West Palm Beach Officials Wrote Letters Requesting Murderer Be Freed From Prison
Michelle Lennon's arrest photo in 1994
An unconscious Brooke Lennon was lying on the ground, his head a massive bloody wound. Lennon's young wife, Michelle, had smashed a baseball bat across his head. Her live-in boyfriend, Robert Tomassi, stood a short distance away, coaching Michelle on how to properly hold a bat for a more accurate strike.
Brooke had been drunk, so cracking him over the skull had been easy. The hard part was killing him. And the blood. All of the blood.
Tomassi instructed Michelle to cover Brooke's head with a plastic bag. That would keep the blood from seeping onto the floor. To keep the bag in place, Michelle tightened it with a telephone cord, wrapping it around the dying man's neck. She then squatted over her husband's limp, bloody body and sat on his chest. She punched and slapped his face, telling him to die already. She then stood up and kicked him in the testicles and kept shouting at him to die.
Michelle and Robert were eventually arrested and charged with murder. And in a tale that can unravel only in Florida, Palm Beach commissioners tried to get Michelle free by writing several letters to the New York state parole board.
According to a joint report by the Palm Beach Post and WPTV-News Channel 5, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, and Commissioners Shanon Materio and Keith James all wrote letters on behalf of Michelle's adoptive father, a Palm Beach political heavyweight named Leonard Fintzy.
Michelle, who has been in prison since the gruesome murder took place in 1994, was up for parole, and Fintzy asked for the letters to be written as favors.
"I strongly recommend Michelle be released and allowed to live here in West Palm Beach," Muoio wrote in a letter obtained by WPTV dated August 16, 2013.
Another letter reads that Michelle "has been the subject of many conversations over the years" and that "We -- the collective we -- are ready to embrace Michelle and feel she will thrive with our collective guidance."
In yet another letter, the parole board is told that Michelle would have a job waiting for her in West Palm Beach upon release, offered by restaurateur Rodney Mayo, who owns Respectable Street, Howley's Diner, and other venues.
Fintzy is known as a political big dog who controls the powerful and influential CityWatch PAC. A CityWatch endorsement is gold to any politician seeking election, particularly in parts of West Palm Beach's affluent community.
According to the report, the letters came to light recently when Keith James, who is running against Fintzy for city commission, apparently tried to bring Michelle's case into light by requesting the city for correspondence that mentioned Fintzy or "Michelle Fintzy"
Fintzy and his wife released a statement last week saying that they were "shocked and deeply hurt that Commissioner Keith James has chosen to stoop to the lowest of low by authorizing his campaign staff to politicize our family's personal tragedy for his personal political gain."
For his part, James denies requesting the letters as a campaign tactic, chalking it up to good old fashioned campaign research.
James himself was a part of the group that wrote letters for the influential Fintzy. But he chose not to identify himself as a commissioner in the letters because he didn't want to be a subject to an ethics complaint, and that it was not considered city business.
Some of the letters were written on city letterhead.
According to the Palm Beach Post, James knew of Michelle's case, but had never personally met her. He also regrets writing the letter in the first place:
James said he never met Lennon but was familiar with the details of her case. Asked if Lennon was the kind of person he would want in West Palm Beach, James said, "in retrospect, probably not." He added, "the lesson that it teaches me is, 'just be careful about what favor you do for friends.' I decided to go on a limb and yes, I regret it."
Michelle's case was indeed a gruesome one. In 1994, she was a 23-year-old topless dancer who befriended the man she would eventually marry and ultimately murder, grocery store chain owner Brooke Lennon.
Brooke was 55-years-old when the two met and then married in Las Vegas. A short time after, Michelle would end up murdering Brooke by getting him drunk, beating him with a bat, and strangling him with a telephone cord. Michelle's boyfriend, then-24-year-old Robert Tomassi, helped her with the heinous crime.
Prosecutors would ultimately prove that Michelle and Robert killed Brooke for money.
Brooke Lennon had $280,000 in the bank and a $2 million life insurance policy.
Robert helped place the plastic bag over Brooke's head, and eventually carried his dead body away from the crime scene. Police discovered the body in the trunk of Robert's car the very next day.
Michelle would be sentenced to 20 years to life. Robert, meanwhile, would be paroled in 2012. He died of a drug overdose last year.
As for Michelle, she remains in prison. She was up for parole for the first time in early 2014, but was denied.
In a statement about the letters, Fintzy and his wife wrote, "We as concerned parents reached out to our fellow community members for letters of support to show that we are deeply involved in the West Palm Beach community and that our daughter would not only have our help upon her release, but an entire support system in this community that would help her restart her life as a successful member of society."
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.