Attorney says rage rooted in childhood
An attorney for Dustin Musso conceded Tuesday that Musso used his bare hands to kill his grandfather in the elder Musso’s Belaire home in 2009, but the reason offered to a jury by the defense differed vastly from the motive given by a prosecutor.
East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns argued Musso bludgeoned Peter Musso Jr., 76, to death inside his Glenda Drive residence on May 5, 2009, and set the house on fire because the elder Musso reported to police the day before that his grandson had stolen his pickup and several hundred dollars from him.
“How dare you report him to the police!” Burns said in a sarcastic tone in her opening statement to the jury at Musso’s first-degree murder trial.
But Lance Unglesby, one of Musso’s court-appointed attorneys, countered that a troubled Musso, now 33, killed his grandfather in the heat of passion because Peter Musso Jr. allegedly molested his grandson as a young boy.
“This event took place in a fit of rage,” Unglesby argued to the 12-person jury and two alternate jurors. He indicated Dustin Musso will testify in his own defense.
Peter Musso III, who is Dustin Musso’s father and Peter Musso Jr.’s son, testified later in the day he has never heard his son accuse his grandfather of sexually abusing him.
“Never in my life,” he said.
Peter Musso Jr., a widower at the time of his death, had eight children and 27 grandchildren, Burns said.
Unglesby argued that Peter Musso Jr. was evil and described his home as “a house of evil, a house of pain.”
“You will never hear of a more tortured life,” Unglesby said of Dustin Musso, who lived in numerous foster homes. He called Peter Musso Jr. “the patriarch of Dustin Musso’s pain.”
Unglesby also alleged that Dustin Musso’s father beat him, an allegation that Peter Musso III vehemently denied.
“I never beat any one of my children or my stepchildren,” he said.
“I have never seen him beat Dustin,” testified Cindy Musso, who is Dustin Musso’s stepmom. She has been married to Peter Musso III for 23 years.
Unglesby also suggested that Cindy Musso and Dustin Musso had a sexual relationship.
“Excuse me, sir? No sir,” she shot back. “I have never had sex with my stepson. That is a total lie.”
Peter Musso III, who took the witness stand immediately after his wife testified, blasted Unglesby for making such an accusation.
“I really do not like you insulting my wife that way,” he said sternly.
Unglesby is asking the jury to find Musso guilty of manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. Manslaughter is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
A first-degree murder conviction would carry a life prison term because prosecutors took the death penalty off the table in order to expedite the case and bring Musso to trial this year.
The trial will resume Wednesday in state District Judge Mike Erwin’s courtroom.
Burns also argued Tuesday that Dustin Musso’s slaying of his grandfather fulfilled a threat Musso made on Jan. 6, 2007, to kill the elder Musso and burn down his house.
Peter Musso Jr.’s charred body was found after firefighters responded to a fire at the home on May 5, 2009. The fire was determined to be arson. Burns said Musso told police he poured gas on his grandfather’s body and in the house.
Burns said a gasoline can was located in the bathroom where the body was found. There also were other gas containers discovered in the house, as well as a Molotov cocktail, she said.
“On May 5, 2009, Dustin Musso delivered on the promise he made on Jan. 6, 2007,” Burns argued.
Peter Musso III testified Dustin Musso was living with him and his wife in Fredericksburg, Va., on Jan. 6, 2007, when he accused his son of stealing money from a change jar. Peter Musso III said he called 911 that day after his son came at him with a box cutter.
Cindy Musso said her stepson threatened that day to kill her and her husband and burn down their Virginia house. He also threatened to murder his grandfather and burn down his Baton Rouge home, she said.
“He said, ‘I have to take away everything Daddy loves,’ ” she added.
After Dustin Musso was taken into custody for those threats, Stafford County, Va., sheriff’s Detective Christine Hammond and Magistrate J.W. Walke testified Musso also threatened to kill them and their spouses, skin their children, and torch their homes.
“It was pure anger,” Walke said.
Hammond, a 23-year law enforcement veteran, said she took the threats extremely seriously.
“It was angry and malicious sounding. Evil. It was just mean,” she said. “He told me I better remember his face because he was not going to forget mine.
“It was scary. He was scary,” Hammond added. “It takes a lot to rattle me.”
Unglesby asked Hammond if Musso had behaved as if he were a tortured individual.
“More like he was torturing us,” she replied.