The Southington, CT, teenager charged in the death of his friend appeared in court today on charges of first-degree manslaughter and three other felony counts, including reckless endangerment. Eric Morelli, 18, faced the Bristol Superior Court judge for only a few minutes, saying nothing, before the case was continued until the 29th of July and moved to the New Britain criminal court, where more serious cases are handled. As he left the courthouse with his lawyer and his family by his side, he was confronted by media, but declined to answer any questions.
The charges against Morelli stem from his actions during the early morning hours of June 22 when, according to friends, he threw a lit firework into the second floor bedroom of an apartment in the Summer Brook complex, located in Southington. The action was intended as a prank against Kristen Milano, 19, who unbeknownst to Morelli or her family, was sleeping in the apartment, located on Darling Street. The firework caused a fire, killing Milano, whose body was discovered on Sunday morning in an area of the apartment that was most heavily damaged. Two other family members, Milano’s aunt and brother, were downstairs in the apartment at the time and were able to escape unharmed. Autopsy results released Monday revealed the cause of death as smoke inhalation, ruling it a homicide.
Morelli was arrested on Tuesday and released after posting bail of $150,000. The arrest warrant remains sealed, according to Lt. Michael Baribault, and further details will not be available until Morelli’s next court date on July 29. There has been no comment by prosecutors as to why the warrant remains sealed. According to Sgt. Jeffrey Dobratz, the police investigation is completed and is now fully in the hands of the Connecticut court system.
Morelli’s attorney, Raymond Hassett, spoke for his client late Tuesday via a written statement, expressing the regret felt by Morelli and his family, especially because Morelli and Milano were friends and had been for a long while. Hassett also assured the public that Morelli is cooperating with police, and volunteered that since his release from jail, Morelli has been working at his job and studying for his GED. Acquaintances of Morelli’s who were at the court hearing Monday admitted that he had always been a troublemaker, but no one had ever dreamed that something like this could occur.
Both Milano’s sister and mother attended the short court hearing for Morelli on Monday. Through their attorney, Hugh Keefe, they issued a statement asking the media to continue to respect their privacy as they are still mourning their loss. Friends of Milano, who attended college at Middlesex Community College, said that her dream had been to work in a hospital. The local office of the United Way has set up a fund for the Milano family, who lost all of their belongings in the fire and are now without a home. Meanwhile, offers of help from the community are coming in to the community services office at a fast clip by those wishing to donate money and household items.
By Jennifer Pfalz