Judge Mordue Depicted in Independent Film Garrow

Published: September 26, 2019

Even recreation comes in the form of legal education for federal judges at their annual retreat.

Shortly before 9 a.m. on Thursday, September 12, 2019, the District Judges, Magistrate Judges and Bankruptcy Judges of the Northern District, cups of coffee in hand, filtered into the theater at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid, to watch the film Garrow (Adirondack Films 2018), about Robert Francis Garrow, Sr., the serial rapist and spree killer who terrorized the North Country between 1960 and 1978.

Born in 1936 in Dannemora, New York, Garrow grew up in Mineville, where his childhood was marred by what the film’s writer, director and producer Lori Kelly-Bailey describes as “an endless cycle of unimaginable horror: beatings, sexual abuse, bestiality and bloodshed.” The exact number of his rape and/or murder victims as an adult remains unknown, but is estimated to exceed seven.

Told through Garrow’s testimony during his 1974 trial for the 1973 murder of camper Philip A. Domblewski in the Adirondacks, the film regularly flashes back to grisly scenes from both Garrow’s childhood and his adulthood. Upon conviction, the clever and cunning Garrow was able to “fake his own paralysis [for four years], escape from prison, and avoid capture,” says Kelly-Bailey, until his re-apprehension and death in 1978.

The film was followed by a discussion with Kelly-Bailey, and with her son and co-producer, Joel Plume. Since its premiere in December 2018, the film has been shown in independent theaters across the state. To finance the film, which runs 79 minutes, Kelly-Bailey raised approximately $35,000 through online fundraising platforms. Kelly-Bailey’s prior films include the comedy Champ-O-Sauras (Tandem Cage Productions 2014) and the drama Mineville (Mineville Productions 2010).

Garrow’s cast of 46 (three of whom were involved in the events during the 1970s) features five seasoned actors: Jay Alan Christianson (as Robert Garrow); Richard Waddingham (as Robert’s father, Don); Terri Garber (as Robert’s wife, Ellen); Mark Valley (as Robert’s attorney, Mr. Bell); and Philip Casnoff (as the prosecutor, Mr. Monroe).

The character of “Mr. Monroe” is based on District Judge Norman A. Mordue, who, as a 31-year-old Onondaga County Assistant District Attorney (acting upon the request of Hamilton County District Attorney William H. Intemann, Jr.), successfully prosecuted Garrow in the summer of 1974 in Lake Pleasant for the first-degree murder of Domblewski the year before. The character of “Mr. Valley” is based on criminal-defense attorney Frank H. Armani, who defended Garrow.

Judge Mordue went on to serve as the Chief Assistant District Attorney of Onondaga County from 1976 to 1982, before serving as an Onondaga County Court Judge from 1982 to 1988, and a New York State Supreme Court Justice from 1986 to 1998, before becoming a federal judge.

A “fireside chat” with Judge Mordue will be conducted by the FCBA at 5 p.m. on Friday, November 1, 2019, in the Atrium of the Syracuse University College of Law’s Dineen Hall, located at 950 Irving Avenue in Syracuse. To be moderated by former-FCBA President Mitchell J. Katz, the chat will concern Judge Mordue’s background and experiences, as well as the evolution of federal practice in the Northern District, from the 1960s to the present. Members of the public are welcome to attend, and are kindly requested to RSVP to FCBA Executive Director Shelly Childers at [email protected].