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|Jury finds Framingham teacher not guilty of threats||May 15, 2009|
|Norman Miller 508-626-3823||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM -- The lawyer for a Framingham man accused of threatening local gadfly Jim Rizoli at a meeting last year told jurors yesterday in Framingham District Court their verdict should come down to who they found more credible.
Following three hours of testimony, and less than an hour of deliberations, the jury cleared Dan Devlen.
"I'm just glad that this thing is behind us," said Devlen, a technology teacher at Framingham High School, following the verdict.
Rizoli, an anti-illegal immigrant advocate and the host of a public access cable show, said he was disappointed.
"Dan Devlen is a liar," said Rizoli. "He's going to have to live with himself for telling the lie he did. This all could have been avoided if he had been man enough at the beginning to apologize. Justice wasn't done."
The charge of threatening to commit a crime stems from a Sept. 22, 2008, incident at a Framingham Public Access Corp. meeting at the Memorial Building.
In February 2008, Rizoli complained to the school department, the police and the town manager about a student video that was played on cable access that depicted a girl being murdered by another student. Rizoli, on his show, ripped the showing of the student-produced video.
Yesterday, Rizoli testified he was threatened when Devlen asked to speak to him in the hall during a meeting break.
"What happened was, he said, 'If you ever do that again,' I took that to mean get the police involved 'I'll break you in half,"' Rizoli said.
He said he was frightened, so he "high-tailed it" back into the meeting.
"I was petrified. I usually don't have someone come up to me and say they're going to break me in half," Rizoli said.
Rizoli said Devlen followed him back into the meeting like he was going to attack him, so he turned around and said, "What are you going to do? Hit me?" People then broke the pair apart.
Devlen was visibly angry, and Rizoli said he remained frightened, so he called the police. Devlen was not arrested.
"My heart was beating out of my chest. I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Rizoli said.
Rizoli's twin brother, Joe Rizoli, did not see the confrontation in the hall, but said Devlen was angry when he returned to the meeting room.
"If you ever watch Wrestlemania and see the looks in their eyes he just stared at me. He was defiant," Joe Rizoli said.
But, several people who testified on Devlen's behalf said it appeared Jim Rizoli was the aggressor, and may have staged the confrontation for attention.
"He has a history of incidents at these meetings," said Ron Rego, a member of the Framingham Public Access Corporation.
Dawn Harkness, a lawyer and another member of the corporation, said, "He looked to me like he was trying to get into the camera angle as he always does."
Later, Harkness said, "He is a very attention-seeking individual. I have seen Mr. Rizoli try to instigate an argument, or a conflict, when the camera is on. He has a cable show and he loves to get this stuff on his show."
Ken Shifman, who works with Devlen and was at the meeting, said Devlen appeared surprised when Rizoli confronted him.
"He seemed taken aback," said Shifman. "He was shocked, like 'Whoa, what's going on here?"'
Prosecutor Felicia Scroggins questioned if Shifman's work and personal relationship with Devlen may have influenced his testimony.
"Is it fair to say you don't want anything to happen to Mr. Devlen?" she asked.
"That's fair to say, but I wouldn't lie," Shifman said.
Testifying on his own behalf, Devlen said he was never angry about Rizoli complaining about the student video.
The night of the meeting, he said he was more concerned about getting home to watch the N.Y. Jets on Monday Night Football.
But, he said, he saw Rizoli, and asked if he could speak to him about his complaints about the video because he was never questioned about it.
Rizoli then walked back into the meeting, and Devlen thought the conversation was cordial and complete.
"He walked to the middle of that room, where the triangulation of the cameras were, and he blew up," said Devlen. "He turned around and he raised his voice for the first time and he said, 'Are you threatening me? Are you threatening me? Do you want to hit me?' "
Devlen said, he was shocked that something that was an "amicable adult conversation one second could turn into an attention getting, playground move," by Rizoli.
In his closing argument, Devlen's lawyer, Mark Rotundo stressed how many witnesses said Rizoli appeared to be the aggressor.
"This is a case of 'he said, he said,' " said Rotundo. "No one heard or saw anything. You have to look at the credibility of the witnesses."
Scroggins, in her closing, said the only two people who really knew what happened were Rizoli and Devlen.
"It's up to you to determine what is correct, what happened," she said.
The jury of four women and two men deliberated for about 53 minutes before returning the not guilty verdict.
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