By ADAM BENSON
Norwich BulletinPosted Nov 22, 2010 @ 11:49 PM
ROCKY HILL —
Carol Cirioni has four years’ worth of Christmas presents stored in her attic for her daughter Erika.
Erika Cirioni, a 26-year-old Norwich woman and mother of two, disappeared Dec. 31, 2006, leaving behind a trail of pain and questions that family members are still struggling with today.
“There’s a hole in your heart. I have other children, I love them too, but it’s like when one person is gone, a piece of your heart is gone,” Carol Cirioni said. “I consider my children my heart.”
On Monday, state leaders rolled out what they’re calling a “new and innovative effort” at closing 52 of Connecticut’s unsolved cases, through the distribution of playing cards to inmates featuring victim photographs and key facts about their plight.
Erika Cirioni is the six of diamonds.
The decks will be handed out to all 18,250 inmates across the state’s 17 correctional facilities and will be sold at commissaries for 64 cents — the same price as existing decks. Though the decks won’t be available for public purchase, information on each person is available online at the Department of Correction’s website.
“All of these cases are cases that involve the disappearance or death of somebody’s family member, somebody’s loved one,” Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said. “The hope is people in our correctional facilities will play with these cards and begin discussions or recollections, and recognize they have important information to help solve a case.”
The project began last spring, inspired partly by the military’s 2003 release of a card deck featuring its “52 most wanted” members of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government and the success other states have had in solving outstanding cases through appealing directly to inmates.
Officials financed the campaign with criminal asset forfeiture money, Department of Correction spokesman Brian Garnett said.
Authorities plan to keep future decks refreshed with new cases as outstanding ones are solved, said Leo Arnone, the department’s commissioner.
“That should allow for this program to continue on,” he said. “There are two or three cases every year that come to a closure by means of an inmate in the correctional system.”
For families on hand at Monday’s press conference, the plan is welcome.
“Everything goes in a circle. Everybody knows something, and the best place to hit, I think, are the jails,” Carol Cirioni said.
Gloria Jean Bell, whose son, Edward, was gunned down near his George Street home in Hartford in May 2005, issued an emotional plea to those who will be receiving the playing cards.
Edward is the five of spades.
“They might as well have waited for me to come, because they killed me that night,” she said. “I’m just like a dead woman walking, so if anybody knows anything about my son’s case, I wish they would please come forward.”
Kane said the decks were assembled on the recommendations of municipal police departments, which sent prioritized lists of unsolved cases for inclusion. Inmates with information that yields a break could be eligible for a reduced sentence, he added.
“Some of the inmates are obviously hoping it leads to that,” Kane said. “It may or may not, depending on the circumstances of each case and the information provided.”
For Cirioni, the search for her daughter will continue.
“Even now, I don’t sleep at night because I figure the phone is going to ring, and she’s going to say, ‘Hey Mom, can you pick me up in Lisbon?’ ” Cirioni said. “She wasn’t an angel, but she was my angel. I do look for her, I just don’t know where to look anymore.”