Completely Legal

A closer look at the courts and cases in the Lower Hudson Valley.


Archive for January, 2011

Jury selection begins in Selwyn Days retrial for 1996 Eastchester slayings01.31.11

After a winter break, Completely Legal is back with news from the courts of the Lower Hudson Valley.

Today, jury selection began in the retrial of Selwyn Days (left), charged with two counts of murder and related charges for the brutal 1996 slayings of Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home healthcare worker, Betty Ramcharan. The trial was supposed to start in November before acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Holdman. It was postponed and reassigned to Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit. It’s expected to last more than a month.

This will be Days’ third trial for the same crime; the first one in 2003 ended in a hung jury and the second in 2004 ended with a conviction that was overturned in December 2009, after four witnesses came forward and said Days was in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21, 1996 — the time frame in which authorities said the killings took place.

Days, a former Mount Vernon resident, is accused of killing at Harris’ Berkley Circle home Nov. 21, 1996. Harris’ body was on a blood-soaked carpet in his bedroom next to a bloody baseball bat; Ramcharan’s was in a bathroom, next to a kitchen knife. Harris’ dog was also found dead.

Days’ mother, Stella, used to work for Harris and had accused Harris of sexually abusing her a few months before the killings. Her son, who has a criminal record, was not arrested until February 2001, when he violated a protection order by going to the home of his ex-girlfriend, who then suggested that police look at him for the killings.

No forensic evidence linked Days to the crime. Prosecutors relied on a taped statement in which Days acknowledged going to Harris’ home to confront him about the alleged abuse and admitted to hitting him with a baseball bat after he used a racial slur, then stabbed him with a kitchen knife, which he used to slash Ramcharan’s throat when she walked in.

A convict who said Selwyn Days admitted in prison to killing Harris and Ramcharan is expected to testify for the prosecution. Days’ alibi witnesses, who prosecutors say have close ties to Stella Days, will testify for the defense.

Days’ appeal is being championed by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative and led by Manhattan defense lawyer Roberto Finzi. They claim Days was coerced into confessing to the crime by detectives who took advantage of his low IQ.

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Westchester CPA charged with tax evasion01.21.11

A Somers accountant is accused of not paying his personal income taxes for six years in a row.

Eric Fecci, who lives in Katonah, is charged with three felony counts of repeated failure to file personal income tax returns for 2003 to 2007. He also is charged with felony criminal tax fraud for allegedly failing to file his tax return in 2008.

According to the New York State Department of Finance, Fecci filed his tax returns for those years after investigators searched his home and offices and found documents revealing his income. He allegedly admitted to having unpaid tax liabilities of at least $5,000.

Additionally, state tax officials say Fecci owes $12,521 in personal tax liability from 2001 and $8,464 for not paying state withholding taxes  for his employees at one of his businesses, At Play Technologies, in 2002 and 2003.

Fecci, 44, operates five financial service companies from his office at 332 Route 100 in Somers: At Play Technologies, Eric J. Fecci CPA, Fecci Consulting Group, AllWriteUp and Somers Staffing.

He faces up to four years in prison on each count. He was arraigned in Somers Justice Court on Wednesday and is due to return there Jan. 31.

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Drunk driver, witness biter sentenced to state prison01.21.11

WHITE PLAINS — A tearful Serena Walsh (left) apologized in court today for seriously hurting a Yonkers woman in a drunken-driving smash-up, in which she also bit a witness who tried to stop her from fleeing.

The apology came as a Westchester County judge sentenced Walsh, a 26-year-old New Rochelle resident, to two to six years in state prison for her behavior on the night of Sept. 28, 2009.

Walsh was driving drunk on Central Park Avenue when, police said, she ran two red lights and plowed into the driver’s side of a car near Underhill Street.

The 55-year-old driver was left unconscious, with injuries including a broken pelvis, arm and leg. Assistant District Attorney Nadine Nagler said the woman had to replace teeth that were knocked out in the crash.

“I want to apologize for what she had to go through,” Walsh said today, crying.

After the collision, police said, Walsh left her car, tossed her keys in the air and ran away, biting the arm of a witness who tried to stop her.

She later had a confrontation with Yonkers police when they found her at her boyfriend’s apartment. She began cursing at officers and tried to prevent them from leaving by sprawling on the hood of a cruiser, police said.

Walsh’s case went to trial in November, but she stopped it and pleaded guilty to felony charges of first-degree vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated and a misdemeanor charge of attempted assault.

Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit told Walsh today that her conduct that night put everyone on the road at risk.

“Your conduct … showed extreme selfishness,” he said.

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Trial begins in drug-connected Mount Vernon slaying01.20.11

UPDATE: WILKINSON WAS FOUND GUILTY OF ALL CHARGES AND WILL BE SENTENCED ON MARCH 29.

A man accused of taking part in the robbery and killing of a suspected Mount Vernon drug dealer two years ago went on trial for the crime in Westchester County Court this morning.

A jury of eight men and four women will decide if 27-year-old Keith Wilkinson (left) aided and abetted in the fatal shooting of 38-year-old Leaton Burke in January 2009. Prosecutors are not saying that Wilkinson was the shooter, but are arguing that he is equally guilty under the law because he “acted in concert” with others who killed Burke and beat up Burke’s roommate.

Burke, who was shot once in the head, execution style, at his home at 613 S. 10th Ave. on Jan. 27, 2009.  After finding Burke mortally wounded, Mount Vernon police searched his apartment and found 5 pounds of marijuana worth about $20,000 and a loaded illegal handgun.

Burke’s 55-year-old roommate, Fernando Cofressi, told police that he stepped outside of the home for a cigarette that night and was grabbed by two masked men, who were apparently waiting for Burke. Assistant District Attorney Nadine Nagler told the jury today the masked men began demanding “the stuff.” When Cofressi could not help them, he was beaten and left in a basement laundry room with his hands tied and mouth covered with duct tape.

When Burke came home, the masked men jumped him, yelled at him, shot him and left him for dead in the basement. By that time, Cofressi had managed to get his cell phone form his pocket and called 911.

The case went unsolved for more than a year, until Wilkinson’s girlfriend told police he confessed to his role in the fatal robbery. burke was arrested Jan. 17, 2010 and indicted on eight felonies, including murder, robbery, burglary, gun possession and assault.

Nagler said Wilkinson made statements to police that implicated himself in the crime, such as asking what would happen if he was “only the driver.” Another friend of Wilkinson also plans to testify that Wilkinson admitted to being involved, Nagler said.

But defense lawyer Richard Ferrante urged the jury not to jump to any conclusions and to listen to the witnesses carefully. He noted that no DNA evidence links his client to the scene and questioned if police did all they could to find other suspects in the case.

The trial, before county Judge Susan Cacace, will continue tomorrow and could go to the jury as soon as next week.

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Accused parent stabber arraigned in court01.19.11

A 24-year-old Yonkers man accused of attacking his parents with a knife last year has been indicted on attempted murder and assault charges.

Dennis Reyes, (left) who lived with his parents at at 58 Maple Street, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Westcheser County Court in White Plains. He is being held without bail at the county jail in Valhalla, according to the Westchester District Attorney’s office.

Reyes allegedly stabbed his mother and slashed his father in the early morning hours of May 17. Police said he may have attacked the couple because they refused to give him money for drugs.

Police found the wounded couple at 3:16 a.m. after a neighbor called 911.  They found Reyes’ 67-year-old father standing at the corner of Maple and Oak streets, bleeding from the face.  He was treated at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers.

Reyes’ mother was found in a fourth floor hallway. She had been stabbed several times in her body and face. She was treated at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.
Police said they found a knife-wielding Reyes on the roof of an adjoining building threatening to kill himself.

It took two hours for two officers to convince Reyes to drop the knife and surrender.

Reyes was charged with attmepted murder and two counts of assault, all felonies, and misdemeanor counts of menacing, comptempt and weapon possession.

He is due back in court on  March 7. He faces up to 25 years in state prison.

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Judge denies arrow-shooting assault suspect to withdraw plea01.13.11

A Peekskill man who was to be sentenced today for shooting a man in the neck with an arrow last year instead got some harsh words from Westchester County Judge James Hubert.

Lee S. Johnson, (left) who has been held at the Westchester County jail on $50,000 bail since his arrest, had asked the judge in writing on Dec. 17 to withdraw his guilty plea and be assigned a new lawyer.

Hubert told him that he needed a good legal reason to withdraw his plea, not just because he had “a mere change of heart.” Hubert suggested that Johnson, 54, had been listening to “jailhouse lawyers” who told him to fight the charges. Johnson had pleaded guilty to felony attempted assault, felony weapon possession and misdemeanor menacing charges.

“You told me under oath that you did this crime,” he said, reminding Johnson that he had also agreed to serve five years in prison for the crime.

Johnson tried to speak, but Hubert would not let him.

“I talk, you listen,” he said. “It’s important that you listen because you have a lot at stake.”

Hubert told Johnson that he was assigned a good lawyer and there was no reason that Westchester Legal Aid lawyer Anne Bianchi should be dismissed from the case. He also said that no one forced him to plead guilty on Nov. 16.

“We were about to start your trial. You pulled the trigger. You stopped the trial.”

Johnson was charged with shooting Wayne Inesta, a 40-year-old Peekskill resident, on March 10, when a group of friends gathered at Johnson’s home at 165 Smith St.

Police said Inesta and Johnson got into an argument that escalated to a physical fight in which Inesta beat up Johnson. As Inesta was leaving, polcie said, Johnson got a crossbow from somewhere in the house and shot at him. The arrow struck Inesta in the neck.

Neighbors heard the commotion and called police. A police officer found Inesta walking near 720 South St. He removed the arrow himself and collapsed after losing a large amount of blood.

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Turkki case continued in knife attacks on nieces01.13.11

WHITE PLAINS — Lisa Turkki has undergone a psychiatric exam and may undergo a second one to determine if she is fit to stand trial for a brutal knife attack on her two young nieces last year.

Turkki, a 39-year-old East Syracuse, N.Y., resident, is charged with attempted murder and felony assault for allegedly stabbing and slashing the 7- and 9-year-old girls in their Katonah home.

Her lawyer, Jeanne Mettler, is planning a psychiatric defense.

“We are working to resolve this very difficult case in a way that acknowleges my client’s long struggle with mental illness,” she said today after her client ‘s appearance in Westchester County Court.

Turkki is accused of attacking the girls as they watched TV in their home on Girdle Ridge Road. She was in town to baby-sit them as their parents, Joseph and Eva Kelly, attended a Dr. John concert at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts just a few hundred yards away.

The parents were called home during intermission. The girls recovered from their wounds after a hospital stay of more than a week.

Turkki faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of attempted murder. She has pleaded not guilty.According to court papers, she told police that she intended to kill her sister’s family when she drove to their Katonah home in July but said she was mentally ill and may have missed some medications.

“I feel sorry for what I did to my sister,” court papers quoted her as saying.

Turkki also told officers that she was “schizoaffective,” a condition in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, and mood-disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Westchester County Judge James Hubert adjourned the case to Jan. 20.

Turkki is also facing a misdemeanor weapons charge in connection to the knife that was used to stab the girls.

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Daughter-slay plea postponed01.11.11

There has yet to be a plea deal offered to Stacey Pagli (left), who, according to her lawyer, plans to admit in court that she strangled her teenage daughter last year at Manhattanville College.

Pagli appeared briefly in Westchester County court today. She is due to return Feb. 1, but her lawyer and prosecutor will meet for a conference on Jan. 25.

Allan Focarile of the Westchester Legal Aid Society said he is waiting for the District Attorney’s office to make an offer in exchange for a guilty plea. Pagli, 38, is charged with second-degree murder, punishable by 25 years to life in prison. Assistant District Attorney Timothy Ward is the prosecutor.

Focarile  said he hoes the DA’s office realizes how extremely depressed and emotionally disturbed his client was when 18-year-old Marissa Pagli was strangled on Feb. 22 in the family’s on-campus apartment in Purchase. He said there will likely be a decision on the direction of the case — but not a guilty plea — on Feb. 1.

“I think there will be a resolution that will be satisfactory to everyone involved,” he said.

Authorities say Pagli, 38, returned home after dropping off her 3-year-old daughter, Gianna, at day care Feb. 22 and began arguing with Marissa, a Manhattanville freshman. She strangled her daughter, authorities said, then tried killing herself first by cutting her wrist and then by hanging herself with a belt on a doorknob. In court papers, Pagli told police that she strangled her daughter because she was disrespectful and rude. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she told police. “She pushed my last button.”

According to the statements, she then used a belt to try to strangle herself but failed, as she did in an attempt to slash her wrist. She said she had left a note for her husband. She tried to kill herself again by tying socks around her neck in jail.

Her estranged husband, John Pagli, a college maintenance supervisor, found his daughter’s body and his unconscious wife in their second-floor apartment in an apparent suicide attempt. He was in the courtroom gallery today, as he has been for nearly every one of his wife’s appearances, and was accompanied by a private lawyer.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea is presiding over the case.

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Top Westchester prosecutors lose sick pay request01.10.11

A state judge has rejected a request by 15 career prosecutors in the Westchester District Attorney’s Office to stop a sick-pay cash-out cap while their lawsuit against Westchester County officials moves forward.

The prosecutors sued the county in last year after officials capped the amount of sick time they can cash in when leaving their jobs. The attorneys claimed the county violated their constitutional rights and “breached the parties’ employment relationship” by changing the policy retroactively, after they had already earned the time.

State Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Colabella turned down their request for a preliminary injunction, which sought to keep the former status quo.

“(P)laintiffs have failed to demonstrate irreparable injury in the absence of injunctive relief or that the balancing of the equities favor such relief,” he wrote in his decision last week.

Mamaroneck lawyer Leonard Violi, who is representing the 15 prosecutors, said today that his clients do not know if they want to appeal Colabella’s decision. Whether they do or don’t, he said, the lawsuit against the county will proceed.

“The next step is full-blown litigation,” he said. “It will probably be fast tracked. The facts are crystal clear.”

The prosecutors filed suit June 23 in state Supreme Court. The plaintiffs include the top three prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office: First Deputy District Attorneys James McCarty Jr., Maryanne Luciano and John George, who had threatened to quit over the changes, but did not.

Other prosecutors in the suit, all of whom have more than 20 years in the office, are Steven Bender, Mark Garretto, Fredric Green, Edward Livingston, Patrick Moore, Patricia Murphy, John O’Rourke, Perry Perrone, Robert Prisco, Robert Sauer, Steven Vandervelden and Timothy Ward.

This lawsuit was the latest salvo in a battle between lawmakers and workers in the District Attorney’s Office, after County Executive Rob Astorino pushed for changes to benefits and accumulated time.

Earlier this year, the county executive proposed — and the Board of Legislators in May approved — a cap on sick and vacation payouts and a voluntary buyout incentive worth $1,000 a year up to $30,000. The cap in payouts translates into tens of thousands of dollars for a seasoned prosecutor.

The cap was coupled with another law that required nonunion managers to pay between 10 percent and 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, based on salary. The actions were to address a large budget deficit and control spiraling costs.

Soon after, several top prosecutors threatened to leave after the county required nonunion managers, including prosecutors, to help pay for their health benefits. Four prosecutors and seven support staff members took the buyout in July.

Read more of this story tomorrow in The Journal News and on LoHud.com.

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Insurance manager sent to prison for stealing funds01.06.11

An ex-manager for Nationwide Insurance was sentenced today to one to three years in state prison for stealing nearly $300,000 from the company during his six years in the Elmsford branch.

The prison sentence for Robert Wirchansky of Yonkers (pictured left) came after he failed to pay any restitution in the case. If he had repaid at least $165,000, he would have been sentenced to six months in the Westchester County jail as part of a five-year “shock” probation sentence.

Wirchansky, 50, cashed bogus insurance claims checks that he had written himself. He told investigators that he stole the money to pay for his wife’s medical bills after she was hurt in a car crash, according to court papers.

The indictment accused him of writing out a $10,000 check from Nationwide to Gerard Werchewski, a $9,000 check to Helen Woshensky, and a $9,000 check to Edward Brown. He changed the names on checks to reflect variations of his own name, then deposited the money into his personal account.

The fraud was discovered after Wirchansky left the company in 2006. He was accused of pilfering $296,808 from Nationwide. He pleaded guilty in August to a four-count felony indictment charging him with second-degree grand larceny and forgery.

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