"We all are thinking of him," Dominick Stanzione, who discovered Judge's body on the side of Montauk Highway, said on Wednesday. The night before, he stopped in at Astro's, owned by Judge's best friends of 40 plus years, Tony Lupo, to have spaghetti and meatballs in recognition of the anniversary of Oct. 23, 2012.
"We gave each other a hug," said Stanzione, an Amagansett resident who serves as an East Hampton Town Councilman. "It's important we remember John as a helpful, convivial, and generous man — he'd give you the shirt off his back. He was an 'everyman.' He's missed and we're sad."
On the fateful night, it was about 7:50 p.m. when Stanzione got out of his car to pick up dinner at Astro's and something on the ground across the street caught his eye. He thought, at first, that one of the scarecrows decorating the hamlet had blown over. What he found was Judge's lifeless body by a parked truck's tire.
Stanzione hurried into Astro's, yelling for someone to dial 911. Lupo and his son Joey, who had just served him veal marsala for dinner, ran outside. Judge's sweatshirt was pulled over his head, his body mangled, Joey Lupo recalled the day after the accident, but they recognized "J.J." by the his boots and jeans.
Judge was pronounced dead at the hospital. He was 61.
A long search began for the driver and the vehicle that killed Judge. Police stopped cars, checking for damage. His friends made a public plea for the driver to come forward and "do the right thing," as Tony Lupo put it.
With no witnesses and little evidence, other than metallic blue paint chips and shattered fragments of a headlight, it would be three and a half months before an arrest was made.
Crime Stoppers posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver. Larry Siedlick, an Amagansett homeowner — who didn't know Judge but was moved by the situation — offered an additional $5,000 reward, in the hopes someone would come forward. Less than a week later, Superstorm Sandy hit the area. Chief Ed Ecker later said he was proud of his detectives, who never lost sight of the case.
There was an empty seat at the Lupo's house on Thanksgiving, one of the holidays Judge usually spent with their large family. What would have been Judge's 62nd birthday passed on Dec. 22, 2012, and his family marked the day by spreading his ashes in the ocean off the coast of Florida. His sister, Peggy DiLena, said described not knowing who was responsible for her brother's death as a "ripping apart of your heart."
Based on the forensic evidence, police culled through possible vehicle makes and models. A few months later, they zeroed in on Edward Orr, a then 30-year-old Montauk resident, who was just two weeks shy of completing probation for a 2009 grand larceny conviction at the time of the accident.
When police first interviewed him, his 2004 Jeep already had been voluntarily repossessed, and when police found it on auction lot in New Jersey, it still had front-end damage. Orr told police it was from hitting a street sign in Montauk, an accident they said he staged to cover up damage from hitting Judge.
When he pleaded guilty in March to felonies — tampering with physical evidence and leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality — he said he thought he had hit a deer, and that the accident wasn't his fault. He claimed he wasn't drunk or high. He was returning home from an appointment at Phoenix House in East Hampton, and his counselor signed an affidavit that he was sober when he left.
Orr is currently serving a 2 to 6-year sentence at Gowanda Correctional Facility, a medium security prison. He won't be up for parole until February, 6, 2015.
At his sentencing in April, Orr told the judge he wished he had listened to the advice of his attorney, Gordon Ryan, and his parents who begged him to turn himself in. As it turned out, Orr went to Ryan just two days after the Oct. 23 accident and admitted he was the driver. They spoke five to six times over the next two weeks, Ryan said, but Orr only confessed after police detectives brought him in on Feb. 7.
District Attorney Thomas Spota praised police for the investigation. “For three and a half months East Hampton Town Police Department detectives worked tenaciously to find and apprehend this defendant. Their determination and skill are the reasons Mr. Orr was brought to justice."Even with a confession, prosecutors were hard pressed to file more serious charges than the top charge that is punishable by up to 7 years in prison. In the weeks before the arrest Spota joined state legislators from the East End who have called for stiffer penalties for hit-and-run drivers.
The Lupos have since sold Judge's car and used the money to buy a bench in his memory. In June, it was installed near where Stanzione found his body, in front of Decorum, where he had an apartment, across from Astro's. The inscription on the bench reads "In Fond Memory of John Judge."
Please join us in remembering John Judge on the anniversary of his death. Leave a comment below.