On Tuesday, a jury of six men and six women heard the first evidence in the trial of Michael Brandon Fazio, a 27-year-old man who has been accused of kidnapping for allegedly grabbing a small boy at a local book store in early 2018.
Fazio, an “on again off again” employee of a south Forsyth Burger King, was arrested on Jan. 7, 2018 after surveillance camera footage of the incident circulated online and in media sources, and he was identified by a co-worker.
In her opening statement to the jury, assistant district attorney Courtney Moore explained how the incident occurred “in the blink of an eye,” stating that video evidence from Jan. 6, 2018, shows Fazio as he allegedly followed and "snatched" the boy in the Barnes and Noble off of Peachtree Parkway, before he rushed to the door of the store.
"It wasn't until Nick Tantanella grabbed the defendant by the shoulder and said, 'What are you doing with my kid?’ that this defendant set the child down," Moore said. "Law enforcement responded swiftly … but you'll hear that it wasn't until they saw this video footage themselves that they realized how serious this was and quickly they needed to find this defendant."
Following the incident, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office mobilized a huge presence of deputies and patrol cars into the area of The Collection, canvasing businesses and searching for a suspect in the case.
Moore told the jury that the suspect was identified by a co-worker that saw video of the incident online and recognized Fazio by the Burger King jacket he allegedly wore in the video.
In his opening statement to the jury, Fazio’s attorney Michael Katz conceded that Fazio was indeed in the Barnes and Noble on the day in question, but stated that the state’s theory of what happened and the charges leveled against his client are incorrect.
Katz told the jury that his client "had bad drug and alcohol problems most of his life" and on Jan. 6, 2018, Fazio allegedly was driven to work by a roommate in a “pretty bad” condition following a three night “binge.”
When Fazio was eventually sent home due to the severity of his condition, Katz said that Fazio walked a short distance to The Collection and eventually made his way to Barnes and Noble.
In the store, he said that Fazio browsed for books and saw the child as he was leaving and mistook the boy for his roommate’s son.
“It is not quite actually as Ms. Moore has said, what I want you to focus on in this video is about four seconds," Katz said. "As Michael is walking down, he sees the child, in his stupor or whatever he's in, he mistakes it for (roommate’s son), he picks up the child, doesn’t harm the child, the child doesn't say anything, doesn't scream, doesn't yell … he takes four steps and the father stops him."
Katz said that after being stopped by the boy’s father, Nick Tantanella, Fazio apologized profusely and explained that he thought the child was his roommate’s son.
At the end of his opening statement, Katz also pointed to the fact that Fazio wore his uniform and name tag into the store as evidence towards his innocence, stating that he returned to work the following day as if nothing had happened.
"He's not trying to hide or trying to go anywhere, he goes back to work in the same uniform and name tag," Katz said. "This is a case of a mistake."
In his testimony, Tantanella told the court that he didn't realize the gravity of the incident until he left the store and returned to his wife at a nearby restaurant, and only then did they call the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office.
“My initial thought was not 'Is this guy snagging my kid?’ Nobody immediately goes to that,” Tantanella said. “I wanted to assume that it's an honest mistake, but as more time goes by, you kind of play it back and realize this wasn't right, it wasn't an honest mistake.”
Following Tantanella’s testimony, Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley announced that the court would recess until Wednesday.
This trial is scheduled to last until Wednesday, but could push into Thursday due to the lengthy jury selection process which lasted through Monday into Tuesday morning.
Fazio is currently being held in the Forsyth County Jail under no bond during the trial, but prior to the trial’s start on Tuesday, the sheriff’s office consented to allow him to be unshackled for the court proceedings.
Both Chief Assistant District Attorney Sandra Ann Partridge and her co-council, Moore, will represent the state in this case.