He Hired Jim Voyles
Danny Tunks was a blue-collar guy from Indiana, accused of killing a reputed mobster and facing a heap of evidence and life in prison. He was in serious, serious trouble. Then he hired Jim Voyles.
Editor’s Note, Jan. 11, 2013: Monserrate Shirley, one of three defendants in the Nov. 10 Richmond Hill blast on the southside of Indianapolis that claimed the lives of two people, rendered many houses unlivable, and attracted national attention, now has a super-lawyer. This one. He will defend her against felony arson and murder charges on March 4, with her next court appearance on Feb. 21.
On the morning of August 19, 2008, at around 7:30, Danny Tunks pulled his SUV into the parking lot of the same 7-Eleven convenience store in Colorado Springs where he stopped every morning on his way to work. He bought his usual breakfast: a cupcake, a bottle of Mountain Dew, and a couple of packs of Marlboro Lights.
When Tunks stepped out of the store, the door of a van in the parking lot slid open, and a team of armed police piled out. He heard them shouting, “Get down on the ground!” His first thought was that someone coming out of the store right behind him must be in trouble. He swiveled around to look. No one was there. When he turned back, red lights flashed in his eyes. He looked down and saw a swarm of tight red dots flitting around on his chest—laser sights. “On the ground!” came the shouts, again, and this time Tunks obliged. One of the officers cuffed Tunks’s hands behind his back and sat him on the curb.
A few hours later, Tunks was sitting in a small interview room in the headquarters of the Colorado Springs Police Department. He might have been startled by the sudden onslaught of gun-toting police outside the 7-Eleven, but now, sitting in the station, the surprise turned to dread. A few months earlier, his brother-in-law, whose small remodeling business Tunks worked for, had hired him to drive to Saddle Brook, New Jersey, to make a delivery to the brother-in-law’s elderly father. Within a few hours of Tunks’s meeting with the man, police had found him, murdered, in the parking lot of a Bennigan’s restaurant in New Jersey. Tunks thought hard about reporting the meeting to police. But he never had.
A detective from New Jersey came into the room and started asking Tunks questions. Tunks waived his right to remain silent. Now that he was here, he might as well try to clear things up. You said you were from Indiana, right? Yeah. How long had you been in the Springs area? Since November. Did you take any stops in New Jersey? Just for gas.
Explaining why he was really in New Jersey would have meant admitting to a lesser felony the detective might not even have known about. Tunks was in a jam. The detective finally got to the point. “I want to tell you, Danny, why you’re here,” he said. “We think you killed Mr. Marcucci.”
Tunks was a simple guy from Johnson County, Indiana. He drove trucks and worked construction. Thirty-four years old, and he had never been in trouble before. Until this moment, it hadn’t dawned on him that someone could actually think him capable of killing another human being.
“I think I need a lawyer,” he said.
The City-County Building, where most criminals in Marion County go for trial, is visible through a large picture window in Jim Voyles’s office on East Washington Street, in downtown Indianapolis. The view is what you’d expect from the office of a 68-year-old defense lawyer who has practiced for longer than 40 years, was a president of the Indianapolis Bar Association, and bills $600 per hour. But the scattered documents and file folders that cover his conference table, and the stack of bankers boxes that line the wall, betray the fact that Voyles, despite his age and stature, is still a grinder.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” says Jeff Baldwin, another local defense attorney. One recent Saturday morning, Baldwin recalls, he was running errands when Voyles called. “He wanted to know whether one of my clients would be an advantageous witness for him,” says Baldwin. “I said, ‘Jim, what are you doing calling me on a Saturday morning?’”
As a young man, Voyles decided to follow in the footsteps of his lawyer uncle, George M. Ober. Ober was a partner with the firm originally known as Symmes, Fleming, and Symmes, one of the top outfits in Indianapolis. It had a reputation for trying big cases. In the late 1950s, one of the firm’s founding attorneys, Frank Symmes, and his son Charles successfully defended Connie Nicholas, who stood accused of killing Eli Lilly executive Forrest Teel. The trial was televised and covered in Life magazine.
Voyles graduated from the Indiana University School of Law in 1968, joined the firm, and spent the next few decades bolstering its big-case reputation. In the 1970s, he defended one of the men accused of killing eccentric millionairess Marjorie Jackson. When Mike Tyson was brought up on rape charges in 1992, Voyles was on his legal team—and landed guest spots on nationally televised talk shows such as Charlie Rose as a result. Casual observers associate Voyles with the Tyson case more than any other, even though it was a losing cause, and Voyles played only a supporting role. (It is a commonly held belief around the Indianapolis legal community that if Voyles had been lead counsel, the trial might have turned out better for the former heavyweight champ.)
Generally speaking, Voyles is the attorney that rich, famous, powerful, and generally notorious people in and around Indianapolis hire when they get into trouble with the law. His roster of past and present clients includes half-cocked athletes (Pacer Stephen Jackson), allegedly unscrupulous businessmen (financier James Cochran), abusive Hollywood types (Cosby Show writer J.J. Paulsen), disgraced politicians (City-County Councillor Lincoln Plowman), and accused killers (Robert David Little).
“Another defense lawyer once told me, ‘It’s the worst of our society who need people like me the most,’” says Voyles. “It’s easy to defend the people that everybody likes, but it’s a little harder to defend the people that everybody hates. I’ve gone to a hundred dinners and cocktail parties where I’ve been asked, ‘How could you do that?’ Well, it’s pretty simple. Why did the doctor who had to work on Lee Harvey Oswald treat him? Because he took an oath. He had a duty to do it. When it comes to the importance of defense attorneys, people tend to forget what they learned in civics class—until they need us.”
In his twenties, Danny Tunks had done most of the things a respectable young man is supposed to do. He had graduated from Franklin High School and, at 21, had gotten married. He’d bought a house in a quiet Greenwood subdivision. He’d started businesses in excavating and trucking. He was hardworking, handsome, clean-cut, and well-liked.
But at 30, his tidy life was beginning to unravel. In 2003, his wife asked for a separation. He lost the house to foreclosure. Lenders were suing. His wife filed for divorce in 2006.
Tunks needed a change of scenery. He drove west to visit his sister, Kea, and her new husband, Bill Silvi, who lived in Colorado Springs. Tunks had met his brother-in-law just once before, when he had flown out for the couple’s engagement party. He wasn’t impressed. “He was loud,” says Tunks. “Very opinionated. Not the smartest guy in the world.” But his sister had always made good choices in the past, so he tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe she saw something that we didn’t,” he says. “Something that made her love the guy.”
On this second trip to Colorado, Silvi asked Tunks for a favor. He owned a remodeling business that fixed up homes for resale, but the places weren’t moving. He knew that Tunks had a background in construction, and he wanted him to take a look at some of the houses his company was working on. They drove around to a few of them, and Tunks made a list of necessary repairs. Tunks thought it seemed as though Silvi was taking good care of his sister and her kids. “But there was still something about him I just didn’t care for,” he says. For one, Silvi had an unsavory group of guys working for him, and more than that, “They were his really good friends.”
Not long after Tunks returned to Indiana, he got a call from Colorado. Silvi wanted Tunks to move to Colorado Springs and run his remodeling business for $1,000 a week. Tunks was driving a truck in Indiana, and he was sick of it. He thought about his misgivings over Silvi, and all the shady guys hanging around, and felt like he needed to look after his sister. He agreed to take the job and, in November 2007, packed up his SUV and drove to Colorado.
From the get-go, Tunks was frustrated with how Silvi ran the business. He would be enthusiastic about starting work on a house, then seem to lose interest in finishing it. A couple of months after Tunks arrived, he and his sister learned that Silvi had kissed another woman at a party. By February 2008, Tunks says, he was ready to move back home, and he tried to convince his sister to come with him. She wouldn’t leave. When Tunks talked to his father in Indiana, he urged Tunks to stay and make sure his sister was okay.
When police arrived, they found the driver’s side window rolled down half-way. They saw the keys in the ignition and, still wearing a seatbelt, the body of William Marcucci with a gunshot wound behind the left ear.
It was in that same month, Tunks says, that Silvi raised the idea of having Tunks drive out to meet Silvi’s father—or “Pops,” as he often called him—in New York. Pops had lived in Colorado Springs for a while but had recently moved back to the Bronx. Silvi wanted Tunks to take the old man’s dog to him and then bring back some of the trained pigeons that he raised on the roof of his building. Silvi would pay Tunks his regular week’s pay of $1,000, plus gas. Silvi explained that he couldn’t make the trip himself because the terms of his parole precluded him from leaving Colorado. (In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Silvi had been convicted for burglary and for causing the death of his girlfriend’s child.)
Tunks had met Silvi’s father, Bill Marcucci, once before, at his sister’s engagement party. He had heard that Marcucci “wasn’t the greatest guy in the world,” but he had been nice enough when Tunks met him. He was a retired union tradesman with a thick Bronx accent, and at 6’4″ and over 200 pounds, he had once been a big, tough guy. People who knew him would later testify that he bragged about having connections to organized crime.
“I don’t know how he made his money,” says Dan D’Elia, one of Marcucci’s other sons. “He hung out in the Bronx. He introduced me to people over the years, and they were very sordid people. During the course of his life, he was around that type of element. That’s who he grew up with.” Now advancing in years, Marcucci had prostate cancer and, after a lifetime of running around, he seemed to be making a sincere effort to spend time with his kids and grandkids. When Tunks first met him, he was in his mid-60s, and Tunks thought he seemed frail.
Tunks says that when the subject of driving to New York came up again, a few weeks later, the details had changed. Silvi told him that his father liked to smoke marijuana to help alleviate pain and discomfort caused by his cancer. Instead of taking the dog out to Marcucci, Tunks would be delivering five pounds of pot. Tunks says he felt bad for the old man, so he agreed. “I thought I was helping him out,” he says.
In early May, Tunks drove out of Colorado Springs with the drugs stuffed into a backpack. He arrived in the Bronx with instructions to meet Silvi’s father at the building where he lived. It was a rough neighborhood, and Tunks says he had to drive around the block for three hours looking for a place to park. When he finally made it to the building, he gave Marcucci the backpack, and the two of them went up to the roof to get the pigeons. “The Bronx is kind of a culture shock for somebody from Indiana,” he says. “There were four or five guys, and two or three girls. They were building a pigeon coop. You could see that that’s what everybody did up there—people on every rooftop, you know? It was like everyone lived in seven-story apartment buildings, and everywhere you looked, there were pigeons flying in the air. They don’t have yards, so I guess that’s where they have to go, the roof.” Marcucci’s pals helped him gather up six of the pigeons to put in a box for Tunks to take with him. He made it back to Colorado without incident. Had he been caught with the marijuana, he might have been subject to a fine of up to $250,000 and as many as five years in prison.
Shortly after returning to Colorado, Tunks started planning a trip to Indiana to visit family. Since he would already be more than halfway to New York, Silvi asked him if he’d make another delivery to his father. “I had never really been around drugs, so I didn’t know how much somebody could go through,” he says. “I figured it was for his own consumption. Now I’d say he was probably selling it.” The only proviso was that Tunks didn’t want to have to park in the Bronx and go into Marcucci’s building. “I told him that I wanted his dad to meet me on the sidewalk by his house,” says Tunks. “The first time I went there, it was a fiasco. I told him I just wanted to be able to pull in, you know, right there, and give the bag to his dad. I wasn’t going to waste three hours again.” He spent the weekend of May 17 and May 18 visiting family in Johnson County and then, early Monday morning, he lit out for New York. While driving through Ohio, he got a call from Silvi, who asked if Tunks could meet Marcucci in New Jersey rather than New York. “He said his dad was going to be out there that evening, and would I just meet him there,” says Tunks. “And I thought, ‘Sure, you know, if I don’t have to go to the Bronx.’”
That night, Tunks says, he met Marcucci in the parking lot of an out-of-the-way Bennigan’s restaurant in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. He gave Marcucci the marijuana. Then he headed back to Indiana.
Early in the morning of May 20, a man driving to work in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, saw a green Cadillac Deville parked behind the Bennigan’s restaurant where Tunks had met Marcucci. It looked like somebody was sleeping in the driver’s seat. On his way home later that day, he noticed that the green Caddy was still there, and the man in the driver’s seat appeared not to have moved. It seemed strange. He called a manager at another business in the area to report the car.
When police arrived, they found the Caddy’s driver’s-side window rolled down halfway. They saw keys in the ignition, and, still wearing a seatbelt, the body of William Marcucci with a single gunshot wound behind the left ear.
Detectives searched the car and found a spent .32-caliber round and, on the floor between the driver’s seat and the door, a plastic-wrapped potato with a black smudge and a hole cut into one end. Detective Keith Delaney, one of the investigators in the case, would later write in a report that the hole in the potato “was consistent with having been made by the barrel and front site of a revolver, handgun.” What’s more, wrote Delaney, “Small caliber revolvers, like a .32 caliber, are commonly used in professional or orchestrated ‘hits,’ murders. The area of the neck and head, behind the victim’s ear, is commonly the target in such ‘hits.’” Delaney would go on to point out that “there are several ‘urban myths’ involving the use of a potato as a silencer by organized crime ‘hitmen.’ It is believed that the potato will contain the muzzle flash and sound generated by the firing of a handgun. In this case the potato appears to have fallen from the gun, into the car, before the gun was fired.”
The detectives didn’t find any marijuana in the car. But they did find a handwritten note in Marcucci’s shirt pocket. On one side was written the name “Lenore Gonzales,” along with a Bronx address, a phone number, and what looked to be a date of birth. Scrawled on the other side was an apparent set of instructions: “9: pm, 62-80, Nort Midland, on left 1 ¼ – 1 ½ Benggens, park back, Green Mustang.”
The last two calls from Marcucci’s cell phone had been placed at 9:03 and 9:23 the previous evening, to Bill and Kea Silvi—Danny Tunks’s brother-in-law and sister.
Jim Voyles has a rule. “I never advise my clients to speak to police,” he says. “The opposite. Now, after I interview the client and I know something about the case, if I think it’s an advantage to sit down with the police to clear up some kind of a problem, I might suggest we do it.”
Danny Tunks certainly had a problem. A big problem. A couple of days after his meeting with Marcucci, he received a call from his sister in Colorado. She told him that one of Marcucci’s other sons had called Silvi to let him know that police had found their father, murdered, in the parking lot of a Bennigan’s restaurant in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. Tunks realized that the simple drug delivery he thought had gone off without a hitch had, in fact, placed him at the scene of a homicide.
“When I got back to Colorado,” says Tunks, “I told Bill, ‘We need to talk to the police. I was there. I was at that restaurant. They need to know.’” Silvi’s counsel was much the same as Voyles’s might have been, but for a far different reason: He was on parole. “He convinced me that we couldn’t, because if we had openly admitted to moving drugs across the United States, he was going back to prison for three years. I thought I was helping out my sister by not saying anything. That’s why I didn’t go the police, and I regret that every day.”
What Tunks didn’t know, and wouldn’t learn until a few months later, was that the New Jersey detectives investigating Marcucci’s murder were already hot on his trail. In the days following the discovery of Marcucci’s body, they interviewed several of Marcucci’s friends. One of them told the police that when he last saw Marcucci, on May 19, he said he was going to drive to New Jersey to pick up a “surprise” that a friend of his son’s was delivering from Colorado. They also recalled being on the roof of Marcucci’s building a couple of weeks earlier when a guy named “Danny” had shown up to pick up some pigeons to take back to Colorado.
Nor did Tunks know that the New Jersey detectives were poring over data from cellular towers in the area of the Bennigan’s restaurant, searching for calls from phone numbers with the “719” Colorado Springs area code. On the night of May 19, between 8:42 and 9:26 p.m., a cell tower just a few blocks from the restaurant routed calls between two prepaid mobile phones with “719” numbers.
And here’s what else Tunks says he didn’t know: In the months leading up to his two trips to the East Coast, his brother-in-law had taken out several accidental-death insurance policies on his father, policies that would pay out in the event of Marcucci’s murder. And Silvi was the beneficiary.
After his arrest in Colorado Springs, Danny Tunks was extradited to Bergen County, New Jersey, where a grand jury indicted him on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The stint he’d served in jail in Colorado Springs hadn’t been so bad: He was free to walk around, watch TV, and make calls throughout the day. But serving in the Bergen County Jail, in New Jersey, was harder time. He was on lockdown for 21 hours a day, more than a third of his fellow inmates were up for murder, and fights broke out every day.
The public defender working on Tunks’s release was trained as a tax attorney. She managed to get his bail reduced—from $2 million to $1.5 million—but in one hearing a judge openly chastised her for her poor handling of the case. Tunks had a sinking feeling. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in prison, he thought. In order to have a bondsman secure Tunks’s release, his mother, who lived in Hawaii, would have needed to raise $75,000 in cash, put up $1 million worth of real estate, and make payments of nearly $4,000 per month. Tunks decided the money would be better spent on hiring a competent lawyer.
While in jail, Tunks learned that his girlfriend was pregnant with his child. She had a baby girl on April 21, 2009. When he saw his daughter for the first time, it was through the glass of a jailhouse visitation room.
A family member back in Indiana went to see Voyles. Voyles had a contact in New Jersey he’d once worked with, an ambitious, sharp-dressing lawyer named Pat Jennings. Jennings had already heard about the case. It was believed to have been the first murder committed in Saddle Brook since 1996 and, according to The Record newspaper of Bergen County, “a high-ranking law enforcement source” had reported that the victim was an associate of the Genovese organized-crime family. “It’s a big case,” said Jennings. He wanted in on it—but only if Voyles would come along.
On separate trips, Jennings and Voyles met with Tunks in a small conference room outside of his cellblock. “I never feel confident in any case about the truth of what clients say to me,” says Voyles. “But from Day 1, he maintained his innocence. And the more we worked on the case, it appeared that he was right. As I told Danny, though, you could be as innocent as hell and still go to prison. This jury could convict you. Do you want that risk?”
Ultimately, Tunks didn’t really have a choice; the prosecution never gave him much of an incentive to do otherwise. “They said, ‘If you want to come in and admit your guilt, we’ll send you to prison,’” says Voyles. “He had to admit he killed this person. That and testify against Silvi. But he said he was absolutely innocent, so there you go. Those are cases you have to try.”
And Tunks now had an added incentive to avoid a long stretch behind bars. While in jail, he found out that, on the very day of his arrest, a woman he was seeing in Indiana, Sheri Williams, had learned she was pregnant with his child. She had a baby girl on April 21, 2009. When Tunks saw his daughter for the first time, it was through the glass of a jailhouse visitation room.
But Voyles knew that returning Tunks to his family was going to be a slog. For one, Tunks would be tried alongside Silvi, an ex-con whose shady insurance dealings gave the prosecution a motive in the case. Still, when Voyles signed on, he thought the trial might last about a month. Danielle Grootenboer, the assistant prosecutor heading up the case, didn’t agree. “Jim, it’s going to take a lot of time,” she told him. “We have lots of stuff.” Her office had nine investigators working on the case, and the material turned over to Voyles and Jennings in the discovery process would fill 26 trial books.
The trial got under way on September 23, 2010. The state’s case, in a nutshell, was this: William Silvi intended to profit from the murder of his father, William Marcucci, by naming himself as beneficiary on fraudulent accidental-death insurance policies. He then conspired with Daniel Tunks, who agreed to drive to New Jersey and do the job in exchange for a cut of the insurance payout.
As anyone who has watched Law & Order knows, the job in front of Voyles and Jennings was not to prove that the prosecution’s account was wrong; it was to convince 12 members of a jury that the prosecution’s account might be wrong. That’s easier to do when the defendant cuts a sympathetic figure. In his opening argument, Jennings described Tunks as a “happy-go-lucky young man trying to find his way in life.” He was clean-cut and had no visible tattoos. He’d never been in trouble with the law. Tunks was a blue-collar guy from a small town. They reminded the court that he was from Indiana, which, compared to the gritty streets of north Jersey, probably sounded to jurors like the kind of wholesome, pleasant place where people don’t commit murders.
The prosecution showed a recording of Tunks’s interview with police from the day he was taken into custody in Colorado, in which he had neglected to tell the detective what he now wanted the jury to believe: that he had driven to New Jersey to deliver marijuana. The intent behind playing the recording was to show that Tunks had lied.
Voyles thought the video played into the hands of the defense. He and Jennings had briefly debated the idea of putting Tunks on the stand, but with the airing of the police interview, they were off the hook. “For most lawyers, the worst day of your life is the day your client’s on the stand,” says Voyles. “You’re biting your nails and holding the table, just waiting for an accident to happen that could destroy the case instantaneously. You’re better off in a situation where you know he looks good, he sounds good, he’s telling a good story, and nobody’s pouncing on him. The jury got to form their own opinion of Dan.”
The prosecution also called several witnesses from Colorado, friends and former employees of Silvi’s, to testify that Silvi had offered them $50,000 to kill “Pops.” One was an admitted crystal methamphetamine user; another was an illegal immigrant. At least one of the state’s witnesses also testified to having smoked marijuana with Marcucci, which bolstered Tunks’s version of events.
If Tunks came off as the “happy-go-lucky” guy from Indiana, Voyles played the part of the country lawyer. He spoke in a Midwest drawl. He was courteous, relaxed. If necessary, he let the fast-talking Jennings, with his thick Jersey accent and expensive tailored suits, play the heavy. Voyles was the good guy. During one lunch break, he held the door open for a pleasantly surprised lady juror who was exiting the courtroom behind him. “You don’t have to do that,” she said. “They don’t do that in New Jersey.” After he found out the judge and one of the prosecutors were into cars, Voyles—a car collector and auto-racing nut—would bring in auto magazines from home. Voyles’s courtroom manner reflected how he wanted the jury to see his client, as just a good old country boy; at one point during the proceedings, Voyles made an analogy that involved a squirrel and whittling. “I’m no expert,” he told the jury. “I’m just a lawyer from Indiana who came out here to try to help a young man who was in some serious, serious trouble.”
But Voyles’s folksy style belied a shrewd understanding of the evidence and how to spin it to a jury. It might have been just a coincidence that Tunks was at the scene of the murder, close to the time when the murder might have occurred. But that’s some coincidence. So Voyles challenged the prosecution’s assumptions about where Tunks was and when the victim was killed. One of the state’s detectives produced a lengthy report showing what cell towers Tunks’s phone signal “hit” while he was in New Jersey. In cross-examination, Voyles, who had previously tried two other cases involving cell-tower data, countered with some research of his own. “Nowadays, they can attempt to track your movement,” he says. “And what you have to do is try to explain to a jury that these things are not perfect, that the cell-tower information can have flaws. It doesn’t mean you’re standing under the tower when you’re using the phone. You very well could be in a different area, and the phone call has in fact bounced off one tower and is being recorded by another tower that it is not close to. My job was to say, ‘Let’s look beyond the tower as being authoritative.’”
Voyles further confounded the state’s case by scrutinizing the time of Marcucci’s death. He asked a friend of his, John Pless—formerly the head of forensic pathology at IU and chief forensic pathologist for Marion County—to look at Marcucci’s autopsy report. Pless told Voyles that some of the Bergen County medical examiner’s findings seemed to contradict the time of death proposed by the state. A sales receipt and an eyewitness account from a Bennigan’s waitress who had served Marcucci indicated that he had eaten at the restaurant at approximately 8:30 p.m. But the stomach contents and body temperature at the time the victim was discovered suggested that Marcucci must have been alive for as long as two to three hours after eating—when, according to the state’s own phone records, Tunks was well on his way back to Indiana.
Numerous other questions and inconsistencies hurt the prosecution’s case. They weren’t able to produce a single piece of physical evidence that linked Tunks to the murder, locate the murder weapon, or show that Tunks had owned a gun similar to the one that might have been used in Marcucci’s murder. Nor could the prosecution adequately explain why the victim was carrying a note that referred to a “Lenore Gonzalez” and a green Mustang, a car the prosecution never located nor, in the eyes of the defense, seemed to look for.
Finally, Detective Delaney’s references to “organized crime” and “hitmen” in the report describing the crime scene, and witness testimony that Marcucci liked to brag about having underworld connections, gave the proceedings a mob-trial flair, much to the dismay of Grootenboer, the lead prosecutor in the case. “Our case was completely dogged by this inaccurate misconception of Mr. Marcucci being a mob figure,” she says. “A newspaper article said ‘a high-ranking law enforcement source’ said this was a mob guy. Who the heck was it? It always troubled me because, based on one article, this became a ‘mob’ case. And I thought our detectives did an excellent job of debunking that.”
Accurate or not, the mere suggestion of Mafia involvement helped Voyles and Jennings highlight the possibility that someone far more sinister than a small-town Hoosier like Tunks had committed the crime.
Plaques and framed photos cover the walls of Jim Voyles’s office on East Washington Street, the kinds of awards, acknowledgements, and mementos that most successful men accumulate over the course of long careers. It’s hard to say how many acquittals he’s won in that span. But he has only bothered to have one official jury verdict framed and hung on this wall of accolades. It’s the one that declares Danny Tunks not guilty on all charges.
Next to the verdict hangs a photograph of Voyles standing outside of a New Jersey courthouse, his arm thrown triumphantly around Pat Jennings’s shoulder. The two men are beaming, as though posing for a graduation picture. It was taken on December 22, 2010, just moments after the two lawyers won freedom for a wayward young man from Central Indiana.
Known for staying mum in the media, Voyles let Jennings handle the task of giving statements to the press throughout most of the trial—until that day of the verdict, when he told The Record that he was “thrilled with the victory” and “happy to take my client home to Indiana.” He says he earned “well over six figures” for his work on Tunks’s behalf, but when he stands in his office looking at that picture, the money doesn’t seem to matter. He has trouble describing the satisfaction he gets from winning such a dramatic acquittal. “You savor those feelings, because they are sometimes far between,” he says. “The birth of a child would be a little more important.” But just a little.
Bill Silvi, Tunks’s codefendant, didn’t get off quite so cleanly. Although the same jury acquitted him on the murder charges, they found him guilty of defrauding the insurance companies that carried his father’s accidental-death policies; Judge Donald Venezia sentenced him to 12 years in prison in February. In 2009, a federal grand jury in Colorado indicted him on charges of wire and mail fraud stemming from several home mortgages in Colorado Springs. At press time, he was in federal custody awaiting trial. He declined comment for this story through one of his attorneys.
Tunks hasn’t spoken with Silvi since the trial. Six months after his release from jail, he says he’s still trying to get adjusted to life on the outside. He has difficulty relaxing, and the “happy-go-lucky” man who left Indiana has returned a more serious one. He lives in Trafalgar with Williams and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. He works for Williams’s uncle’s fence-building company, and he talks of marrying her some day. He lost two-and-a-half years of his life behind bars—and the first year-and-a-half of his daughter’s. But he doesn’t talk about regret for the time he missed. He talks about gratitude for all the time he still has. When he looks at Jim Voyles, his eyes fill with admiration. “This man saved my life,” he says.
Photo by Amy Newman/NorthJersey
This article appeared in the July 2011 issue.