A 51-year-old man pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he robbed and attacked a man who was walking in the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation in East Boston earlier this month.
Prosecutors said Michael Bruzzese, who had been living in a sober house after being released from prison last month, punched a 67-year-old man in the face, forcibly took his keys from his pocket, then stole between $250 and $300 from his wallet inside his car.
The June 1 daytime attack came just three days after 83-year-old Daniel Pepe of East Boston was seriously injured at Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, a popular walking area. Pepe sustained a head injury and could not tell investigators what had happened to him. He died three days later.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the two incidents, which occurred at approximately the same time of day, are connected. Police have stepped up patrols in the area since the incidents.
The state medical examiner’s office has not determined how Pepe died, and no one has been charged in connection with his death.
At his arraignment Friday in East Boston Municipal Court, Bruzzese pleaded not guilty to assault and robbery charges, and remained out of view after Suffolk County prosecutors and Bruzzese’s lawyer, Sylvia Guzman, agreed the case will hinge on eyewitness identification.
The victim picked Bruzzese out of a photo array shown to him by State Police. Bruzzese was arrested Thursday night.
Judge John McDonald set bail at $25,000 cash and ordered him held without bail on a separate probation matter.
Arguing for higher bail, Suffolk County prosecutor said Bruzzese has a criminal history that dates back to 1981.
In 2013, Bruzzese was sentenced to three to four years behind bars for malicious destruction of property and possessing burglarious tools. In 2006, he was convicted of two burglary charges in Plymouth Superior Court. As part of his probation, he was ordered to read Truman Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood” and “write a report explaining why homeowners are so emotionally distraught by burglary,” according to the case docket.
Guzman said Bruzzese is a carpenter who has been working as a day laborer.Miguel Otárola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @motarola123. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com.