Completely Legal

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


Archive for February, 2011

Age and the Pileggi trial02.25.11

In the middle of a heated cross-examination of former Eastchester Police Officer James Pileggi this morning came this amusing moment:

Pileggi, on trial for second-degree manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of his friend, Andre Everett, was trying to explain how he and his friends greeted Everett on the night of the shooting. Assistant District Attorney Fredric Green asked Pileggi what he meant when he said they “exchanged the usual pleasantries.” Pileggi, 30, said the greetings were along the lines of ‘Hey, what’s up,’ and other words common to his “age group.”

“I’m not so old, I understand,”  replied the 50-year-old prosecutor.

County Judge Barbara Zambelli, who is in her late 50s, couldn’t let the moment pass.

“You’re ‘not so old?'” she said with a smile. The jury and the crowded courtroom had a chuckle at Green’s expense. The veteran prosecutor smiled and nodded, then continued his questioning.

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Man sentenced to 2 1/3 to 7 years in fatal DWI crash02.22.11

George Kiaha of Garrison wept today as a Westchester County judge sentenced him to serve 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison for causing a 2009 drunken driving crash that killed a retired auto worker from Peekskill and injured his family in Cortlandt.

The sentence was the maximum allowed by law for vehicular manslaughter, the top count on which he was convicted last year in the death of 55-year-old Ralph Wood.

A red-eyed Kiaha, who still uses a cane from the injuries he sustained in the Sept. 4, 2009 collision, apologized to Wood’s family, who wore memorial T-shirts to court and filled one side of Judge Barbara Zambelli’s courtroom.

Wood’s two daughters, his sister and his 10-year-old granddaughter gave tearful victim’s impact statements. They shared memories of camping trips and family outings, nicknames and small but cherished conversations.

“I don’t think you realize what you took from me,” said Gloria Wood, the victim’s oldest daughter. “I’m not sorry you have to pay for what happened.”

Prosecutors said Kiaha (pictured, above) was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.11 percent when he crossed the double yellow line and slammed into the car with Wood and his family near Sarah Road. The family was headed to dinner in Dutchess County when Kiaha hit them.

Everyone involved was hospitalized. Kiaha was unconscious and had to be extricated from his car. Wood had a ruptured spleen that was undetected at first. He later went into cardiac arrest and died.

Kiaha, 25, was convicted of the entire 12-count indictment against him, which included criminally negligent homicide, drunken and reckless driving and five counts of assault, one each for Wood’s three grandchildren, his daughter and her fiance, all passengers in the GMC. Those counts are misdemeanors.

The jury rejected the defense’s argument that sloppy police work in question and mishandled evidence that cast doubt on the blood-alcohol report created reasonable doubt.

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

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Yonkers man facing life sentence for fatal robbery02.18.11

Fritzgerald Lalanne, (left)  of 77 Locust Hill Avenue, pleaded guilty in Westchester County Court Thursday to first-degree murder for the June 25 slaying of Jermaine McCallum, according to the District Attorney’s office.
McCallum, 31, was found shot  in the lobby of 106 Locust Hill Ave. at 5:06 a.m. He was unconscious and not breathing. Police followed a blood trail and questioned a woman who lived upstairs, learning that McCallum had gone to 106 Locust Hill Avenue to visit an acquaintance when he was robbed and shot, the DA’s office said.
Police recovered a .380-caliber handgun during a search and found Lalanne a short time later. Lalanne admitted to police that he stole McCallum’s jewelry, which was later recovered, according to the DA’s office.
Lalanne also pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree attempted assault, also a felony, for a Sept. 8 attack in the Westchester County jail.
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea will sentence him on the murder and assault charges on April 15.
He faced life without the possibility of parole if he had been convicted at a trial of first-degree murder.

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Pileggi to face civil charges after criminal case02.11.11

The manslaughter trial of ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi began yesterday, and Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli’s courtroom quickly filled with family members of both the defendant and victim, Andre Everett. The emotional trial will continue Monday with more testimony from prosecutors Fredric Green and Alexis Celestin, who are arguing that Pileggi’s decision to play with a loaded Glock on Nov. 3, 2009 was criminally reckless.

Pileggi faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

No matter the outcome of the trial, Pileggi will likely face a civil suit by the Everett family. In January 2010, the family filed a notice of claim, a precursor to filing a lawsuit, against the Eastchester Police Department of the Town of Eastchester. According to the notice, the family is claiming wrongful death, pain and suffering and negligent hiring, training and monitoring of Pileggi, among the claims.

“Respondents, through their agents, servant and employees, knew or should have known of P.O. James Pileggi Jr.’s violent and unsafe propensities and failed to act reasonably under the circumstances,” the notice states.

Typically, a lawsuit must be filed within a year of filing a notice of claim, but instead a summons was served to the town a couple of months ago. The family’s civil attorney, Jared Rice of Rice & Rice in New Rochelle, said the distraught family did not want to ensure a criminal trial and civil action at the same time and will wait until the criminal case is over to proceed with any legal action.

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A bit of levity at the Selwyn Days trial02.08.11

Every murder trial, no matter how horrific, has at least one humorously entertaining moment. Such a moment came this morning at the retrial of Selwyn Days, who is being tried for the third time in Westchester County Court in the deaths of Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home healthcare worker Betty Ramcharan.

Stanley Rosen, a spry and wiry nonagenarian, took the stand to offer a time frame in which the killings took place. He was one of the last people to see Harris and Ramcharan alive. He came to adjust his previous testimony that he met with Harris on Nov. 19, 1996. Phone records show he was mistaken and he actually saw Harris and Ramcharan at Harris’ Berkeley Place home on Nov. 18. Prosecutors contend that Days killed the pair between Nov. 18 and Nov. 21, 1996.

When Assistant District Attorney Perry Perrone asked Rosen about how the DA’s office flew him up to New York to testify, this funny exchange took place:

“We provided a hotel room?”

“Yes”

“Meals?”

“If you call it that,” Rosen deadpanned. The entire courtroom cracked up, and a sheepish Perrone smiled and muttered about the county’s budget.

Not letting the moment slide, lead defense lawyer Roberto Finzi promised Rosen he would keep his cross-examination brief, so the DA’s office “can get you home and off the county’s diet.” Finzi bantered a bit with Rosen when asking two DA investigators who flew down to Florida to show Rosen the newly-discovered phone records in March 2010.

“In March?” Finzi said, likely thinking of the weather in Florida at that time. “Beats New York.”

“Sure does,” Rosen said.

Before retiring to Florida, Rosen sold advertising for Martinelli Publications, a chain of 8 weekly papers in southern Westchester, and he met with the cantankerous Harris at his home to discuss a full-page ad Harris wanted to buy in the Eastchester Record. Harris, who had been accused of sexually abusing his last health aide — the defendant’s mother, Stella Days — wanted to publicly offer $500,000 to charity if anyone could offer proof that he ever molested any of his healthcare workers. While he testified previously that he met with Days on Nov. 19, he said phone records now show he met with Harris on Nov. 18.

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Judge in Selwyn Days case tells writer “no trial for you”02.07.11

The opening of Selwyn Days’ third murder trial this morning drew observers from media, the District Attorney’s office and the public at large. But one onlooker was  barred from watching the proceedings.

Richard Blassberg, self-published author and former editor of the free weekly tabloid The Westchester Guardian, was asked to leave the courtroom because he could be a potential witness. Blassberg assisted Days’ former defense lawyer, Christopher Chan, at Days’ 2003 trial and 2004 retrial. During the first trial, Blassberg passed notes on index cards to Chan; the second trial he sat at the defense table.

Assistant District Attorney Christine O’Connor said Blassberg was a potential rebuttal witness and asked to have him excluded. When Westchester County Judge noted that Blassberg was not on the prosecution’s witness list, she asked for his name to be added. Days’ new defense team took no position on the matter.

Warhit reluctantly told Blassberg he could not watch the trial. Blassberg stood up as Warhit spoke but was prevented from saying anything. “You have no standing in this case,” the judge told him.

Warhit also shut down discussion about his decision to deny an application by the defense to do further testing on the partial DNA evidence found on the handle of the knife used in the killings. Garber said the legal team wanted to find potential matches through CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, which is a database of DNA gathered through investigation of crimes. While they can’t say to whom the DNA belongs, they can argue it doesn’t belong to Days.

The final bit of pre-trial activity came when an alternate juror was dismissed because he was not a U.S. citizen. The six men and six woman on the racially-diverse jury will spend the next month hearing evidence but not from Days; he is not expected to testify.

The defense is a team of lawyers from the Manhattan law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison which is representing him pro bono. The team is led by attorney Roberto Finzi and includes Nader Hasan and William Clareman and are being assisted by attorney Glenn Garber of the Exoneration Initiative. Assistant District Attorneys Perry Perrone and Christine O’Connor are prosecuting the case.

Photo: Selwyn Days

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Convicted mayor called for jury duty02.03.11

Put this one in the “irony” file.

White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley, who declined to be tried by jury on domestic violence charges and was convicted instead at a bench trial, was called for jury duty today on the third floor of the Westchester County Courthouse.

Bradley should be well acquainted with the courthouse by now. He has made numerous appearances there since his arrest a year ago. It was where, after a lengthy trial, he was found guilty of attempted assault and criminal contempt of court, both misdemeanors, and three counts of harassment, a violation. It’s also the same building where his divorce proceedings are being held.

Today, Bradley was among more than two dozen other members of the public who were called for the murder retrial of Selwyn Days, a former Mount Vernon man accused of killing Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home health worker Betty Ramcharan in 1996. The trial is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

I’m guessing that Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit, who will preside over the Days trial, isn’t going to let him be on the jury.

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Reputed Mexican street gang member pleads guilty to fatal stabbing of rival02.02.11

A reputed Mexican street gang member from Yonkers admitted in court today to killing a 23-year-old construction laborer last year, in a brazen midday attack in Yonkers’ busy New Main Street business district.

Edgar N. Marin, 19, (left) pleaded guilty in Westchester County Court to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter, a felony, and to charges of first-degree gang assault and fourth-degree weapon possession in the May 17 slaying of German Medina-Vazquez.

Police said Medina-Vazquez was a victim of gang rivalry.  Marin is an alleged member of the Vatos Locos street gang, while the victim was a member of a rival Mexican street gang, Tulocos or TLC.

Two othe young men from Yonkers charged as accomplices in the fatal stabbing already pleaded guilty to their role in the attack. Both are reputed  members of the Vatos Locos Mexican street gang.

Axel Vazquez, 17, (far left, in red) and Jorge Calixto, 20, (left, in white) pleaded to a reduced charge of second-degree gang assault and agreed to serve 3 1/2 years in prison. Vazquez is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday; Calixto’s sentencing is set for Feb. 10.

Detectives said the three suspects attacked Medina- Vazquez and beat him before Marin fatally stabbed him in the 200 block of New Main Street.

Police said Medina-Vazquez had been involved in a fight with Marin a few weeks before his murder, when Medina-Vazquez hit Marin in the head with a pipe. The homicide was revenge for that assault, which was never reported to authorities.

Medina-Vazquez, nicknamed “Barajas” for his native city in central Mexico, worked for a New York City construction company where his employer described him as an excellent worker. He had lived in Yonkers for two years, after moving there from South Florida, where he had worked installing wallboard.

His mother still lives in Barajas and his body was returned to Mexico, through the Mexican Consulate, for burial, police said.

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