Old murder case airing on TV

PHOTOGRAPHER:
File photo New York State police investigator Israel Toro escorts suspects in the slaying of John Morgan in March, 1998. From front are Theodore J. Cook, Lucas Whaley and Amanda C. Dzierson. out from the Fonda Police headfquarters. All three were charged with murder.

JOHNSTOWN — A shocking city murder involving several young friends from March 1998 will be detailed on a national TV program Thursday night.

The murder of 19-year-old Fonda resident John Morgan will be recounted in a new program from the Investigation Discovery channel series, “Murder Among Friends,” airing at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Investigation Discovery is Channel 138 on Spectrum’s local cable TV network. It is also locally on Channel 192 on Dish-TV; and on Channel 285 on Direct-TV.

The Investigative Discovery network’s website advertises Thursday’s program this way: “In Johnstown, N.Y., a young man’s disrespectful behavior has his friends seeing red. The group plots to teach him a lesson, but things get horrifically out of hand, kicking off a murder mystery more intricate than any jigsaw puzzle.”

Appearing in the drama/reality show Thursday will be state police Troop G Senior Investigator Israel Toro, Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino and former Daily Gazette reporter Jim McGuire.

Actor Leroy Edwards III from Washington, D.C., portrays Toro in the show.

Toro, now headquartered in Latham, was the lead investigator for the Morgan case at the Fonda State Police office.

Morgan was murdered on March 17, 1998 in Johnstown.

Giardino was a former Fulton County Court judge at the time, noting Monday it was a shocking case.

“None of them had criminal records,” Giardino said of the three defendants in Morgan’s murder.

Convicted in Fulton County Court for the murder of Morgan were: Lucas Whaley, 18, of Gloversville; and Theodore Cook, 18, and Amanda Dzierson, 21, both of Johnstown.

Whaley was convicted of second-degree murder and is currently in maximum-security Auburn state prison. He is eligible for parole in November 2022.

Cook was convicted of second-degree murder and is currently in medium-security Mohawk state prison. He is eligible for parole in November 2020.

Dzierson is currently incarcerated in medium-security Albion state prison, convicted of first-degree kidnapping. She is eligible for parole in November.

Giardino remembers Dzierson came from “a good family.”

Toro said Investigation Discovery contacted state police, and wanted to interview him for his involvement as lead detective in the case.

“They contacted our public information officer,” Toro said.

He said he and Giardino were interviewed and filmed in January about the case at the Johnstown Masonic Temple.

Toro said local news stories and newspaper articles will be featured in the program titled, “Puzzle Pieces.”

The local investigator said he dealt with Burbank, Calif. producer Will Vano for the program. Vano couldn’t be reached Tuesday.

Police at the time said Dzierson picked up Morgan — an ex-boyfriend — and lured him to the South Melcher Street Extension, Johnstown, home of Cook. Cook and Whaley were there waiting.

Police said all three beat Morgan, tied him up and held him against his will. He was beaten several more times and tortured overnight. Dzierson left Cook’s residence before Morgan died.

Whaley and Cook poured toxic fluids down his throat, and ended up strangling Morgan with an electrical cord.

Morgan’s bound body was found in the trunk of Dzierson’s white Geo Prizm while it was parked in the driveway of her Johnstown apartment on March 18, 1998.

“I signed the search warrant for the [Johnstown] house and the car,” Giardino said.

Morgan’s body was found just after Dzierson and Whaley returned from Northville, where they allegedly had asked an acquaintance there to help them get rid of the body. The man refused and notified state police, who alerted Johnstown police.

Authorities at the time never gave a clear motive for the crime, although sources said it was jealousy and debt.

Two months after the murder — Morgan’s then-17-year-old girlfriend — Jessica Cronin who lived in Johnstown at the time — gave birth to their son, Jacob Andrew.

Police at the time said Whaley led a local gang called BMG, which stood for “Bloody Murder Crew.” In Thursday’s program, Toro said he referred to Whaley as being somewhat like charismatic 1969 cult figure Charles Manson.

“He was quite a character,” Toro said of Whaley.

He said Whaley was very “controlling” of those around him.

In addition to the John Morgan murder in Johnstown, Fulton County’s four other murders in 1998 were the shooting of cab driver Joseph Boop, 46, of Gloversville on Feb. 23; the stabbing of William A. Holland, 49, of Gloversville on May 4; beating death of Robert D. Wittemeyer, 77, of Gloversville on May 25; and death of Gloversville resident Jessie B. House, 91, on July 28.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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