Anger, relief as Fairfield reacts to DiMeo guilty conviction
Inside Fairfield Center Jewelers on the Post Road, Howard Diamond stands behind the counter as the evening approaches and it's that time -- just around 4 p.m. -- when the atmosphere downtown seems to change. It's been that way ever since the brutal murder of Tim and Kim Donnelly in their jewelry store just down the block.
With details of that evening still fresh in his mind even after six years, Diamond doesn't hesitate to react to Wednesday's guilty verdict for Christopher DiMeo, who was charged with brutally shooting the husband and wife. "I think it's long overdue," Diamond said. "I'm just sorry the family had to go through it."
Fairfield's downtown merchants are a pretty tight-knit community. Out of all the business owners, the Donnellys "were really unassuming, nice people. They weren't bombastic, they weren't gregarious," he said. "They were just waking up to make an honest living for themselves and their family and go home and that was it."
Since that grim night, in the early evening just before closing, Diamond said a troubling feeling descends over him.
"You're not doing anything different than you are from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, but now there's this feeling that late in the day anything can happen and it's not always positive," he said.
Liam Burke, a lawyer who testified at DiMeo's trial after seeing the accused filling a bag with jewelry in the Donnellys' store, was quiet and subdued when he heard about guilty verdict.
"I just want to see that justice is done," Burke said. "They were good people."
The double homicide on Feb. 2, 2005, shattered the town, and left residents reeling.
Diamond describes it as the day that sleepy Fairfield was jolted awake -- the day he watched local and state police cruisers racing down North Benson Road, lights flashing and sirens wailing.
Inside the small Donnelly jewelry store, behind the yellow caution tape was police Detective Ed Greene.
"We're pleased with the return of the guilty verdict, although we're not surprised," Greene said Wednesday. "As the trial moves into the penalty phase our thoughts will continue to be, as they always have been, with the Donnelly family."
Like Diamond, Greene said the verdict is not so much about closure, but rather "about justice."
The murders rocked the community, Greene said, but also brought Fairfielders together in the days and weeks that followed. Shop owners, he said, reassessed safety measures in their own stores "whether it was alarm systems, or video surveillance or simply networking with their business neighbors."
Lisa Rolleri, who works at Midas Touch, another downtown jewelry store, can also recall the night of the murders vividly. "I was sitting at the traffic light, waiting to turn" on her way to the train station. She saw police activity at the Donnelly store. "I thought, `Oh my god, the Donnellys got robbed,' " she remembered, her eyes tearing up. A robbery would have been bad enough. The reality, she added, was "was awful."
Rolleri was pleased with the guilty verdict for DiMeo and glad that the jury made a decision so swiftly. "I'm pleased they didn't drag it out, that would've been the worst thing."
Next door at Fairfield Clothiers, the owner Naresh Mansukhani said he hadn't been following the trial, but added, "I'm damn sure if they said he's guilty, that he's guilty."
His neighbor on the Post Road, Al deVidas of Engraver's World, has no doubt about what now should happen to DiMeo. "I hope he gets the death penalty," he said, adding that no matter the outcome, "There's no closure, especially for the families."
Pat Sheehy, a close friend of Tim and Kim Donnelly, said she was glad the trial was over and hopes DiMeo is sentenced to death.
"I am Catholic," she said. "But for him, I believe in the death penalty."
First Selectman Kenneth Flatto was in Bridgeport Superior Court for some of DiMeo's trial. "I'm sure most people believed this man deserved to be convicted," he said.
Flatto said the Donnelly family showed great inner strength sitting through the court testimony about the gruesome events. When the penalty phase of DiMeo's trial concludes, Flatto hopes they "put it behind them and do wonderful things in the memory of their relatives."
Diamond isn't sure how easy that will be for anyone
"There are still a lot of hurt people," he said. "It's something we'll always live with."