Halfway House on the Hook for Killer Escapee
(CN) - A halfway house must face claims over the murder of a woman by a resident serving the last two years of his assault conviction there, a federal judge ruled.
New Jersey had transferred 30-year-old David Goodell to a halfway house called Logan Hall in 2010, with two years still left to serve for terrorizing and assaulting his girlfriend.
On Aug. 29 of that year, Goodell faked a seizure, and an unarmed employee of the halfway house's operator, Community Education Centers (CEC) took him to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Hospital in Newark.
Goodell escaped and met up with Viviana Tulli, a friend from Garfield, N.J., with whom he had kept in contact.
Within hours, Goodell strangled the 21-year-old Tulli to death and then drove her car head-on into a police cruiser.
Goodell was indicted for murder and other counts in November 2011.
Tulli's sister and estate administrator, Estella Tulli-Makowski, filed suit in state court against the halfway house and its for-profit operators; Goodell; the state, its Department of Corrections and parole board; the university, hospital, and their security provider, the Department of Public Safety; and multiple others, including CEC's senior vice president William Palatucci, a close adviser to Gov. Chris Christie.
Tulli-Makowski alleges that the defendants "could and should have detected that Goodell's seizure was being faked" and that some knew or should have known about his threats of physical harm to Tulli and her family.
She attributed the murder to the defendants' "failure to adequately fund, staff, equip, manage, and operate" the halfway house system.
U.S. District Judge William Martini upheld a claim against the hospital defendants this past May, but dismissed all counts against the state defendants and Public Safety.
The halfway house is not entitled to the same immunity, Martini ruled last week.
"Plaintiff has alleged that defendants negligently executed their contract with the state of New Jersey, and that this negligence was responsible for plaintiff's murder," the judge wrote. "While plaintiff has not pinpointed which specific contract provision defendants allegedly violated, the court finds that plaintiffs have alleged enough to survive a motion to dismiss."
Goodell was under the defendants' control when he fled, according to the ruling, which notes that the State Parole Board requires parolees to always sign in and out of their houses and carry ID cards. Halfway houses also monitor the whereabouts of parolees out on work release, and the house responsible for a parolee who "absconds" must tell the board "immediately," Martini added.
Because the defendants probably knew of Goodell's previous charges, they may have - or should have - known that he was likely to physically harm others.
"The complaint alleges that Goodell entered a guilty plea after he was charged with criminal terroristic threats and aggravated assault," Martini wrote. "At the very least, it is reasonable to assume that defendants should have known about this plea when they accepted Goodell into Logan Hall."
Tulli-Makowski failed, however, with a "conclusory" allegation that the defendants failed to supervise Goodell while taking him to the hospital, according to the ruling.
Martini also tossed claims for state-created danger, fundamental fairness, illegal operation of a halfway house and piercing the corporate veil.