By DUSTEN RADER
Fulton County Express
JOHNSTOWN — The 1998 homicide case of John Morgan, a 19-year-old Fonda resident who was murdered in Johnstown, has resurfaced.
Investigation Discovery will air an episode of “Murder Among Friends” titled “Puzzles in Pieces” on Thursday at 9 p.m. that will shed light on the brutal murder. The case was handled by State Investigator Israel Toro of Troop G, who was the investigating officer at the time.
According to Toro, he received a phone call in regard to a body found in a vehicle during a traffic stop by Johnstown Police Department officer Jeffrey Dunn.
“The investigation actually commenced by finding a body in a vehicle, and from there we had to put the pieces together,” Toro said. “We discovered that John Morgan had been kidnapped by three of his friends — one being his ex-girlfriend, who was pregnant and had aborted John Morgan’s child. They felt as if John Morgan had disrespected them and ultimately it led to his demise.
“They decided one day that they were going to get back at him,” Toro continued. “So, they lured him through Amanda (Dzierson) to a vehicle in the village of Fonda and brought him to Melcher Street Extension in Johnstown where they tortured him through the night. At the end they decided they had to do something, and the decision they made was to kill him. They first tried to bury him out back, but it was March and they couldn’t get the shovel through the dirt. The next thought was to take the body to the Adirondacks and dump it. In the interim, daylight rose and they were concerned that someone would see them and they retreated to Johnstown where they were stopped by the officer.”
The case was tried by Fulton County Judge Angelo Lomanto, who handed down the convictions to three area residents: Lucas Whaley, 18, of Gloversville; Theodore Cook, 18; and Amanda Dzierson, 21, of Johnstown. The individuals all pleaded guilty to the charges.
Whaley, convicted of second-degree murder, is in maximum security state prison in Auburn and is eligible for parole in 2023. Cook, convicted of second-degree murder, is in medium-security state prison in Mohawk and is eligible for parole in 2021. Dzierson, convicted of first-degree kidnapping, is in medium-security state prison in Albion and is eligible for parole in 2018.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino was the judge who signed the search warrant for the Johnstown house and vehicle in which Morgan’s body was discovered. Both Toro and Giardino may appear on the show Thursday. Giardino said he will definitely watch the episode.
“It will be interesting to see how they portray the case,” Giardino said. “This was something so outside of the norm. Amanda was from a very good family, and the boys had minor things but nothing major. They fed off of each other — ‘Murder Among Friends’ as they call it — they didn’t like him because they felt he had caused trouble for Lucas Whaley and felt that he had dissed his girlfriend Amanda so they were going to get even. I think it just grew out of control.”
According to Giardino, as a result of five murders, including this one, occurring over two years in Fulton County in 1997-98, a county-wide Task Force on Quality of Life and Teen Violence was formed. Three to five AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers were stationed in the area for several years.
“In Fulton County we have a murder or less a year — it’s not frequent,” Giardino said. “What stuck out about this case and the others was the number of murders we had, the number of people involved and the number of people under 21. … I’ve seen a lot — I call murder cases ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ When you take another life, especially of somebody you knew and had been friends with, it doesn’t make sense to the most normal people among us.”
The Investigation Discovery channel’s website describes the episode with the following advertisement: “In Johnstown, N.Y., a young man’s disrespectful behavior has his fiends seeing red; the group plots to teach him a lesson, but things go horribly wrong, kicking off a murder mystery more intricate than a jigsaw puzzle.”
The show will air on channel 138 on Spectrum cable, 192 on Dish-TV, and 285 on Direct-TV.