Hit or Mrs.?

According to the courts, Joyce Cohen hired three men to murder her wealthy husband. Now the entire case may be unraveling.

According to City of Miami police reports, Anthony Caracciolo was arrested in Hallandale on April 24, 1986, and eventually charged with four home-invasion robberies, based on information provided by Zuccarello. Caracciolo immediately admitted to the charges and within nine months pleaded guilty to them. During questioning, however, he denied he knew Joyce Cohen or had planned a home invasion with her or was involved in her husband's murder. Sergeant Wander, who conducted that interrogation, believed him. The following day Wander told prosecutor David Waksman that Zuccarello was "possibly embellishing" anything he might claim to know about Stanley Cohen's murder.

Until then Miami police officials had spent their time investigating Joyce Cohen's background and friends, in Miami and Colorado, trying to determine whether she had a motive for killing her husband. On May 6, Detective Spear met with Zuccarello in the Broward jail, where he was still being held. Zuccarello told Spear that the January Coconut Grove meeting had taken place outside a surf shop. The woman he'd seen there resembled Joyce Cohen, but he wasn't certain it was she. He still wasn't talking about the murder.

By that time Steve Emerson, the FDLE agent, had also interviewed Zuccarello. Emerson left unimpressed and told Miami detectives and prosecutors that Zuccarello seemed to know how to tell the police what they wanted to hear. But Spear and his boss, Sgt. Steve Vinson, and Waksman disagreed. Besides, Spear was talking to Zuccarello's attorney, Bruce Raticoff, who said that his client had "very good information" about the Cohen homicide.

So the state prepared to offer Zuccarello a deal: He would plead guilty to two Dade home invasions (including charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, conspiracy, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony). The state wouldn't prosecute the two other robbery cases he was involved in and would recommend a five- to ten-year sentence. Dade prosecutors would ask Broward prosecutors not to push for additional jail time on his robbery charges there, and they agreed not to charge him in the Cohen murder.

In return Zuccarello would testify truthfully about all his criminal activities, his "truthfulness" to be determined by polygraph. Zuccarello signed the deal on June 5, 1986, and later that day Spear escorted him to Miami police headquarters.

And there Zuccarello changed his story: The Coconut Grove meeting had taken place in February or March -- not in January as he'd originally claimed. His sudden, improved recollection was a boon for the prosecution. Joyce Cohen, it turned out, had spent all of January and most of February in Steamboat Springs. (Police files show that Spear learned about Joyce Cohen's Colorado trip after Zuccarello's first statement but before his June 5 "corrected" recollection. Alan Ross, Cohen's attorney, reviewed those files last year and now says, "I think Spear came back and confronted Zuccarello with that problem, and it was my impression Zuccarello accommodated him.")

Zuccarello next told Spear he was now certain it was Joyce Cohen he'd seen at the Grove meeting. And for the first time he talked about murder: Immediately after that meeting, Caracciolo had informed him that Joyce had changed the plan. She now wanted the man in the house killed. Detective Spear drove Zuccarello through Coconut Grove neighborhoods and wrote in his report that Zuccarello tentatively identified the Cohen house. Spear noted that he hadn't clued in Zuccarello about which house it might be, but by then the murder had received overwhelming media coverage, and newspapers had printed the address, at a corner of two prominent streets in the Grove.

Back at headquarters, Spear called Zuccarello's attorney and asked him to be present while his client made a full statement. When Bruce Raticoff arrived, he was informed of the inconsistencies Zuccarello had made over the previous two months, Spear wrote in his report. Would Raticoff talk to him? The lawyer agreed, and after talking to Zuccarello, he said his client wanted to tell everything he knew.

And the story changed again. This time Zuccarello told the detective the Coconut Grove meeting had occurred on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 4, two and a half days before the murder, and that Joyce was going to compensate the three of them (Zuccarello, Caracciolo, and Joslin) with a total of $150,000 worth of cocaine to kill her husband. On March 6, Zuccarello said, Anthony Caracciolo called Joyce, who was waiting at a public phone, and confirmed that the murder would take place after midnight. Zuccarello drove Caracciolo and Joslin to the Cohen house in a Chevy El Camino, arriving at about 2 a.m. Joyce greeted them at the front door. Zuccarello waited outside while Joslin and Caracciolo went inside. Five to ten minutes later, he heard two shots. When the three men were back in the car, Caracciolo said he'd shot Stanley Cohen in the head with Cohen's own gun.

Miami police housed Zuccarello in the Dade County Jail for two nights, then brought him back to the police station on June 7 to take a polygraph. But first Zuccarello and Raticoff huddled alone for an hour. After that meeting Raticoff stunned the detectives: His client, he said, wasn't at the murder scene at all and had played no part in Cohen's murder. What he knew about the murder he'd learned from Caracciolo and Joslin. During a polygraph test that lasted ten hours, Zuccarello repeatedly denied his involvement. The examiner concluded that he was withholding information.

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