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But for all Laurie Chirco's potential problems as a witness, what truly proved the pivotal point in the case came at the tail end of the second deposition of Chirco when she was asked whether she had ever taped any conversations in connection with the case. She said yes. Explaining that she often carried a handheld cassette recorder to record notes on patients for doctors, Chirco said she had taped the night when she was interrogated at the police station.
She said the tape existed, that it was in a "safe place," that she had listened to it once and that it contained a "very accurate" recording of what happened in the interview room that night, including a physical event she had repeatedly refused to describe in her depositions.
Sindel issued three subpoenas for the tape recording; a judge later ordered her to turn it over, as well as a diary she had kept since her interview at the station. She turned over the diary, but no tape. Sindel then filed a motion to strike her testimony and to strike her as a witness on the basis of her refusal to turn over the tape. On May 1, 2000, Circuit Judge Philip Heagney agreed. The next day, the circuit attorney's office dismissed the charges against Larry Wolff, citing the judge's ruling. Without Chirco, they had no case.
A Hallmark card later arrived at Sindel's law office. On the front of the card are drawings of leaves and the names of the seasons. Inside is a short note. "Mr. Sindel," it reads. "I hear off the record from several people that you didn't think you could win against me in court! I would have never thought you would quit. I know I would have won against you in court. But just remember you didn't win I gave it to you!"
It was signed Laurie L. Chirco.
Larry Wolff, 46, is a man of few words. Sitting in his lawyer's office, a few months after the case was dismissed, he continues to maintain his innocence. "All I know is, I sat in jail for 19 months, unjustly accused of that," says Larry, a somber-faced man with brown, collar-length hair. "I want that to come out."
He denies ever following Laurie Chirco -- but he says that she once showed up at one of his job sites demanding to know: "Why are you doing this to me?" He says he didn't know who she was.
And though he and Denise were legally separated, he says, they had a good relationship. "She's the one who had me buy the house where I'm at, which is catty-corner from where she's at. And that's why I bought the house, because of her, so our daughter, Jennie, could walk back and forth. The reason we didn't live in the same house was because of Angie, which was her daughter. That's why we were actually separated -- she was the reason. She was a teenager when we split up. I got along with her; I just couldn't be around her," he says, without elaborating. "So then, a few years later, she had talked me into buying the house, and that's where I'm at now."
Larry Wolff says he was unaware that his wife had a boyfriend: "I didn't know she was seeing anybody. We never talked about it. I know we had a good relationship, and that's it.
"I shouldn't have sat in jail as long as I did," he says. "It boiled down to, I sat there for 19 months, Rick [Sindel] did his job and I got out." As for Chirco, Wolff says: "Here this lady has lied for 19 months, trying to convince everybody that I done it when I hadn't done it, and then she can't show what she says she has and I got out."
If he didn't do it, then who did?
"I have no idea," Larry Wolff says. "If I knew, I would say it. I would tell."
Ask Sandy, Cathy or Angie who killed Denise, and they have none of that uncertainty. All three are convinced that Larry killed his wife. And they were stunned at how the criminal case against him unraveled.
"I was absolutely shocked," says Sandy. "I had never dealt with the law. I would have thought if you had an eyewitness, you pretty much had it made. Wouldn't you think so?" She does not blame Laurie Chirco -- and Chirco herself did not respond to repeated attempts to reach her for this story. "I had only seen her in court, and she looked like a very, very scared woman. I feel sorry for the lady, I really do. She has got to be terrified," Sandy says.
But a lot of other things about the case do trouble her. Why, for instance, didn't police test Larry's hands for evidence of gunshot residue in the hours after the shooting? Why, she asks, didn't police search the trash cans around Denise's home that morning? Instead, she says, they moved their patrol cars so the garbage truck could come through. Why did the lead prosecutor, Ed Postawko, take a leave of absence only weeks before the case was dismissed?
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