45 years in killing tied to halfway house
HACKENSACK, N.J. A sentence of 45 years in prison - along with laughs from the man who escaped custody and then killed his girlfriend - capped the high-profile case Friday that helped put New Jersey's privately run system of halfway houses under intense public scrutiny.
State officials now say the number of "walkaways" from halfway houses has declined a year after reports of frequent escapes, drug use, sexual abuse, and other violence inside the poorly monitored facilities.
But several pieces of related legislation that lawmakers say are needed have yet to move ahead a year after a flurry of activity that included hearings in the State House on the halfway houses.
The escapes - and the need for reform - were once again highlighted when a Superior Court judge sentenced David Goodell to 45 years in state prison. Goodell had been living in a Newark halfway house when he faked an illness, evaded security at a hospital and then killed his girlfriend, Viviana Tulli, 21, of Garfield.
The importance of the case - and the solemnity of a murder sentencing - seemed to have been lost on 33-year-old Goodell, who laughed after the judge announced the sentence in Hackensack on Friday.
"Live long, ha ha!" he shouted as sheriff's officers led him from the courtroom.
Goodell had said during an interview with a probation officer that he felt remorse and took full responsibility for the murder.
His court-appointed attorney, Francis Meehan, described him as a man who had a heroin addict for a father and an alcoholic for a mother, who left school in the seventh grade, and who took to the streets, where the wrong crowd recruited him for a life of crime and violence.
"He really never had a chance," Meehan said.
But the pleas for leniency were drowned out by calls for a tough sentence from the prosecutor and from Tulli's relatives.
Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi described Goodell as a man who spent more of his life in prison than out, a life replete with arrests, convictions, restraining orders, and repeated violence against women.
Wayne Mello, an assistant Bergen County prosecutor, quoted a woman who once told investigators that Goodell was so violent, "he will not stop until some girl is dead."
There was also Stella Tulli, Viviana Tulli's sister, who tearfully described how the killing devastated her family, calling Goodell "someone who shouldn't matter, who has no place among us."
Two years after Tulli's death, New Jersey's halfway-house system faced full public scrutiny when a series of articles in the New York Times detailed examples of drug use, sexual abuse, and other violence inside many of the privately run facilities, as well as frequent escapes. One of the articles focused directly on Goodell's case.