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Charges dropped against two in choking death

For five months Daniel Angelillo knew he was innocent of murder.

He knew after sheriff's deputies arrested him in May on second-degree murder charges in the asphyxiation death of John Bucaria. He knew after a jury acquitted his younger brother in the same homicide last month.

What the 29-year-old already knew, the prosecution confirmed Tuesday by officially dropping all charges against Angelillo and a third defendant, Stanley Mockus.

"It's tough to know you didn't do anything wrong but at the same time face 20 years in prison," Angelillo said. "The stress was getting to me."

Mockus, 39, and the Angelillo brothers were accused of killing Bucaria during a May 25 fight on a lawn in Spring Hill. The three men went to the Canterbury Street home hoping to talk to Mockus' ex-girlfriend, who was dating Bucaria at the time, according to court records.

Bucaria confronted the men and a fight broke out. When deputies arrived, Micah Angelillo had Bucaria in a choke hold. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Micah Angelillo's trial hinged on whether the death was an excusable homicide. His lawyers argued that Bucaria provoked the fight and that Angelillo was only holding him until deputies arrived.

The jury agreed, acquitting the 23-year-old construction worker of second-degree murder on Sept. 29.

That left defendants Mockus and Daniel Angelillo in a curious situation.

The state attorney's office had charged them as "principles" in Bucaria's murder. They didn't actually kill Bucaria but they aided and assisted in a meaningful way to a crime, which under the law is just as bad, the state's prosecutors said.

With Micah Angelillo's acquittal, the state couldn't argue that the other two had assisted in a crime, said Jeff Smith, who prosecuted the younger Angelillo.

"The jury said Bucaria's death was an accident," Smith said. "We couldn't then prosecute the other two for aiding and assisting in an accident. We had to drop the charges."

If the threesome were the aggressors or if Micah Angelillo had used a weapon such as a cane or bat to choke the professional guitar player, the state would have had a stronger case, Smith said.

It's not murder in this state when someone is killed accidentally without a weapon.

"Under the law, we couldn't go any further with this case," Smith said.

Bucaria's family and friends could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but they were bitterly disappointed when the jury set Micah Angelillo free last month. They had said that the three men had gone to the home to hurt Bucaria for dating Mockus' ex-girlfriend.

Despite the dropped charges, Daniel Angelillo and Mockus said they need time to put their lives back in order. Both said they lost jobs because of the ordeal.

"It's been like a five-month roller coaster ride," Mockus said Tuesday.

Both men claim law officers overreacted.

After the fight, a witness told sheriff's investigators that he saw the trio beat Bucaria for 40 minutes. That information was used in making the arrest. Further investigation showed deputies were called seconds after the fight started and arrived eight minutes later, making the witness' statement questionable.

During the trial, one deputy testified that Micah Angelillo was so terrified after fighting with the much larger Bucaria that he soiled his pants. A veteran coroner told the jury that deputies could have saved Bucaria if they had tried resuscitating him immediately.

"The whole thing could have been avoided if the police had done a better job of investigating," Mockus said. "They seemed determined to make a flimsy story stick."

Sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer said the deputies followed proper procedure.

She would not comment further.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

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