Oct. 25--Friends of Joseph and Tina Caronna recounted for jurors Wednesday their frantic two-day search for Tina Caronna in 2008 after she failed to show up for her car club's dinner.
The search ended when the Cordova financial services executive was found dead in her Chevy Avalanche on a Bartlett street. Her husband, whom she affectionately called "Joe-Joe," eventually was charged with her murder.
"I thought they loved each other," said Pat Hathaway, a close friend of Tina's. "They were always holding hands. I only saw them fight a couple of times. They were together all the time."
State prosecutors say, however, that Caronna was a controlling husband with financial wrongdoings, mounting debts and a romantic affair to hide from her.
"The defendant had been living a lie and his wife was about to find out, and he could not let that happen," state prosecutor Danielle McCollum told the Criminal Court jury of 12 women and four men, including alternates. "The state will show that the defendant Joe Caronna killed his wife."
I just thought something bad had happened to her."
Patti Locke, family friend
Caronna, 48, an insurance agent and investment adviser, is on trial for state charges of first-degree murder and has a pending 57-count federal indictment alleging insurance and wire fraud in dealings with his clients.
Caronna's attorney, public defender Rusty White, told jurors that Bartlett police focused their investigation on Caronna from the start, trying to shape the evidence to fit that theory of the case.
He said there is no crime-scene DNA or fingerprint evidence linking his client to the murder.
"The evidence does not fit the theory," White told jurors. "Joe Caronna did not kill his wife. Was it a perfect marriage? No, but they worked through it."
The couple met around 1993 when Tina made a purchase at the Shoe Carnival in Hickory Ridge where Caronna was the manager. The went out and were married less than a year later, the second marriage for both.
She was a $200,000-a-year vice president with Cantor Fitzgerald financial services, while Caronna became an insurance agent and investment adviser making an estimated $70,000 a year.
They had a common interest in cars and developed a circle of friends through the Corvette Memphis Club. Tina was president-elect of the group at the time of her death.
She disappeared on Oct. 25, 2008, when she was supposed to be buying provisions for the club's progressive dinner that evening.
A neighbor said the couple's Chevy left the Caronna home on Eatonwick that morning, but that she could not tell who was driving.
During a countywide search by the car club members, Caronna made three trips to a police precinct with friends to report his wife missing.
"We met at the Caronnas' house around midnight, and we just started talking about scenarios of what happened," said family friend and car club member Patti Locke. "One scenario was maybe she left on her own."
But no suitcases, jewelry or money of Tina's was missing, she said, adding that Caronna then said the couple had a pact "not to ever make each other look bad in public" in case she had run off.
"I knew she would not run away," Locke testified. "I just thought something bad had happened to her."
Two days after she first was reported missing, Tina Caronna's body was found inside the couple's car at the end of Brannick Drive near Elmore Road and Summer Avenue in Bartlett. Her body was covered by a pair of beach towels and her hands were loosely bound with duct tape. More duct tape covered her mouth.
The cause of death was asphyxiation.
The trial before Judge W. Mark Ward resumes Thursday.
(c)2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)
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