NEW BRITAIN - John Malone wanted to be a trial lawyer, so he figured the quickest way to get the most experience was to become a prosecutor.
Forty years later, Malone has retired as Connecticut’s longest serving prosecutor in the state’s Division of Criminal Justice.
“I wanted to be a trial lawyer by the time I went to law school,” the 73-year-old Malone said. “I spent three years at a civil firm but there were very few trials, so I applied. The understanding of the importance of what I was doing came later on.”
Although he initially was looking for trial experience, Malone came to appreciate the role he played in seeking justice for people who have lost loved ones, usually suddenly and tragically.
“You see what you can do for the victims, what you can for society,” he said.
He’s spent the past seven years at New Britain Superior Court as a senior assistant state’s attorney, dealing with the most difficult cases on the docket. Before that, he served as a prosecutor with the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office and as a prosecutor in Enfield, Hartford and Windsor.
“John brought a great deal of experience and knowledge of the law,” said his supervisor, New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski. “When you temper that with an open mind and an ongoing sense of curiosity, you get a lot of wisdom.”
Malone has overseen the trials of some of the area’s most horrific cases, including the death of 15-year-old Diane Mattei, a Forestville girl who was found beaten to death in the woods near her home in 1981.
Preleski went to school with Mattei and can recall as a teen when officers showed up at his home to speak to his father, then a recently retired Bristol police officer, about the case.
Mattei had been beaten so badly she was unrecognizable.
Malone stepped into the case in 1984 as it was about to go to trial. The defendant, Michael Joly, had called 911 three times to report an injured girl, but had refused to give his name. The calls were traced to Bristol Hospital, where he was visiting a family member.
The first trial ended in a mistrial, even though the jury had found Joly guilty, when one juror claimed that she hadn’t voted to convict Joly. There was also a question of whether a juror had made an unauthorized drive to the murder scene to measure the distance from Bristol Hospital.
Malone oversaw Joly’s second trial in 1986, which ended with the jury deadlocked.
Undaunted, Malone proceeded to the third trial, where he won a guilty verdict. Joly was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He committed suicide in prison in 2007.
The most memorable facet of the trial, Malone said, was the devastating impact the teenager’s death had on the family.
“The father was so angry,” Malone recalled. “He had called police to report her missing that night and they said ‘We’ll go out and look for her,’ but they never had broadcast anything. His anger was also his salvation. You suffer as a prosecutor as they suffer but in a different way.”
The last case he tried in Hartford involved a man who took the owner, an employee and the secretary of a moving company hostage during a robbery. He killed the owner and the other employee, leaving the secretary fearful of identifying him. The man received a 140-year prison sentence.
In New Britain, he also oversaw the prosecution of two Waterbury men who had beaten a Bristol teen to death in 2011 and numerous other cases, including a Southington man with developmental issues who had kicked his mother to death but was declared incompetent to stand trial.
Malone’s last trial concerned a woman who had killed her former boyfriend in a Berlin Turnpike motel in Newington.
During every case, he learned something, Malone said. “You are never a trial lawyer; you are always becoming one,” he said
Malone’s methodical approach to trying cases has served the state well over the years, said Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, the only member of the division who has served longer.
“John’s steady, reliable, dedicated, and hardworking,” Kane said. “He’s a role model for other prosecutors. He’s thorough in case preparation and analysis. He’s always willing to take on hard cases and do as much work as it takes to do it well.”
As he was explaining that he and his wife will be visiting various vacation spots to determine where they would like to eventually move, Malone admitted he’s not quite sure if he’s ready to retire. His last day was Friday.
“The luckiest part of it is that I’m in a job that I don’t want to retire from,” he said. “I enjoyed it. I would rather do this than anything else.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.