Updated: 9:38 p.m. Saturday, April 7, 2012 | Posted: 9:37 p.m. Saturday, April 7, 2012

Slaying suspect describes violent past

Puccio describes chaotic lifestyle of frequent moves, bad relationships.



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Slaying suspect describes violent past photo
Matthew Puccio, 25, of Urbana, is accused of killing Jessica Rae Sacco, 21.

By Matt Sanctis

Staff Writer

URBANA — For Matthew Puccio, an elaborate, brightly colored tribal tattoo on his right arm tells the story of his life.

It is an appropriate symbol for a man who said he was surrounded by violence for much of his youth, a man who admitted killing and dismembering Jessica Rae Sacco, a woman he said he considered marrying.

“This represents my lifestyle,” Puccio, 25 said of the tattoo during an exclusive interview with the Springfield News-Sun. “It’s been crazy, very colorful, but somehow has always involved some form of death.”

Sacco’s death stunned the otherwise quiet Urbana neighborhood, where some lifelong residents said such a violent crime never seemed like a possibility.

Puccio is being held in the Tri-County Regional jail, where he is being held in connection with the slaying of Sacco, 21.

He called her his star in life, but Puccio calmly described a period of more than eight hours on March 22 in which he stabbed Sacco, wrapped a plastic bag over her head and cut off her limbs before dumping some of her remains in southern Ohio and Kentucky.

Puccio faces charges that include felonious assault, murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.

Four friends helped him clean the crime scene, investigators said, and are being held on various charges. Two friends had known Puccio for years, while two others had met him just days before Sacco’s murder.

In a lengthy interview, Puccio described a chaotic life in which he rarely stayed long in one place, often moving on after his relationships soured.

Puccio said he grew up in Woodland, Calif., a suburb about 30 minutes outside Sacramento.

Lifelong friend

He provided few details about his life in California, but Puccio said he was raised by his grandparents and spent much of his childhood in private schools. It was there that he met Andrew Forney, a lifelong friend who eventually moved into the home on Light Street with Puccio and Sacco.

Andrew P. Forney, 26, and Kandis J. Forney, 25, are accused of helping Puccio conceal Sacco’s remains and dispose of them.

When the Forneys moved into the Light Street home, Puccio and Andrew Forney had been friends for more than two decades.

“We went to the same schools for a while, then he was home-schooled,” Puccio said. “Our parents went to church together, so after church we’d just go over to his house, listen to music and hang out.”

Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Puccio had no criminal record in that state as an adult.

Puccio said his trouble with the law began when he was a teenager. When he was about 15, he traveled to Banning, Calif., to stay with his biological father.

“I wanted to give my real dad a chance to know me,” Puccio said.

After six months Puccio said an argument over a job application led to a physical confrontation with his father. By then, Puccio said, his grandparents had moved into a smaller home.

He moved out and spent the next three years in group homes. It was there that Puccio said his troubles with other students and law enforcement became more serious.

His juvenile records were not available, but Puccio described a series of violent incidents with other teens. Among them, Puccio said he struck another juvenile in the head with a bar stool and fought with police after the other student had pulled the covers off Puccio’s bed while he slept. He described other fights as well, in which he fought with other students for throwing food on him, for example.

Authorities have remained largely silent about the case, making it difficult to determine the accuracy of Puccio’s account.

Nick Selvaggio, Champaign County prosecutor, said authorities are withholding many details about the case until it goes to trial. All five of the suspects arrested were arraigned on 29 total charges Friday.

Puccio could face a sentence of up to life in prison without parole on a charge of aggravated murder.

“While I recognize there is a high level of public interest surrounding this case, I want to ensure that these five defendants receive fair trials right here in Champaign County,” Selvaggio said. “Since I believe that evidence is most reliable when it is presented in the context of a trial, I respectfully decline to comment on the facts supporting the indictments.”

Facebook meeting

At 18, Puccio said he briefly moved to Virginia, where his brother was serving in the military. From there, he moved around the country, traveling to Texas, Utah, Montana and back to Texas.

During that time, Puccio said he fathered four children with three women, but struggled in a custody dispute with his most recent girlfriend. It was while in Texas that Puccio said he eventually met Sacco on Facebook.

Puccio simply said he was looking for new friends during a rough period in his life, and Sacco provided the support he needed.

“I was just trying to meet new people, make new friends,” Puccio said. “I was having a rough time. My ex-fiancee walked out on me, took my son, my daughter.”

Much of Sacco’s life remains a mystery, although friends have said she briefly attended Graham High School and Urbana University. Amanda Erb, who said she previously attended school with Sacco at Graham, had described Sacco as a sweet girl who was sometimes bullied by others. Erb said she does not believe Puccio’s claim that he killed her in self defense.

About 50 people attended a candlelight vigil Saturday night planned by one of Sacco’s high school friends. Mourners - including neighbors, friends and others who knew her only through news stories about her death - signed a large poster to be sent to Sacco’s family and brought stuffed animals, wreaths and crosses to create a makeshift memorial on the doorstep of the home at 625 W. Light St.

The event organizer, Amanda Erb, said she met Sacco when they were both attending Graham High School, where Sacco was picked on but didn’t let it bother her, Erb said.

“She was kind of an oddball and so was I,” she said.

Sacco was smart but sometimes struggled with her grades, Erb said. She had grown up in California before moving to Ohio, but Erb said she believed she had remained in the area since high school.

“She had a wonderful sense of humor,” Erb said. “Anything that would make her laugh or us laugh. She was a total goofball.”

Neighbor James Latimer said Sacco was generally happy and he didn’t see any indication of problems in the home prior to her death.

“I never seen her upset or down or anything,” he said. “She was a really very polite girl, very nice.”

Rick Epping of North Lewisburg and his girlfriend Connie Melms of Urbana brought an Easter basket to leave at Sacco’s door in her memory, although they had never met her, Melms said.

“It breaks your heart,” she said.

Jim Asterino said he didn’t expect such a violent crime to occur in his neighborhood in Urbana.

“I wanted to be here because I just feel so bad for her,” he said. “It’s hard to believe there are people out there like that that could hurt someone.”

Erb said she didn’t believe Puccio’s claims that he acted in self-defense or that Sacco asked him to kill her.

“Jessica got picked on a lot in high school and she would never even shoot those people a dirty look,” she said. “She would never hurt anyone.”