In a forgery trial, testimony is about the crossbar of an A; a loop on an N; the angle of a Z; whether a D is round or flat on top.
It’s about how far parts of letters stretch above or below a word; it’s about entry strokes, connecting strokes, termination strokes, and feather strokes; it’s about the slant, size and spacing of letters when people put them to paper.
So testified Greg Kettering, the retired chief handwriting examiner for the State Police Forensic Lab, Thursday during the trial of John Mallozzi, Stamford’s former Democratic Party chief.
Mallozzi faces 28 Class D felonies, half for second-degree forgery and half for filing false statements, after he was charged with filling out the absentee ballots of 14 unsuspecting voters in the 2015 Stamford municipal election.
State prosecutors allege that Mallozzi improperly received absentee ballots from the former Stamford town clerk, used them to vote for candidates for the Board of Representatives, Board of Finance and Board of Education, and forged voter signatures.
In Tuesday’s testimony, the former town clerk, Republican Donna Loglisci, admitted that she broke the law “a few times” when she gave ballots to Democrat Mallozzi. Loglisci, however, has not been charged.
Mallozzi’s attorney, Stephan Seeger, said before the trial it is illegal for an absentee ballot to be given to anyone other than the person assigned to it by the town clerk, who verifies identities using state voter registration records. Seeger has said the trial will reveal a broken absentee ballot system in need of oversight.
But the trial Thursday focused on smaller things – how Kettering compared cursive capital L’s and “ticks” in strokes used to form the letter B to connect Mallozzi’s handwriting to the handwriting on ballots Loglisci gave him.
Assistant State’s Attorney Laurence Tamaccio asked Kettering to explain the forensic science of handwriting analysis.
Kettering said people, after learning to write as schoolchildren, write “faster and faster and take shortcuts” as they mature, developing “individual characteristics and signature habits, and taking on peculiarities” unique to them.
“That’s what I’m looking for when I begin to inter-compare” handwriting, Kettering said.
In 2018, Mallozzi spent a couple of hours in the Stamford courthouse providing the state’s attorney with 680 handwriting samples, according to testimony Thursday. Kettering compared those samples to handwriting on the allegedly forged ballots. Kettering also compared the Mallozzi samples to handwriting on voter registration forms filled out by the people whose names were used on the disputed ballots.
Kettering testified that he found similarities between Mallozzi’s handwriting samples and handwriting on disputed absentee ballots filled out using the names of Mallozzi family members and members of Stamford’s Albanian community.
The alleged wrongdoing came to light after a young Albanian-American, Shkadran Hoti, went to vote at his polling place but was told he’d been recorded as having already voted by absentee ballot.
When poll workers checked Hoti’s signature against the one on his supposed absentee ballot, they found that the handwriting was different. Republican Registrar of Voters Lucy Corelli reported the incident to the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Another discrepancy came to light Thursday when Corelli was on the witness stand.
Seeger grilled Corelli about a list her office received from the town clerk’s office during the 2015 election. The list named all the people who had voted by absentee ballot and was sent to the registrars so they could pass the names on to poll workers.
Poll workers check the list before voters are allowed to cast ballots in person, to ensure no one votes twice – once by absentee ballot and again at the polls.
But the 2015 absentee voter list had no names from District 8, Hoti’s district. If Hoti’s name was not listed, how did the District 8 poll monitor know to block him from voting in person?
Thursday’s proceeding revealed no answer. It will have to wait a month.
Judge Kevin Randolph said Thursday that, because of judges’ vacation schedules and other hold-ups, the trial won’t resume until Aug. 29.
Seeger said he will cross-examine Kettering on that day, then begin calling the six or seven witnesses he’s planned, including former Mayor David Martin and current Democratic Registrar of Voters Ron Malloy.
Randolph said the bench trial, in which he, not a jury, will issue a verdict, will run no longer than Sept. 2.
It’s yet another pause in the seven-year case. The alleged crime took place in 2015; state election investigators found evidence of wrongdoing and handed the case to the state’s attorney in 2017; Mallozzi was arrested in 2019; and the trial – delayed to a degree by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 – began Monday.