This is the first installment in a multi-part series exploring the public career of Democratic Party operative Shawn Reilly who has found his way into the center of a number of scandals surrounding his Super PAC, Progress Kentucky. What began as an investigation into an insensitive tweet attacking the racial heritage of Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife – and the potential role the folks behind that Twitter account might have played in the secret audio recording made in McConnell’s campaign office – has turned into something far more dark than the usual story of a political operative run amok.
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In October 2003, Louisville was shaken to its core when 20-year-old Zachary Scarpellini was gunned down outside his Highlands apartment. The tony and quiet neighborhood of victorian mansions – home to residents like Ambassador Matthew Barzun and prominent businessman-turned-politician Bruce Lunsford – was rattled awake by gunfire, left terrified and in shock over such a violent crime.
The only witness at the scene other than the alleged gunman was Scarpellini’s roommate, Shawn Reilly, now Executive Director of Progress Kentucky. Reilly’s claim at the time of the crime was that he and Scarpellini were merely following someone they thought was breaking into cars. According to a report in the Bellarmine University (where Scarpellini was a student) newspaper, The Concord, investigators believed the shooting was random and the victim did not know his killer.
It would take years for the full story to unfold but local media were at the time focused like lasers.
Police: Man Shot Dead After Confronting Break-In Suspect
Victim, Friend Thought Shooter Was Breaking Into Cars
A man reportedly trying to stop another man from breaking into vehicles was shot dead over the weekend, police said.
Zachary Scarpellini, 20, was shot several times on Longest Avenue in the Highlands early Sunday morning, WLKY NewsChannel 32 reported.
According to investigators, Scarpellini and a friend were following a man who they believed was breaking into vehicles when a argument ensued. That’s when the suspect reportedly pulled out a gun and shot the victim. Scarpellini collapsed and died a short distance away on Cherokee Road.
MAN FOLLOWS THEFT SUSPECT, THEN IS FATALLY SHOT
A Jefferson County man was shot to death early Sunday after confronting a man he thought was breaking into vehicles near his home, Louisville Metro Police said. Zachary Scarpellini, 20, died from a gunshot wound to his chest, Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jim Wesley said. However, the victim had been shot multiple times, Wesley said.
When the victim and his friend confronted the man, he shot Scarpellini several times and fled. His friend was not injured, Smiley said. The confrontation occurred about 1:30 a.m.
The ensuing death investigation dragged on for months, leading to a press conference held by the Scarpellini Family on Zachary’s birthday in March 2004. The family, distraught in their grief, offered a cash reward for information.
From WAVE3/Associated Press – March 27, 2004:
Parents Of Man Shot To Death In Louisville Offer Reward
The parents of a college student who was shot to death last fall announced a $10,000 reward in the case on what would have been their son’s 21st birthday.
The case has gone unsolved since Zachary Scarpellini was killed Oct. 12, and Al and Denise Scarpellini made a plea Friday for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
“Somebody has to know something,” Al Scarpellini said at a news conference. “These crimes don’t happen in a vacuum.”
After nearly two years of investigating, the family/estate of Scarpellini named Reilly in a civil complaint. The allegation was that Reilly and others had information about the murder that wasn’t being shared with police. This was filed in November 2005:
3. That on or about October 12, 2003, the Plaintiff’s decedent was killed and/or murdered by the criminal use of a firearm by unknown Defendant(s) at or near the intersection of Cherokee Road and Longest Avenue, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.
4. That the Plaintiff is of the opinion that the Defendant(s), Shawn Reilly, may have conspired with the unknown Defendant(s) to commit said act, or willfully aided, and/or abetted, in the commission of the act involving the use of a firearm, all deemed unlawful by virtue of KRS 411.155.
5. That on or about October 12, 2003, the negligent, careless, and/or intended conduct of the Defendant, Shawn Reilly, was a substantial factor in causing or bringing about the death of Plaintiff’s decedent.
6. That if the above allegations be proven true, then the Plaintiff states that the Defendant, Shawn Reilly, and the unknown Defendant(s) acted with such intentional malice and/or extreme and reckless conduct and/or indifference for the safety of Plaintiff’s decedent at all times material herein, that the Defendant, Shawn Reilly, and unknown Defendant(s) are liable for punitive damages.
Reilly, who says he moved to South Carolina after the murder to attend school, either did not respond to the lawsuit or was unable to be located. That led to a request for a Special Bailiff to serve him with the complaint. According to the affidavit, Reilly was believed to have had information law enforcement needed and was allegedly working to evade questions.
Comes now the affiant, who after being duly sworn states that he/she is the Plaintiff’s attorney in the above styled action. Affiant further states that they believe that process of this action cannot be executed unless a Special Bailiff is appointed due to one or more of the following reasons:
[X] Defendant has prior knowledge of this action and it is believed that they have evaded or will evade service by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
[X] The exact address of the Defendant is unknown and service will prove difficult.
[X] The Defendant has evaded service attempts through certified mail.
[X] The Defendant is in and out of the residence frequently and service will prove difficult.
A few weeks later, Reilly surfaced in Louisville on a Congressional campaign staff.
You won’t believe the rest.
Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of the story…
UPDATE: Click here for Part 2.