Family wins more than $500K in hate lawsuit

December 31, 2009 8:11:03 PM PST
A Chicago couple was speaking out Friday about the hate crime lawsuit they won against a neighbor. The couple's civil lawsuit accused a neighbor of using of racial slurs and making treats against them and their children over a two-year period. A jury awarded them $520,000 in damages.

"It sounds like a lot of money, but no money in the world will ever bring me my peace," said Alisa Rodriguez.

Peace of mind is what they want, but the Rodriguez family is still uneasy, thinking day and night, about their Northwest Side neighbor, Joseph Morrone.

"We're of Hispanic descent. Puerto Ricans. He made it very clear that we didn't belong in this neighborhood, and we needed to get out," Alisa Rodriguez said.

Court records show that Morrone, who is white, lives with his mother in a blond brick home just three doors down from the Rodriguez family in the 3600 block of North New England.

ABC7 Chicago tried to contact Morrone twice unsuccessfully. His mother defended him Friday.

When asked if she thought her son did anything wrong, Innocenza Marrone said, "No!"

The Rodriguez family says Morrone started yelling racial slurs two years ago and that the tension escalated last summer.

"He pulled a knife on us and made it clear that he didn't like us and would take care of us, basically, is what he said," Alisa Rodriguez said.

Court records show Morrone pled guilty to assault last year. The family's attorney says a more than half-million dollar award makes a statement.

"That's a very strong statement. It's a lot of money," said Rodriguez family attorney Jenny Goltz. "I think it says that he can't get away with this. He can't just ignore what he's done and he can't treat his neighbors like this."

Even though the court and jury ruled in their favor, the Rodriguezes are worried about the impact the ordeal has had on their two children, 9-year-old Caitlyn and 6-year-old Nicholas. The two aren't allowed to go outside without adult supervision, and their parents are torn about staying in a home they have renovated and made their own because they feel uncomfortable, given the circumstances.

"I shouldn't be forced out because it would be too much for us to go through, financially and emotionally. I mean, what do you do?" Jesse Rodriguez said.

Joseph Morrone is 49 years old, according to his mother. Attorneys say he did not show up in court for the case. They also say, at this point, the next legal step is to find out what assets Morrone has. He lives with his mother, and it is not known whether or not he owns the house. So, it is yet to be seen how much money will end up in the Rodriguez family's hands.