Presumed Guilty

Shoddy police work. A hyperbolic press corps. Overzealous prosecutors. All part of the ruined life of accused pedophile Tom Tornatore.

The Marion County arrest prompted Artola's investigation. After narrowing the field of 41 potential victims to 12, he turned over the task of taking statements to Home Safe for two reasons: consistency and convenience. He wanted all the interviews to be videotaped and in the same surroundings, and having Home Safe do the interviews was just easier than doing them himself. "There were so many," he says. "I expected to interview 20 to 30 kids."

During the interviews Artola sat in an adjacent room and watched on a monitor. All the interviewees were sworn in by a police officer, though the tapes indicate some didn't seem to understand that while talking face-to-face with a social worker, they were really giving a statement to police.

The videotapes are key to the prosecution of Tornatore, because they form almost the entire body of evidence against him. They also, upon viewing, illustrate how shaky the case really is.

Questions posed by the social workers are often leading and seem focused on establishing Tornatore's homosexuality if they can't establish his guilt. Interviewing Tornatore's son Tommy, social worker Pam Klinger asks repeatedly if he was sexually abused by his father. Tommy answers "no" every time. The questions shift to Tornatore's sexuality: Did his father hang around with homosexuals, keep gay porn, talk about gay sex? Tommy Tornatore answers "no" time and again. (An interesting aside: In his written report based on Tommy Tornatore's interview, Artola states the boy slept with a butcher knife under his pillow, ostensibly because he was afraid of his father. But Tommy Tornatore never mentions a butcher knife in his taped interview. "I remember the statement, I just don't remember if he said it to the Home Safe staff," Artola says.)

In another interview Klinger asks a subject at least a dozen times if he had sex with Tornatore before promising that the videotape will be kept "confidential" and stating, "We need information because other people have been victimized and we don't want that to happen." (No charge had yet been filed against Tornatore in Palm Beach Gardens.) The boy, after repeated denials, changes his story and says he had sex with Tornatore twice.

Asked about this interview later in depositions, Artola says "... I don't think that anybody should be led or provided with leading questions." Artola helped train Klinger.

Artola did little to corroborate what's said on the tapes. He didn't reinterview the people who accused Tornatore. He didn't take statements from parents. He didn't verify times or dates. He didn't accurately report what was on the tapes. He did almost nothing to check out the veracity of the stories or the characters of the people telling them.

He also failed to talk to key witnesses not interviewed at Home Safe. Had he done so, Artola would have uncovered a host of discrepancies and inconsistencies in the accusations against fire marshal Tom.

Of the 12 taped statements, three led to Tornatore's first arrest in Palm Beach Gardens. One of the three was dropped between the time Tornatore was arrested and the time he was charged, leaving two people accusing Tornatore of sexual improprieties.

One of the two, a 17-year-old identified in police reports only as "Z.C.," says Tornatore offered to get him a job at the fire department in exchange for "fooling around." The boy said he understood the fire marshal was talking about sex. He goes on to say he wants to sue the city and have Tornatore fired. His statement resulted in one count of attempting to commit unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

In his defense Tornatore points out that Z.C. could not come up with any specifics. "If I came out and said, 'Give me a blow job, and I'll give you a job,' he should have been able to say that, shouldn't he? He couldn't."

Z.C. has failed to show up for two subpoenas and has apparently left the state, according to Tornatore's lawyers.

It's the other accuser, Richard Gruner (who has testified in open court), on whom the state has really built its case, because he's the only one of the three who claims to have had sex with Tornatore. Charges stemming from Gruner's statement have shifted like desert sands, but at last count Tornatore faces eight counts of lewd assault alleging that he had oral and anal sex with Gruner.

Gruner's story, however, is the most inconsistent of all. He's gone on record saying he's had sex dozens of times with Tornatore, and he's gone on record saying they had sex only twice. In one version of the story, their relationship lasted a few weeks, in another version almost two years. In one deposition Gruner even says it's possible he never met with Tornatore at all during the months they were supposedly having sex.

Gruner first came to the attention of police when his mother, Mary Love, contacted them after reading a newspaper story on Tornatore's Marion County arrest. Love told police that Tornatore and her son were friends and that she had allowed the fire marshal to pick her son up at her house on occasion to do work at Tornatore's house.

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