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Truth be told: Journalist Mark Obbie chronicles events leading 2006 SU student to commit murder

When Tim Ginocchetti was in seventh grade, he made local headlines for achieving a mathematical feat his teacher thought was impossible. When he entered his senior year at Syracuse University in 2006, he made headlines again — for murdering his mother.

Ginocchetti was arrested and pled guilty to second-degree murder. The judge changed the ruling to first-degree manslaughter, and Ginocchetti received a 15-year prison sentence.

But questions still remained: Why did he do it? What provoked this 21-year-old to commit such a terrible crime?

Journalist Mark Obbie strives to answer these questions and more in his new book about the case, “God’s Nobodies: Misguided Faith and Murder in the Life of One American Family,” in just the first few pages.

He writes: “In an interrogation room with two police officers as his witnesses, as he began to explain what had gone wrong between him and his mother, Tim came out as gay for the first time in his life.”

Given what little information was available during the hushed lawsuit, due to respecting the wishes of the family, most media outlets previously did not touch on Ginocchetti’s personal life before Obbie’s book was published in December 2012.

Obbie, a former professor of magazine journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications during the time of the court case, became consumed in the need to answer the question of “why?”. In the summer of 2008, Obbie began collecting documentation and conducting interviews. An early piece of his work on the case was published in the July 2010 edition of O, The Oprah Magazine.

But Obbie did not stop reporting when the magazine story came out. In fact, he was far from done.

“I got some of my best stuff, the most revealing details, after that story, which is why I pursued this as a book,” Obbie said.

He created what he considers his best journalistic work to date in authoring “God’s Nobodies,” which is an e-book published through Amazon and available for the Kindle. The book details the Ginocchettis’ family life, events leading up to the night of the murder and the aftermath that tore the family apart. The elements presented in this book had never been presented to the public before — elements that Obbie claimed became his mission to tell the world about.

“I was on a mission to report it, and then I was on a mission to get published, and now I’m on a mission to let people know it exists and to talk about it,” Obbie said.

A short summary of “God’s Nobodies” reveals that Ginocchetti grew up in a community of faith that he later considered a cult. The minister of the Apostolic Christian Church, Brother Frank, dictated the lives of his congregation, making them feel worthless and ultimately unworthy of God’s love, while he himself believed he had a higher connection to God.

When his firefighter father was killed in a burning house when Ginocchetti was 17, his mother refused to go to therapy or take Tim. Instead, she and her son went to Brother Frank for spiritual healing.

After that, Ginocchetti’s mother became the controlling force of her son’s life. He was not allowed out of her sight unless he was at school or a church function, and his mother verbally abused him every time he opened his mouth to speak.

Ginocchetti’s mother worried about how high-pitched his voice sounded. She would make him repeat sentences over and over until he said them in a more convincingly manly tone, as she described it. She sent him to throat and voice therapists, and even had his testosterone levels checked. Brother Frank supported her efforts wholeheartedly.

According to Brother Frank, it is a sin to be gay.

Growing up in that sort of environment, Obbie said, helped shape Ginocchetti into a quiet bystander who was not allowed to express himself.

“Imagine what that does to your mind and how that makes you feel about yourself,” he said.

In an excerpt from “God’s Nobodies” Obbie writes: “Tim’s untreated mental illnesses and personality disorders — depression, obsessive-compulsive, paranoia, anxiety, phobias — combined with his inexperience at dealing with anger and his lack of an escape route to build the pressure in him to the breaking point.”

After writing the book and getting to know Ginocchetti on a personal level, Obbie said he struggles with finding Ginocchetti to be such a likeable guy while also knowing that he deserves to be imprisoned. He does not condone what Ginocchetti did, but neither does Ginocchetti, Obbie said. He does not think Ginocchetti will ever hurt someone again.

In writing this book, Obbie hopes Ginocchetti’s story ultimately gets through to people.

“I really hope that gay teens and young, closeted gay people think about how they can get help if they are feeling desperate and trapped,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where everyone is free to come out and be accepted by their family and by their friends.”

Fans of “God’s Nobodies” have commented on Obbie’s blog and Facebook page for the book, praising his journalistic work efforts and praising the book’s success.

One of these fans is Brian Moritz, a Newhouse graduate student who worked as one of Obbie’s two research assistants while a master’s student in the summer of 2010. Moritz worked to become familiar with the “extreme emotional disturbance” defense allowed by New York state penal law, which was used in Ginocchetti’s case.

Moritz said he recommends the book to everyone he knows because it’s a story that needs to be told.

“We’ve seen kind of what’s happened on the larger scale of the bullying of gay teenagers,” Moritz said. “Shining a light on that kind of behavior and the consequences it can have on people is important.”

Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina was dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science at the time of the murder. Spina said the act was completely out of Ginocchetti’s character, and he did not fully understand the story until reading “God’s Nobodies.”

Spina said the author should be heavily celebrated for his work on the book and for finally telling Ginocchetti’s story. He described the book as “the story of a really gentle, good human being who was a member of our community for a number of years, and really still is one of our students.”

Obbie confirmed that Ginocchetti is still an SU student.

Upon learning of the murder of his mother, SU took immediate action and expelled Ginocchetti. But after a few years in prison, Ginocchetti asked the school to consider readmitting him to finish the civil engineering degree he had started. The school agreed, and Obbie said that last he knew, Ginocchetti is currently enrolled at SU and is taking classes through a correspondent program while simultaneously serving his prison sentence.

Even after spending years working on the project, Obbie said he still has not lost passion for it and the people it involves.

Said Obbie: “I just hope people will read it and think, you know, I feel for those people. If you’re the praying type, you can pray for them. If you are the caring type, just care about them.”

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