There isn’t much anyone can do for Dorothy Balancio now. Since 1994, she’s been living in the murky emotional state of raw, continuous pain. Holidays, birthdays—these happy occasions are always tainted for her. “There’s just an empty space,” she said. “We’re all sitting there asking, ‘Where’s Louis?’”
Since 1973, when Louis Balancio was only five and a half weeks old, he and his proud mother traveled the halls of Mercy College together. She was an alumna—class of ‘68—turned tenured and beloved sociology and human sexuality professor, and he was her precious son who would follow her footsteps to Mercy, enrolling as a member of the class of ’95.
And all too soon for Balancio, her child was a college junior, turning 21. Time had flown by—her baby grew up into an accounting major, planning a proposal to his high school sweetheart. The world was just starting to open itself up to Louis, but all too quickly it was wrenched away.
“There’s no fairness,” Balancio declared thoughtfully. “There’s no justice.”
Louis Balancio was stabbed 13 times in the early morning hours of February 5, 1994, right outside of the Strike Zone Bar in Yonkers, just four days after turning 21. His heart and kidneys were punctured. His spine severed. And miles away, his mother was grieving at a funeral in Florida, when she got the 5 a.m. phone call all mothers fear.
Even today, there are few answers. Motives are still simply speculations. Evidence from the scene is mostly hearsay. Balancio blames a lack of attention from officials at the time of the crime; “It took two and a half years to even get the district attorney to look at Louis’ case,” she said.
It was eventually determined that a brawl had broken out between an Albanian group and an Italian group—both allegedly gangs, some with mob ties. Louis was apparently “mistaken” for one of the Albanians during the fight, held from behind and stabbed to death. A few names were thrown around as suspects, but still, no one knew for sure, no one stepped forward, no one saw anything.
And for lack of substantial validation of that horrific night, all the Balancio family had was speculation as they pieced together the tragic puzzle of their son’s demise. Dr. Balancio held vigil after vigil for her son, sharing Louis’ story and begging for help—or even some kind of attention—to bring justice for her slain child. She received foreboding phone calls late into countless nights (“We’re going to kill your other son too, if you don’t stop”), but her grief propelled her forward.
“When you bury a child,” she explained, “nothing in your life can ever be the same.”
And in this numbing direction, day after day passed, until one day in November 1999, when a man named Anthony DiSimone turned himself in as her son’s murderer.
In less than a year after he walked into the Yonkers precinct with his admission of guilt, DiSimone was convicted of second-degree murder, showing “depraved indifference” to human life. Balancio fought back tears as she recalled seeing pictures of her son’s mangled body during the trial.
“He was massacred,” she said. “He was butchered.”
Finally, DiSimone was given a sentence of 25 years to life in prison and began his incarceration on February 6, 2001—just one day after the seventh anniversary of Louis’ death.
And for a while, Balancio could rest. But rest is all one can do when faced with a personal tragedy like this. “You never get over it,” she sighed. “You just learn how to mask it.”
So she turned back to her alma mater, the school where she and her son had spent years of their lives—Mercy College. “They were just so supportive… just extraordinarily supportive.”
There, she changed her professional concentration to conflict resolution in honor of her slain son—to guide the young students who became her second family, to gently make them aware of the evil in the world, and to teach them how to avoid turbulent and potentially devastating situations. She founded an organization and concurrent scholarship in the name of her child—the Louis Balancio Organization for Conflict Resolution—and to this day, uses the scholarship money to pay for Mercy students, staff, and faculty to receive the 35-hour NYS Mediation training to become state certified in conflict resolution.
For years, this was Balancio’s life: holding memorials for her lost child, and spreading the hope of conflict resolution to 106 certified individuals. “Maybe there is a God after all,” she contemplated. “Through this tragedy we can help educate others.”
And though her pain could never subside, it was quieted. But in a development Balancio could have never foreseen, in August 2006, Federal Judge Charles Brieant determined that former District Attorney Jeanine Pirro’s office had withheld “very serious” evidence from DiSimone’s trial, and therefore, Anthony DiSimone’s conviction would have to be overturned. Her son’s convicted murderer was released from federal prison on Feb. 27, 2007, with his record expunged and after serving only six years of his sentence.
“It’s like deja-vu,” Balancio said. “I never really believed I could go back to the initial pain of February ’94, but this ruling has just brought me right back to day one.”
The evidence that was withheld from DiSimone’s trial was 300 pages of data that implicated another man, in conjunction with DiSimone, in the murder of Louis Balancio. According to a Journal News article, a police statement from Yonkers man Luvic Gjonaj stated that an individual named Nickoun Djonovic had also stabbed Louis on that fatal night. Balancio credited the evidence as, “more hearsay that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway [….] The fact remains that DiSimone stabbed my son.”
The evidence, while it did not diminish the guilt of DiSimone, was important enough that it would require a new trial to convict him again. The federal courts believed it was too crucial to ignore, and would further impede DiSimone’s constitutional right of a fair trial.
During the first trial in 2000, DNA evidence was used to prove DiSimone’s guilt. And according to Balancio, no one has tried to disprove it. As the federal courts reviewed DiSimone’s trial, his guilt was never questioned. Even Brieant, who decided to overturn DiSimone’s sentence, stated that it did not matter if the crime was “willful and intelligent or merely unthinking and highly negligent, [but that] justice is done in the case.”
Phone calls to both prosecution and defense went unreturned.
“Victims have lost their rights in our society,” lamented Balancio. “Louis lost his rights the day he died; the only one with rights is the one who holds the weapons. I understand DiSimone has a right to liberty—but what about Louis’ right to life?”
And so DiSimone has been freed, record cleaned, and has once again become a member of the general public. The Journal News reported that he was “very pleased” with the turn of events, but other members of society have expressed their contrasting opinions.
Lutheran minister Anthony Iovine wrote an article on Feb. 7, 2007 expressing his outrage and feelings of helplessness: “Pastors and pious laity can speak all they want about forgiveness, and not hating, and doing the Christian thing. But what happens when you can’t let go? [….] [T]he pain they have suffered and are feeling once again makes me shake my head. There is nothing I can say or do to ease this pain at this time. The only thing I can do is pray for them.”
Yet even with her community’s outpouring of emotion, there are few, if any, who can feel as helpless as a mother who has spent 13 years grieving, never able to finally lay her son or his memory to rest. “With every setback we face,” she sighed, “Louis is dug back up again.”
But despite the emotional difficulty a new trial would bring, Balancio is resolute, and even optimistic. They’ve been preparing themselves, without a moment’s rest.
Of all Louis’ friends who have gone on to graduate and have families of their own, seven children have been given his name. It’s a legacy, of sorts. He can live on in the warmth of his friend’s memories and families, and not simply as a name on a file in a cold trial room.
There’s not much anyone can do for Dorothy Balancio now, but she is ready for what lies ahead. She feels obligated to bring whatever justice she can to her son’s memory. “You can’t ever bring him back, I know that. But a mother is as happy as her saddest child… and I will be grieving until the day I die.”