Christie Solaro-Formisano was home with her boyfriend and her kids were tucked into bed when her house phone rang at 11:20 p.m. on July 15.
Her estranged husband was calling to say he was going to stop by with some eyeglasses for their 8-year-old daughter.
Salaro-Formisano peered out the window and saw the gleam of a flashlight, and realized he was already there. She told her boyfriend to stay in the bedroom and locked the door behind her as she went downstairs.
“He’s got a gun!” her boyfriend would report hearing her cry out moments later. “Call 911!”
Lt. John Formisano had shown up at the front door wearing his Newark police uniform, his service weapon in hand. He allegedly chased his 37-year-old estranged wife from room to room, firing again and again. The blood from her wounds traced her flight through the first floor of her New Jersey home.
The 49-year-old cop then allegedly charged up the stairs and broke down the bedroom door. The boyfriend was shot in the abdomen, thigh, arms, and hand, but would survive.
Solaro-Formisano seized the moment to dash outside despite her wounds and pound on a neighbor’s door, begging for help. Nobody answered and she started up the steps of the next house down, but her estranged husband allegedly caught up with her, shooting her in the head. She also had multiple wounds to her abdomen, arm, and hand.
“A man just shot his wife in front of my house,” a woman inside told a 911 operator in the minutes that followed.
“He just what?” the operator asked.
“You got to hurry up because she’s dying in front of my house. Please!” the female caller said.
“Okay, ma’am,” the operator said.
“He’s a Newark cop,” the female caller said. “He’s a Newark cop. He lives on the corner. I saw it. I saw him through my window. He’s in his uniform.”
A male caller was talking to another emergency dispatcher.
"There’s somebody shot on my front steps,” the male caller said.
“On your front steps?” this dispatcher asked.
“I think she’s dying, or she’s dead, I didn’t even want to touch her,” the male caller said. “We heard some pops. I think it’s the woman from two doors down.”
The dispatcher could he heard pausing to tell a colleague that a man was reporting a shooting on his steps.
“I’m not reporting it,” the male caller corrected. “I’m standing here looking at it… You guys better hurry up.”
“I’m sending everybody,” the dispatcher said.
“You better,” the male caller said. “The guy’s a Newark cop. My wife saw him in his car in his police uniform.”
John Formisano had allegedly left his estranged wife sprawled on the steps and locked his service weapon in the trunk of his car. He tossed away his cellphone, perhaps so he could not be traced as he drove away.
He was nonetheless arrested two and a half hours later in a parking lot 30 miles away, near where he had been living with his mother.
“Formisano agreed to speak to law enforcement regarding this incident,” the subsequent police affidavit of probable cause would report. “He stated that he and [Christie Solaro-Formisano] were in the process of getting divorced. He stated that he responded to the residence that evening to drop off glasses belonging to [his daughter]. After entering the residence, Formisano stated he began to suspect that [his estranged wife] had a male guest in the bedroom, at which point he ‘blacked out.’ He stated that he recalls firing his weapon numerous times.”
The affidavit as filed with the Jefferson Township Municipal Court stated that Formisano “within the jurisdiction of this court, did purposely do anything which, under the circumstances as a reasonable person would believe them to be, was an act constituting a substantial step in a course of conduct planned to culminate in his purposely or knowingly causing death or serious bodily injury resulting in death to another, specifically by shooting [Christie Solaro-Formisano] multiple times with a handgun.”
The usual next step would have been for Formisano to be brought before a judge. He was instead taken to the psychiatric unit at St. Clare’s Hospital in Boonton.
“Defendant exhibits suicidal behavior (such as excessive sadness or moodiness) or threatened self-injury,” the affidavit reports.
The Newark police immediately suspended Formisano. He had previously reached public attention in 1998, when he and his partner fired a total of 10 times at their own patrol car. An unattended robbery suspect in the back seat had managed to wriggle into the front through a foot-square window in the partition, climb behind the wheel and speed away. The car was hit with multiple bullets, but the fleeing suspect apparently escaped, for no blood was evident when it was found abandoned miles away.
Formisano was now a murder suspect, but he was still a cop. And Solaro-Formisano’s family could not help but wonder if that was why he still had not been brought to court more than five weeks after his arrest.
The Morris County prosecutor’s office insists that Formisano is not being accorded special treatment because he is a police officer.
“If this defendant was a house painter or a businessman on Wall Street in the same circumstances, it would have been handled in the same way,” a spokesman told The Daily Beast.
But the spokesman could not immediately name a case that had been handled similarly.
“Every case is unique,” he said.
The spokesman indicated that the prosecutor’s office was only waiting for the doctors to say Formisano was no longer a danger to himself.
Of course, Formisano might prefer to perpetuate the impression that he is in need of psychiatric care, most particularly if he is angling to take advantage of a provision in New Jersey law known as “passion/provocation,” which reduces the potential penalty from life to a term of 5 to 10 years.
“Passion/provocation manslaughter occurs when a homicide which would otherwise be murder… is committed in the heat of passion resulting from a reasonable provocation,” the New Jersey Supreme Court has found.
New Jersey killers who have successfully pleaded passion/provocation include a man who strangled both his parents and buried them in a shallow grave after a heated argument in 2008 and a man who stabbed his wife’s lover to death in 2016.
Formisano’s lawyer, Anthony Iacullo, did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. He has emailed a statement to NJ.com.
“John is presently receiving medical treatment and when he is well enough to appear in court, the doctors will so advise and a date will be set,” Iacullo wrote. “Until then, the focus of the defense is on addressing those medical issues and seeing to it that he is well enough to hopefully someday return to the person he was before this tragic event.”
Meanwhile, the slain woman’s family is at the searing nexus of grief and anger.
“Christie was hunted down like an animal,” her aunt, Joy Mandara, told The Daily Beast.
Mandara allowed that any such a death is a tragedy, but this one felt particularly so.
“She was especially loved,” Mandara noted.
Mandara said her niece brightened any room she entered and always pointed to what was positive in a world crowded with negatives. Solaro-Formisano worked as an assistant behavior specialist aiding children with development disorders in the Morris County schools until after she had a second child of her own. She then devoted all of her time as well as her heart to being a mom.
“Swimming, scouts, anything,” Mandara reported. “She loved her children. They were above all else.”
The stunned and bewildered 8-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy who had awakened to gunfire and a world forever transformed have been placed in the care of their grief-struck maternal grandmother. Formisano’s former partner, retired Newark police officer Almikar Velez, has started a GoFundMe page that should help with the expenses they will face, but they are forever bereft of a mother. Their father is also her alleged killer, and her family hopes he will be held to account.
“It’s never going back to the way it was,” Mandra said. “What we feel if we want to have some justice. Any justice can bring a small fraction of peace and closure.”
She then observed, “Right now, it seems justice is working very slowly and differently from how we expected.”