Brooklyn, NY - Ami Magazine: An Exclusive Interview With The Lawyer Who Quit The Levi Aron Case
Brooklyn, NY - When my eyes meet Gerard Marrone’s gentle gaze as he walks this July morning into Ami offices with the aid of a cane, I know almost instantaneously that before me is someone who did not do only one admirable deed. Marrone’s eyes reflect a refinement and empathy that are refreshing as they are so out of the ordinary. His gait is unsteady, yet there is an unmistakable air of dignity about him, an underlying ambition that seems to propel him forward. As he takes a seat at the conference table, he starts the conversation with one simple refrain that he repeats over and over again throughout our time together, “It’s not about me; it’s about Leiby.”
Gerard Marrone, Esq., is the attorney who resigned from his position as co-counsel on the defense team of Levi Aron, the man who admitted to the murder of Leiby Kletzky, a”h. While his resignation has warmed people’s souls like few things recently have, he has also been ridiculed and maligned by some in the legal profession for abandoning a client. Many are wondering too how he could walk away from such a high profile case—the type of career making case with extensive media coverage that attorneys crave.
Gerard Marrone, though, is bewildered by all of the media attention that has come his way as a result of his decision to step down as one of Levi Aron’s defense lawyers. “I had reporters camped outside of my office.” He relates to me that this was to his surprise because, “this case is not about my decision to step back. It was a personal choice; I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t intend for it to be so widely known.”
Marrone tells me that he was surprised by Aron’s leading counsel, Pierre Bazile, for announcing the decision in a press release this past Friday. “Pierre Bazile is the one who brought me into the case. He asked me to assist him. It was all very quick; I was thrust into this case very quickly as the second counsel. I was retained on Thursday, July 14th, the day of the arraignment, and we did the arraignment in half an hour. By July 29th, the next Wednesday morning, though, on my drive back from the Queens courthouse, I decided to drop the case.”
Bazile announced Marrone’s resignation and then subsequently stated that Jennifer McCann, a prominent defense attorney who is experienced in defending clients with insanity pleas, has replaced Marrone. “The press release triggered the media interest, when in reality there was no disagreement; we parted as friends,” Marrone told me.
Marrone, an Italian American who was born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn and grew up in Queens, has been working as a criminal defense attorney for the past 10 years and is thus no stranger to dealing with people who have committed serious crimes. “Yet,” he says with somberness, “I felt dead and empty every time I thought about Leiby. This has nothing to do with whether Levi Aron is guilty or not. He is innocent until proven guilty. It’s just that I personally couldn’t do this.”
It wasn’t just Marrone who was repulsed by the horrific murder of that innocent child. Marrone and others who were present at the arraignment witnessed inmates screaming obscenities from holding pens as Aron was led into the courtroom. This was only a few hours after a crowd shouted “murderer!” outside the police station. One of the inmates screamed out as Aron passed him: “I’m in for robbery, but I’ll kill you for what you did to a kid.” Even among prison inmates, murderers like Levi Aron are held in contempt, and are at risk for being harmed. For instance, notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was killed by fellow inmates while serving his prison sentence.
Marrone agreed to meet with me to discuss the turn of events in what he said would be the last time. “After this, I’m not speaking about this anymore,” he said. And so, I find myself sitting in the Ami conference room for an exclusive interview with Gerard Marrone, Esq., a neighborhood attorney who is based in Ridgewood, Queens. Marrone works in a small practice with one other attorney, where he mostly practices criminal law. We start the interview by looking through the pictures of Leiby that were featured in the most recent issue of Ami. Marrone is moved by these photos of “an angelic face. When it comes to children, it’s a different ballgame; a different story,” he exclaims with a heavy, yet gently constrained sigh.
The Torah states that our father Abraham is the father of every human being who has accepted the yoke of Heaven. Leiby is, by way of analogy, the son of every such person. Those who think that Leiby united the Jewish community got it wrong; Leiby united all of mankind. I realized this when I spoke to, among others, Inspector Sprague of the 66th Precinct. I recognize this again this morning.
The story of Leiby’s passing is the tale of one unspeakable villain. It is, however, at the same time, the tale of thousands of heroes. Yet Marrone’s public act of loving-kindness is something that transcends even those countless heroic deeds.
Someone once penned the following lines: “A hero is someone who fights all kinds of injustice but also who is merciful. A hero is someone who is compassionate to other’s needs and difficulties, someone who is loyal to fighting injustice and sincere in what they are doing but with wisdom. Show me a person with the attributes of being merciful, compassionate, loyal, sincere, and wise and I will not only show you a hero but a Legend.”
Marrone, I quickly realize, is not merely a hero. In my book he is a legend.
Marrone is a person who wears many hats. In addition to being a competent lawyer, he is also a real estate broker, motivational coach, mentor, and the recent author of Unleash Your Amazing Potential: Find your Perfect Grace: a self-help book aimed at “helping my clients to be the best they can be—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” Indeed, Marrone appears to be a deeply spiritual person, an aspect of his personality that he touches upon often in the interview. Spirituality is a topic that he lectures about in seminars that he gives pro bono.
I ask him about his seminars. “How did you start down this path?” I want to know his story.
“On November 6, 1994, I was the victim of a crime—I was shot in the back. I was 21 years old at the time, and my sister was 16. We encountered the shooter at a party where he was bothering my sister. I asked him to leave her alone, and he pulled out a gun. I got in between him and my sister when he shot at her, and a bullet was lodged in my sixth vertebrae. I was immediately paralyzed from the chest down, and I fell to the floor right near the shooter’s car. He shot at my sister, and luckily, he missed. A friend rolled me onto my side, but the shooter ran over my arm with his car.”
“Did you think you were going to die?” I inquire.
“In that moment, I didn’t know if I would live or die, the bullet had pierced my lung—it had gone through my right lung and hit my spine. Lying there on the ground, though, I felt a spiritual presence before the panic set in. I was taken to the Jamaica hospital ICU, where I was for two weeks. The doctors had a hard time inflating my lung because of a small tear, but, miraculously, on the morning of my surgery my lung instantly went up—it healed itself! My whole story is one miracle after another.”
“What do you attribute these miracles to?” I ask him.
“Faith in G-d,” is his three-worded response.
“It was my destiny,” he says. “Everything that happened to me was meant to be. If I can help even one person with my story, it would have all been worth it to me.”
“Do you think about it often?”
“I think about it every day in one form or another. I spent one month at Jamaica Hospital, after which I was transferred to Mt. Sinai hospital where I spent two months in rehabilitation—to get used to a wheelchair. The entire experience was a roller coaster ride. By the time I got to Mt. Sinai I was moving my left leg.”
“Was your life still in danger at that point?”
“Once I got to the hospital, I was always in stable condition, I knew that I’d live, but I didn’t know if I would be able to walk, get married, have children, or get a job. Every ounce of muscle fiber that I got back, I was so focused on working on, because I wanted my life back so badly—it drove me to achieve. When I left the hospital I was able to stand within one month of movement. My right leg lagged behind. I was in a wheelchair for five months; there was a progression to get out of it.”
“Do you ever use a wheelchair now?” I ask Mr. Marrone, who to this very day walks with a very apparent limp.
“No. I don’t want to go back mentally to that. But on a hot summer day, I’m exerting three times as much energy as you do to get around. I have back pain every morning when I wake up, in varying degrees. It’s a dull, consistent pain.”
“What happened to the shooter?”
“The shooter was 18 years old. He was arrested at the time and got five to 15 years in jail, and was released after doing about 8 years.”
“How do you feel about having your assailant set free?”
His answer surprises me: “I chose to forgive him and let go of my anger and desire for revenge. I did this because to hold onto that anger would destroy my soul and I wouldn’t be able to move forward, so I chose to forgive him.”
“Did you ever see him again? Did he reach out to you?”
“No, he never reached out to me and I never saw him again,” Mr. Marrone says.
“Did you participate in his trial? How did you feel toward the attorneys representing him?”
“I did participate in the trial. When I saw his attorney, I understood that it was nothing personal; he had a job to do. I had been working for attorneys for many years and understood this.”
Overall, I learn from Mr. Marrone that he greatly respects our legal system and the way that it works; he repeats throughout our conversation his belief that everyone deserves legal defense, that we are all “innocent until proven guilty.” He then explains his decision to join the legal profession.
“In college I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I went into law to help the victim. Everyone is a victim, either of the system, their thoughts, or their circumstances. In our system 95 percent of cases lead to a plea negotiation. In my capacity, I have the ability to negotiate a fair disposition with the prosecutor. Most of the people I work with—and I work with everyone from those accused of petty crime to homicide. And I want to help them get on the right road.”
Mr. Marrone feels that practicing law “gives me the opportunity to help people and give them a chance at life. It isn’t easy. People need to give the D.A. office more credit,” he says with a chuckle.
About the effect that his injury had on his outlook, Mr. Marrone believes: “My injury grounded me. If I were able to walk again, I could achieve any goal. I let go of my anger, started meditating, and adopted a positive perspective on life and gratitude to G-d for what I have. I look at how blessed I am with a wife, kids, a career, and friends. I have everything I want and need in my life and I am blessed.”
Mr. Marrone uses his life experience in his seminars and in his book to teach people. “What do you tell them?” I ask.
“About having a positive state of mind; never give up. At first, I looked at myself as a victim and then turned that around. With a positive state of mind, identify a goal and put your faith into achieving that goal. Also, the need for a balance in your life between family, work, and hobbies. Find what’s important to you. My book is 320 pages, it’s a memoir and journey for the reader that I took 18 months to write, and self published this past February.”
“What motivated you to get your story down on paper?” I wonder.
“I’m a little shy and modest. I did it for my sons and the people I mentor, so they should know what I went through.
“The seminars are held once a month, they are usually free. I do them to help people and it makes me a better person, because when I teach I need to become the student. I am keeping myself sharp and in a positive state of mind.”
“Does your handicap affect you still today?”
“It makes things more challenging. But in adversity we find wisdom and become the person that we are. Everyone has adversity; how you handle it makes you the person you are. Everything boils down to what’s in your mind.”
I am curious about Mr. Marrone’s role as a criminal defense attorney, and what this means to him. “It’s not my job to ask. If someone is arrested, I don’t judge; my job is to defend. The defense can be an alibi or self-defense. What I do isn’t black or white, it’s grey, and is case by case. The job is to find truth and justice in the situation.”
“When facing the victim and the victim’s family, though, how do you feel, does this mean anything to you?” I ask.
“There is always the human aspect of it,” Mr. Marrone pauses at length here, “But there are often mitigating circumstances,” he finishes his thought.
Mr. Marrone confirms that he has worked with other high profile cases before. “But nothing like this,” he asserts.
“A high profile case like this is rare, why walk away?”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many attorneys would take this case to get exposure. There is also a significant fee involved,” he answers.
“Have you ever walked away from a case before?” I ask him.
“I probably have, but never for these reasons. I respect the system. We are all innocent until proven guilty…but Leiby’s murder is different,” he says quietly. “I know everything that everyone else knows; I wasn’t privy to anything else. I met with Levi, but didn’t know more.”
“So what was different in this case, why did you leave?” I want him to articulate what I believe I already know the answer to.
“The way that Leiby was killed, possibly tortured, and the way the body was disposed of was too much for me to bear. He reminds me of my kids. My own eldest son is only seven years old.” Mr. Marrone shares with me at this point about his own three sons—Steven aged seven; Gerard, four years old; and Andrew, 11 months. It didn’t matter that Leiby was from a different religion, or dressed differently from his own children. “He was a little boy, a gift from G-d, the same gift that I got three times. It doesn’t matter what he wears or where he prays,” Marrone says softly, with tears brimming in his eyes. I am exceptionally moved, and it takes me a moment to collect myself before I move on with my next question.
“When did you decide to leave the case?” I finally ask.
“I walked away once I saw the medical examiner’s documentation,” he replies. “There were two causes of death: he was smothered and the boy was given a cocktail of drugs.”
“Do you think the drugs eased his pain?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” this thought is obviously painful for Mr. Marrone, he swallows hard and continues with his train of thought: “It wasn’t a line I wanted to cross. I have an esquire at the end of my name, but I’m also a human being. We are all created by G-d. I’m insignificant, but the way he was so tragically killed wasn’t something I wanted to visit every day. I walked away because of Leiby.
“Everyone, though, is entitled to a defense,” he reiterates here again.
I want to know if Mr. Marrone is aware of the many negative, and some absurd, responses his actions have garnered. Mr. Marrone replies that he does not follow the blogs, yet I sense that some of the comments hurt him. “People don’t even know who I am, or what it means to be a criminal attorney; yet they make very hateful remarks. There is a lot of hate out there.”
He negates many of the rumors, such as those that claim he “is involved with the mafia.” “I represent all types of people from DWIs to organized crime. It’s so silly, absolutely false, a bold faced lie. A criminal defense attorney represents a lot of people, so it’s easy for people to take a shot at you. But this doesn’t bother me, I am who I am.”
“In addition to being a father, did your spirituality and religion influence your decision to leave the case?” I ask Mr. Marrone.
“It was being a father, a human being, a son, a neighbor, a friend…. Everyone is making a big deal about the fact that I withdrew from the case, but it’s not about me, I’m a nobody. It’s about Leiby,” he reemphasizes.
From our conversation, I glean that Mr. Marrone, a man of conviction, came to this bold conclusion on his own. He admitted that his family “gave positive feedback for his decision,” but “my wife is too busy with the boys to have gotten involved.”
“Do you look back, or think about the person who took over for you?”
“No, not at all. I made unequivocally the right decision. I don’t follow the blogs. Everyone is entitled to the facts, but no one knows me and my heart. They have no idea who I am, my reasons. I have only been a criminal defense lawyer for 10-and-a-half years, but I’ve seen a lot. You have to feel good about what you are doing.”
I read to Mr. Marrone from an article in New York Magazine, titled, “Was Levi Aron’s Defense Attorney Wrong for Quitting?” where one writer argues about Mr. Marrone, “that he’s a quitter, that he cannot be relied upon to stand firm and fulfill the obligations he willingly took on, even though it means that he must steel himself to the challenge of representing the worst among us….” This writer goes on in the article to quote Marrone who he claims said: “Knowing what he went through, just putting two and two together, you know they made more than one attempt.”
I wanted Mr. Marrone’s response to these accusations.
He counters with the following: “The writer has a lot of the facts wrong. I didn’t walk away from an individual. My decision was because of what the little boy experienced. I don’t know everything. I learned things as the case began to unfold. I came on to the case so quickly, without a lot of the facts. The defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The author is saying that I had an obligation to stay with the client and regardless of Leiby, I should have had no fear.
“I had no fear. I probably took the higher road. I walked away from a high profile case that would have attracted other attorneys. I have no obligation to stay on any case.
“What if you are the lead counsel?” I ask.
“There are different things that need to be done procedurally. It would be different; I’d have to ask the judge permission to resign.
“People can say what they want about me, I did what I thought was right. Be a defense attorney and then criticize me” are Mr. Marrone’s final thoughts on the matter.
I want Mr. Marrone to know that we are all stirred by his decision. “This is an emotional time for our community. The fact that we know there will be attorneys looking to get Levi Aron off…the fact that there is an attorney who stepped down, it really moved us.” I relate to him.
“What message would you like to give to Leiby’s parents?” I offer.
“I’d be honored to pay my respects to his parents. From one parent to another, I have no words to express my condolences for their grief. They will never be made whole. What happened to their son was so senseless and horrific. Leiby will never go forward, he won’t go to high school, get married, or have his own children. It was his right to experience life and no parent should have to bear this. The side of Leiby’s face reminded me of my own kid’s face…,” he says pointing to a picture in Ami’s prior issue. “What a cute, little face. I’ve handled cases from good to bad, but when it comes to a child….” Mr. Marrone’s voice trails off at the end of his emotional response.
“Everyone I’ve been in contact with was so moved. This transcends race, religion, and creed. It doesn’t matter where you live or pray. This is a tragedy for everyone,” he says.
I ask Mr. Marrone about his experience in Boro Park today, how it feels to be a mere seven blocks from where Leiby once lived, and not far from the place of his murder.
“This is the first time I’m in Boro Park since Leiby’s murder. When I see any child I think of him, even though I never met him or his family. I was so touched by him. Coming here and seeing little children here makes me think of him. I’m on hallowed ground here, where something very significant occurred. I felt somberness and respect driving here today. How could I not?” he rhetorically asks, visibly choking up with tears.
“Do you feel a connection to Leiby? A spiritual connection?” I gently ask.
“No one knows me, it’s insignificant,” he reiterates, “But I do feel connected to him in his death.”
“Do you feel that you gave him something?”
Mr. Marrone’s answer is powerful, and takes my breath away: “I don’t know, answering this gives me significance, and I’m so insignificant.” He paused for a moment that is thick with grief, “It’s between Leiby and I, at night when I pray.”
“This was one of my most moving interviews,” I confide in him. “You are a hero to us. It is about you, because you made a statement.” Yes, despite criticism, Mr. Marrone stuck to his convictions. Not only did he shy away from discussing the details of the case because of his respect for the defense, the very act of walking away was from the case was something he did out of his own principles, something that he decided to do on his own—he walked away from it all: the fame and the legal fees.
Mr. Marrone humbly declines my praises, and when I ask him to pose for pictures, he shyly acquiesces. I tell him that I intend to use one of the pictures for the cover of this week’s Ami, to which he replies: “You don’t have to.”
As I bid him farewell, Mr. Marrone leaves me with the following haunting words: “I felt dead within me, because of my emotional attachment to Leiby.”
The rest of my day is an emotionally draining one, as I replay our conversation in my mind over and over again. It is all so overwhelming. I am weighed down by the horror that we are still revisiting each day; but also overwhelmed by the living example of this heroic legend whom I was most privileged to meet.
Although the world was exposed to a darkness last week that shrouded us completely, as evil was exposed as a certain reality—here is the bearer of a shining light who came out through the contrasting darkness. Amidst the outpouring of humanity that we experienced, here is one exceptional individual who, through his compassionate actions, personified humanity.
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