Victor Brancaccio’s mother fainted and his grandmother had to be helped out of the courtroom in a wheelchair, but the man who angrily beat to death 81-year-old Mollie Mae Frazier in 1993 hardly reacted Friday as a jury declared him guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder.
The voice of Senior Judge C. Pfeiffer Trowbridge could barely be heard above the sobs of Brancaccio’s family members as he verified the verdict with jurors one by one about 4 p.m. Other relatives rushed from the courtroom in tears.
Across the courtroom, Frazier’s daughter and granddaughter clasped hands and smiled at one another.
“I was very relieved when I heard the verdict,” said Evelyn Johnston, Frazier’s daughter, who flew from Virginia to watch the trial. “I think he should be locked up for life.”
Brancaccio’s father declined to comment Friday.
After two weeks of testimony, it took the jury only about five hours to reach its verdict. Brancaccio faces a minimum of 25 years in prison, of which he has already served five. No sentencing date was set.
Attorneys told jurors the question they would face during deliberations wasn’t whether Brancaccio, who was 16 at the time, beat Frazier to death and then returned the next day to burn and spray-paint her body, but whether he was sane when he did so.
Defense attorney Roy Black argued that Brancaccio has brain damage and was pushed over the edge by the antidepressant Zoloft, which turned him into a raging beast and led to his frenzied attack on Frazier.
But prosecutors say that Brancaccio, now 21, made a decision to beat and kick Frazier to death after she shushed him and that he then methodically covered up the crime.
Prosecutor Lynn Park described Brancaccio as an angry young man, saying that an argument with his mother earlier that night fueled Brancaccio’s rage. Brancaccio and Frazier encountered each other while they were walking in Port St. Lucie. Frazier may have scolded him for rapping to the vulgar lyrics of a Dr. Dre song, and he snapped, Park said.
`Victor Brancaccio is not some brain-damaged kid that doesn’t know right from wrong,” Park said after the verdict. `There are a lot of people out there with learning disabilities and with low IQs who don’t kill people, who don’t beat an 81-year-old woman to death.”
But Black said the very nature of the crime proves that Brancaccio was under the influence of Zoloft during the attack.
After the verdict was read, Black said he was not surprised that the jury had a difficult time seeing that Brancaccio was insane during the attack.
“I knew that this was a very conservative community and it’s very hard for people to see that sometimes,” he said. “I think he was insane. I don’t think its a case of a phony defense.”
Most jurors either declined comment or were unavailable, but Kenneth Lefler said he was confident in his and the rest of the jurors’ decision.
“It’s certainly a fair and just process,” Lefler said. “That’s all I can say. We did what we think is right.”
There was a sense of despair even before the verdict was announced Friday afternoon. Brancaccio’s relatives looked around nervously as people filed into the courtroom to hear the verdict. One rocked to and fro, tapping his feet on the blue carpet. Others held their heads, some cried.
Just after the verdict was read, Brancaccio repeatedly pursed his lips and looked back at his grieving family. A middle-aged woman looked up and mouthed the word “Why?”
It was the second time a jury has found him guilty of the murder and kidnapping of Frazier.
In 1995, a jury convicted Brancaccio of the charges and he was sentenced to two life terms. But an appeals court ordered a new trial after finding that the judge did not specifically tell jurors that they could consider whether Zoloft rendered Brancaccio involuntarily intoxicated at the time of the killing.
After the first trial cost Brancaccio’s parents their restaurant and nearly their home, they were pulled from the brink of bankruptcy when they won $2.7 million in the Florida Lotto.
The windfall allowed them to hire Black, who has defended William Kennedy Smith and Marv Albert, but ultimately did not change the outcome.
“It didn’t buy his freedom,” Park said. “It just bought him a very good lawyer who gave a very good defense.”
This story originally ran on Saturday, January 23, 1999 in the Palm Beach Post with a byline shared by Thomas R. Collins.