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High school student rediscovers family’s dark past

Reporters described the star witness of a Spokane murder trial, Lena Malito, as a pretty Italian woman clad in black, according to Spokane Daily Chronicle archives.

When she spoke from the witness stand, she had such a low tone in her voice, reports said, the prosecutor could not hear her.

On Labor Day 1932, her ex-husband died, Peter Malito, after being reportedly shot by Charles Potestio, a man she would later marry after he was acquitted.

The trial went on for several days in December. Spectators were turned away when the additional 50 seats were filled up at the courtroom at Spokane County Superior Court. Some jurors were sent home when they said they opposed capital punishment.

Potestio claimed self defense throughout the trial because Malito and his friend Mauro were stalking him at local hotels and saying they were “going to get him,” reports said.

Though the trial was over 80 years ago, Lena’s descendants live on and are scrambling to piece together what happened. The trial was heavily publicized in local papers and called an Italian romance.

We spoke with 14-year-old Joselynn Tensley who stumbled upon this forgotten history while working on a school project at Central Valley High School. Her great-great grandmother was Lena Malito.

In Saturday’s Spokesman-Review Valley Voice, you’ll read more about her search and what they learned about their family that had been swept under the rug over the years.

(Lena Malito portrait appeared in numerous issues of the Spokesman-Review and Spokane Daily Chronicle during the 1932 murder trial. | The Spokesman-Review photo archive)