Ronald did an interview with a reporter he had seemed to indicate that the two families were extremely close and reported that he had intended to take the girls with his family somewhere and had made the plans with Joanne but that they had fallen through.  Joanne claimed this was a lie.

So now he is definitely on the investigators radar and he was interviewed.  He admitted to going to the home the two times in the middle of the night to use the phone, indicating his was not working.  He told investigators that he, his wife and step-daughter had taken his son to the doctor at 8:30 in the morning.  He apparently reported to work around 4 pm.  He indicated he was with his family the entire day and they tended to verify most of his story it seems, if not then, they did eventually.  As the investigation wore on and lab reports were coming through they had discovered a palm print on the dryer belonging to Ronald Trimboli.  There was also a glass on the dryer with his fingerprints.  Joanne would later claim this was not the same glass she had given him the night before. When asked about this he repeatedly insisted that he had never been in the laundry room of the home.  When investigators pressed him he said that he had been in there several months prior when Joanne gave him a tour of the home.  Joanne would later say that the night before the murders was the first time Ronald was in her home (although to be fair I must point out that Joanne did work a lot of hours) but had also indicated that she had cleaned the home, including the dryer, just a few days before the murder.  Investigators also looked into Ronald's claim of being at the doctor's office early in the morning.  Records indicated that it was after 11 am before the Trimboli's took their son to the doctor and although he later admitted that the child could have been sick in the middle of the night and better by the time he was seen, that the child did not appear to be sick in any way when examined.  Investigators also looked into the issue of the Trimboli phone.  They never seemed to make a report that it was not working and it had not been disconnected by the company for non-payment.  Some years later it would be said that some wires had been worked on or fell down near by and had caused the outage but this claim was made either by Ronald's wife or step-daughter as I do not recall which one.  However, there was still nothing to prove this to be true through the telephone company.  If in fact it did involve wires knocking out the service it is likely that the Trimboli's were not the only ones affected for one and for two it is unlikely it magically fixed itself or that a lay person fixed it so the telephone company would have had to be involved and have a record of repair.  There had also been tests done on Danielle's body and apparently the bedding surrounding her.  Initially the tests used only involved basic blood typing to which Ronald Trimboli's fell into the results.

With all of these things, the palm print on the dryer, the fingerprint on the glass, his inconsistent stories, the blood typing results and his almost perfect match to the criminal profile investigators were convinced they knew who committed the crime but felt they needed more. Another thing that really stuck out with investigators was the fact that in recent years Ronald Trimboli had worked as a chef as well as in 1983 he had a run in with police and a knife was involved.  In that incident his 2nd ex wife had called the police when she had entered her home and found blood throughout.  She and Ronald had not ended their short marriage on good terms and she was absolutely convinced that he had come into her home.  Officer's looked around and did indeed find Ronald hiding in a closet of the home.  He was covered in blood as he had cut himself entering a window.  He was intoxicated and was holding a knife.  He fought with police and ran off and out a fire escape where he fell and hit his head and was arrested.  The following year officers responded to a burglary alarm at a restaurant only to find Ronald inside.  Once again he fought and struggled with officers and was arrested for burglary. He later claimed that the owners had given him a key so that he could burn the place down for them for insurance reasons, per his MO he later changed that story too.  Charges were not filed against him in that case as the owners of the restaurant had returned to their native country of Greece.  At some point previously he had been arrested and had been charged with writing what police called "hot checks."  I found no more information on this latter information so I am unsure what came of that or what was involved.  However, the incident with the ex wife, the burglary at the restaurant and his latest occupation told investigators that Trimboli was very comfortable with knives.  They did get a search of his home but it was indicated that they found nothing truly of value to the case.  There are indications that there was at least one knife and a shirt with indications of minimal blood but it seems it was never really tested well.... another defense argument.

So over the next few months officers put "the heat" on Trimboli and all but followed him everywhere.  They sat outside his home, first his, than later his parents' where he began staying.  They never approached him or harassed him necessarily but did watch in a way in which Ronald knew they were doing so.  This was done in hopes that it would stress him to the point that either he would somehow implicate himself by giving investigators more evidence or he would confess.  Neither really happened.  So eventually in December the case was given to a grand jury and after their recommendation to indict Ronald  he was arrested on December 20th and charged with three counts of murder.  His family then apparently came out of the woodwork with reporters claiming as a lot of families do, that he was innocent, he had been harassed by police, there was absolutely no way he could have committed the crime and by the words of his mother, despite repeated issued he had in his life was almost the perfect son if you listened to her.

So trial number one (yes, there was more than one) began in February of 1987.  The prosecution was about half way through their case when it was discovered that a juror had talked to relatives of the victims during a previous break. The judge ordered a mistrial.  The second trial began in August of 1987 and it ended in a hung jury.  The results were 6/6.  Now, keep in mind up to this point DNA, or genetic fingerprinting, had not been entered or discussed.  Many of the jurors from the second trial said they had difficulty in believing that only one person was involved with three young victims.  The defense had also brought up many issues involving John Bradley and his drug issues and associations.  They even at some point indicated that Danielle may have been involved with drugs and Satanism.  Investigators stated that they had looked into the drug angle with Danielle, and despite a phrase she had written in a friend's yearbook they found no evidence of drug use.  As far as the Satanism claim, this goes back to the time period.  This was a popular claim when teenagers were involved whether as victims or perpetrators, especially when it came to the southern regions.  Sadly this theory went on for quite some time and rarely, if ever was proven.  One of the biggest case where Satanism was suggested was the case of the West Memphis Three in Arkansas in 1993. It was theorized at the time that some of the popular bands and music of the time were associated with Satanism and it seemed in order to get a conviction, or in this case an acquittal, it was often used as a theory in court.  

So here we are at the end of 1987, two trial under the belt and no conclusion to the case.  Prosecutors did not intend to let it go and the defense knew this.  So apparently defense attorneys spoke with Ronald Trimboli about "genetic fingerprinting."  Remember I told you that the first case to use it in court was in 1987?  So now it is on the radar.  If you have followed the evolution of DNA you know that over time processes have changed, with different tests as well as the amount needed to obtain results. The judge in this case apparently did not have an issue with this testing, he did however order the prosecution to do and pay for the testing.  I did not find confirmation as to the reason behind his ruling so I admit this is speculation but I am going to assume that although the defense was asking for the test, they likely were asking for the state to pay for it and subsequently presumably if the state was going to pay for it the judge likely figured they should also run it.  So they did.  The first test they ran was a PCR test which determined that Ronald Trimboli was within the 3% of population that matched the sample.  Wanting better odds than that the state sent the sample out to a lab called Lifecodes who ran the newer, and considered to be more definitive RFLP test.  They stated the results matched Trimboli to the stains on Danielle's bedspread 54.9 billion to 1.  It was said that the three defense attorneys met after the results came in and were not sure what to do next.  Eventually one of them resigned.  Another stated that he questioned the results because he could not understand why someone would agree to the test if they were guilty.  Subsequently another attorney, who was familiar with the DNA process was brought on board for the defense. And, funny enough since they had asked for the testing to be done in the first place, the defense in turn attempted to have the results left out of the upcoming trial.  They failed in that attempt so the third trial that began in March of 1989 was a battle of the experts.

DNA was not the only change in the third trial, it just simply was the biggest.  Once again, aside from fighting the lab and the process of the DNA results, the defense hammered in a lot on John Bradley and his drug issues and the handling of the case by investigators.One of the most surprising aspects came when Ronald's step-daughter, Hope, the one who was friends with Renee Lemieux testified that a few weeks before the murders her father had worked on the Lemieuxes dryer at the request of Joanne's daughters.  It had been four years since the murders and Ronald had first denied ever being in the laundry room, then claimed had gotten a tour of the home several months prior and yet no one had ever heard the story of him repairing the dryer.  Consequently this was obviously pointed out in court but also Joanne testified that she had cleaned the top of the dryer a few days prior.  Apparently scientist also testified or results were indicated that due to the heat and humidity of Texas summers it was unlikely that a hand print would have ever lasted a few weeks.  There was also testimony from a neighbor (maybe she testified previously also?) stating that about two weeks prior to the murders she had seen Trimboli "embracing Danielle in an inappropriate manner" and that she had pulled away.

The jury deliberated for about seven hours before they returned and found Ronald Trimboli guilty of three counts of murder. He was later sentenced to three life terms.  He died in prison on May 9, 1998 of hepatitis while still appealing his case. 

After his trial and through a few more cases that had gone through the justice system, Lifecodes, the company that had ran the RFLP DNA test came under fire and was a large portion addressed in Trimboli's appeal in 1991.  It was pointed out in the court's answer to the appeal that the defense never, then, nor apparently at trial had argued the results of the PCR test done in which Trimboli's DNA appeared to be within the 3% of population that matched the results.  His appeal was denied.

To this day, or at least within the past few years accounting for someone claiming to be his daughter, Lisa on website comments, Ronald's family believes that the DNA tests were not accurate and proclaim that he was an innocent man who was wrongly imprisoned.  She went on to claim several things that were in her opinion or estimate not investigated properly or thoroughly.  Such things obviously include the drug angle involving John Bradley but also a claim that Joanne Lemieux claimed to have seen two strange men in a truck down the street as she left for work that morning.  

So now I guess we come to my position or opinion.  The first question I ask myself is what my gut says and for the most part I have to say that I believe Ronald Trimboli was guilty.  I believe this for a few reasons.  First, although I agree that not all criminal profiling is 100% accurate and I agree that it can be altered to fit a case, I do believe much of it.  It does appear that there was a lot of time spent in the home to commit this crime and it makes sense that the perpetrator would be someone who knew they would not be surprisingly interrupted.  I also believe the theory that the perpetrator likely lived nearby because there did not seem to be anyone seen.  In everything I read there was nothing that indicated any sort of forced entry into the home. Prosecutors had theorized (as I did not read that they had any sort of proof) that Trimboli may have come into the home through the back door and while the victims were still sleeping. Backing away from that theory a bit it is possible that one of the victims let Trimboli into the home because they knew him.  If we were to use the drug theory, or even the fact that John Bradley was rumored to be scared of being attacked, not only would forced entry be likely but by all accounts while the home was messy it was not ransacked or showing huge struggles aside from where the bodies were each found.  I also believe Joanne Lemieux when she stated Trimboli had never been in the home prior to the night before to use the phone. Could she have exaggerated his behavior, that is possible but it is curious that he had never been in the home and then the following day all occupants are killed.  I believe if there had ever been an issue with the dryer and he had worked on it, not only would he have obviously said so and remembered, Joanne would have known about.  Granted, since cell phones were not around at the time the girls could not simply text her, but they could have called and it is just highly unlikely that a 12 and 14 year old, then or now, would have taken the initiative to find someone else to fix the dryer and not inform their mother.  Even if they were in the middle of an infamous teenage girl melt down and just insisted they needed a particular outfit dried to wear it is likely the first call would have been to their mother.  And again, had he truly done that when he was confronted with his palm print on the dryer he would have come out with it, not wait through at least two trials and four years.  The only thing that involves the DNA results that make me lean towards believing Trimboli to be guilty is the fact that while his defense did fight against the RFLP results they did  not argue the PCR results that included him within 3% of the population that could have committed the crime.  That would come back to something that I rarely believe in when it comes to crimes... coincidence.  What are the odds that added with all of the other things (fingerprints, palm prints, his lies, his matching of the criminal profile, Joanne's claim he had never been in the house before that morning) that the results would find that only 3% of the population could have left this match and he was within that range?  

With all of that said there are still some things that bother me a bit and I would like more information on or would have liked to have seen more looked into.  First and foremost I would like to know for certain just how much (if any honestly) cocaine was found near John Bradley's body and if so, where did it come from?  He had admitted to a problem in the past obviously but had claimed it was not in his present.  Was he in the laundry room possibly snorting cocaine and was ambushed?  If so it leads back to where is the forced entry?  The other thing that bothers me lies with one perpetrator.  Obviously it is not impossible for one person to subdue three people, but it is difficult and it seems the second jury had this issue too. Where they, or at least some of them, still asleep as the prosecutor claimed and caught off guard so there was only one victim to control at a time?   All the victims had at least their hands bound. Both Renee and John Bradley were bound by their feet also and John and Danielle were both also gagged.  It seems John was bound by a bra... opportunity since he was found in the laundry room? Was he the first victim and gagged so the girls did not hear?  Was Danielle gagged because she was sexually assaulted and her death would have taken longer?  Was Renee the last victim since she was not gagged and the perpetrator was not worried about her alerting the other two?  What about the rumors of the two men that Joanne may have seen before she left for work?  How much was that looked into?  And I really want to know more about the drug bust that supposedly had a map of the neighborhood.  I want to know when this bust occurred?  I want to know who was involved? Who is to say it did not happen after the murders?  I am sure any old drug friends of John's were under the microscope.  By the sounds of it many were not happy with him but who is to say that the murders had not already occurred and there were those who were none too sad he was gone but not involved and thought they were being funny when the map was drawn?   These are all questions that will likely have their answers lost in time. 

Comments

  1. I agree that he was most likely guilty. Seems to me the defense gambled on an inconclusive DNA (seeing as it was new), and got burned. U can't speculate on the motive, but it seems he was violent when intoxicated, and had an inappropriate interest in the raped girl. Did I miss something? Didn't see any notes in your account about a rape kit? DNA was from her bed linens, though?

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  2. I found nothing on a rape kit done and one of his daughters absolutely claims that the linen's did not have enough on them to be tested and claims that the DNA was false etc...etc.. you know the drill. Since the DNA was so new.. and the lab was later questioned in other cases about their processes and practiced I tried to base opinion as little on that as possible.

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  3. Read 'Murders on Miguel Lane' an 8 part series in the Fort Worth Star Telegram archives published Dec 9-16 2001. The read should answer some of your truth vs fiction ?'s raised in your blog.

    Marc

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  4. In an ID channel program it showed that there were cigarette butts in n the ashtray and while it was implied these were significant it never told how they were connected - any info on this?

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    Replies
    1. I didn't find any if it wasn't likely here.

      Delete
  5. There was a multi-part, detailed series of articles in the Fort Worth Star Telegram about this case that appeared over 10 years ago. And yes, Lisa is Ron Trimboli's daughter.

    ReplyDelete

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