Accused toddler killer due in court today

Richard Leak, (left) who is accused of beating his 2-year-old son Khalil to death, has another pre-trial court appearance today before Westchester County Judge James Hubert. The 30-year-old New Rochelle father is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the boy’s Jan. 9 death. He has pleade not guilty.

His last court appearance caused some heated arguments between his lawyer, Max DiFabio, and prosecutor Heide Mason. DiFabio accused the District Attorney’s office of not turning over certain evidence and forcing “a trial by ambush.” DiFabio has noted conflicting medical findings in the case and claims this evidence suggests the boy could have died accidentally.

Mason said an expert for the prosecution who reviewed the boy’s autopsy report and other medical records — and may testify at trial — never created a written report that she could give the defense. Hubert ordered the prosecution to turn over any notes or materials that the medical expert used or created during the review.

DiFabio also demanded surveillance video from the New Rochelle Police Department’s “sally port,” the secured entryway where Leak was brought in for questioning, and from the Sound Shore Medical Center. Mason said only recorded video is near the booking area and that the security camera near the sally port is “live-stream” and not recorded. She also said prosecutors subpoenaed the hospital for surveillance video but it doesn’t exist.

When DiFabio said he never saw the subpoena and questioned the lack of recorded security video at the hospital, the judge seemed to side with Mason.

“I don’t think they’re fibbing about it,” he said “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, and (in this case), I’m Mother Mature.”

Leak, who was home with Khalil in their Main Street apartment, is accused of killing the boy after his live-in girlfriend took their other child to Sound Shore Medical Center with breathing problems. Khalil suffered a fractured skull and ribs.

He reportedly gave police three versions of what happened, saying the boy fell off a couch, that he accidentally dropped the child and that he mistakenly slammed him on the ground.Richard Leak has been 27 times but has stayed out of trouble since 2006. He had been employed by the New Rochelle Department of Public Works before his latest arrest.

The county took Khalil from his parents’ home in 2009 after an abuse probe found evidence of injuries. He was returned home 15 months later by Family Court Judge Kathie Davidson, who ruled that the injuries could have been related to a long history of medical problems.

A new role for Judge Zambelli today

Westchester Judge Barbara Zambelli (left) has overseen some of the most brutal murder trials in the county. In the last five years, she was the judge for Carlos Perez-Olivo and Werner Lippe, both convicted of killing their wives; for Anne Trovato, who fatally stabbed and beat her mother; and for Robert Sepe, who beat his live-in girlfriend to death with a baseball bat.

But today, Zambelli, an Eastchester resident, will be presiding over much a more pleasant occasion. She will be one of three judges performing gay marriages at Town Hall in Greenburgh, which opens at noon for couples to get licenses. She will join state Supreme Court Justice Mary Smith and Greenburgh Town Justice Arlene Gordon-Oliver in what promises to be a festive atmosphere in Town Hall.

Although Zambelli has a reputation as being a no-nonsense judge (“Oh, come on!” is a phrase she uses with overzealous attorneys), her willingness to give up part of her Sunday to be a wedding officiant may stem from her former role in social justice. She was the executive director of Mount Vernon’s Commission of Human Rights from 1978 to 1980, and worked with Mount Vernon police, Victims Assistance Services and the District Attorney’s Office to create an advocacy program for women who were victims of violence.

We’ll be covering the first day of legalized gay marriage in New York from Greenburgh Town Hall, so check back with LoHud.com for photos and stories.

Rapist resentenced in Rockland court 10 years later

Anthony Blackman returned to criminal court in Rockland this afternoon.

The last time Blackman appeared before Justice William A. Kelly was Nov. 26, 2001, when Kelly sentenced him to 25 years in prison for raping and sodomizing a 75-year-old woman. The prosecution wanted 50 years.

Blackman was never given post release supervision as part of the original sentence.

Many others convicted of crimes also were not given post release supervision and have since been resentenced over the years. Back then there was a new law and judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers were used to the concept of people being released from prison on parole. The post supervised release was similar to parole.

Back in 2001, Blackman turned down a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty that was offered by then District Attorney Michael Bongiorno.

Blackman originally pleaded guilty to first-degree rape following negotiations between Public Defender James Filenbaum and prosecutors, Kelly accepted the plea. Prosecutors wanted to avoid having the woman relive being raped by testifying.

Blackman backed out of the deal and went to trial. The jury deliberated for less than four hours before convicting Blackman of first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy and first-degree burglary.

Today in court, Kelly went over the crime and sentenced Blackman to the same 25 years on both charges, as well as 15 years concurrent for burglary. Kelly added five years supervised release.

Blackman told Kelly, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have took the plea 10 years ago, My life has been totally destroyed.”

Kelly responded that he recalled Blackman was adamant about going to trial and turned down the plea offer of less years.

When Blackman was tried in 2001, he had a 20-month-old daughter. When he appeared before Kelly today — dressed in green prison garb and shackled at the waist – the same girl sat in the courtroom. She was there with Blackman’s brother and other relatives.

Blackman blew her a kiss. She smiled.

Rockland DA program goes national with fed money

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe and his staff hoped to break ground by creating their own community prosecution teams to work with police and community leaders on fighting crime.

Zugibe put together the teams soon after taking office in 2008, after researching models across the nation, and believes it’s one of the most important programs he’s initiated, along with the victim’s center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern.

Now, the U.S. Justice Department has issued a $500,000 grant for several cities to replicate the Rockland District Attorney’s Office program.

Zugibe gets bragging rights.

Below is the news release from his office on July 6, 2011:
Contact: Xiomara Lopez (845) 638-5013

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe announced that a $500,000 grant has been awarded by the United States Department of Justice to replicate the county’s visionary and highly successful Community Prosecution model in three initial U.S. cities.

The federal grant, secured jointly by the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), is being used to develop Community Prosecution programs in Mesa, Arizona, St. Paul, Minnesota and Newport News, Virginia.

Under Zugibe’s leadership, the District Attorney’s Office has developed and refined an innovative Community Prosecution approach, which has been recognized by the Justice Department as a cutting edge approach.

The funding allows the IACP to provide technical assistance and other guidance to out-of-state prosecutors’ offices and police departments to facilitate the adoption of Rockland’s model of Community Prosecution in their respective areas.

District Attorney Zugibe, Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan, Spring Valley Police Chief Paul Modica and members of their respective staff together with representatives from the Rockland Intelligence Center and Rockland County Drug task Force this month offered presentations on the basic tenets of Community Prosecution to law enforcement representatives from Mesa, Arizona, St. Paul, Minnesota and Newport News, Virginia.

Participating agencies included:
Arizona:
The Mesa Police Department
The Maricopa County Attorney
The Mesa City Attorney’s Office
Minnesota:
The City of St. Paul Police Department
The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office
The St. Paul City Attorney’s Office
Virginia:
The Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Newport News
The Chief of the Newport News Police Department

Zugibe’s vision for restorative justice is touted as a model for other prosecutors throughout the country. Rockland County’s Community Prosecution model seeks to reduce the distance, social and physical, between prosecutors, law enforcement and the community.

The Rockland County District Attorney’s Office has initiated a series of high-profile initiatives designed to address quality of life concerns and other issues that fall outside of the traditional case-processing domain. Included in these are partnerships with local police departments, school districts, businesses leaders and community groups.

The Zugibe Administration officially launched Community Prosecution in Rockland County on November 20th, 2008. Since then, the effort has resulted in numerous indictments and convictions on a variety of criminal offenses. In addition, the model of Community Prosecution in the RCDA’s Office has given local residents a greater voice in prioritizing and solving problems that plague neighborhoods, from Suffern to Stony Point.

All of Rockland County’s police departments have been assigned Community Prosecutors, each possessing unique knowledge of their jurisdiction. Local residents are helping to make a difference by engaging directly with prosecutors from the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office, contacting local police departments and utilizing the RCDA’s Web site, RocklandCountyDA.com.

Yorktown man, former Rockland day camp worker, pleads guilty to sex charge

A former Rockland County day camp worker will be registered as a sex offender after soliciting sex from someone he thought was a 15-year-old girl on the Internet.

Howard Hochman of Yorktown, (left) who was a transportation coordinator for Camp Ramaquois in Pomona, pleaded guilty in Westchester County Court today to a felony charge of attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor.

Hochman, 62, agreed to serve five years probation, with time served, as part of the plea. Westchester County Judge Susan Cacace will sentence him on Oct. 4. He could have faced up to four years in state prison if convicted at trial.

According to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, Hochman had several Internet chats with the “girl” starting on March 30. The girl was actually an undercover investigator. During the chats, Hochman allegedly discussed specific sexual acts and arranged to meet the “girl” in White Plains. When he arrived at the destination they had arranged online, he was arrested.

Camp Ramaquois’ director, Arthur Kessler, said Hochman was a staff member at the camp for two seasons, and Kessler said there was no indication that Hochman ever behaved inappropriately toward any campers.

He said the camp runs criminal background, sex-offender and reference checks on all staffers. He also said camp programs are designed to avoid any situation in which a staff member is left alone with a camper.

Hochman also used to work as a part-time program director for the Wagon Road Camp in Chappaqua from February 2005 to May 2009. Officials there said no accusations of misconduct were ever lodged against him.

Earlier in his career, Hochman was a New York City public school teacher and retired as an assistant principal.

NY court administrators want 41-62% pay raises for judges

This will certainly spark some interesting discussions.

The New York Office of Court Administration, after laying off more than 500 court employees this year to close a $170 million, is now asking the state to increase judges’ salaries from $136,700 to at least $192,218 — or as high as $220,836.

Their argument is that NY judges haven’t had a raise since Jan. 1, 1999, and now are making less than some of their staff. They also say that NY judges are among the lowest paid in the nation, which is driving many out of the judiciary and into law officers, where they can easily make more money. Those arguments may not convince the 508 court employees who lost their jobs, or the droves of New York taxpayers whose salaries don’t come close to approaching $136,700.

The Special Commission on Judicial Compensation will recommend a judicial salary later this year, and unless state lawmakers try to block it, that recommendation will be reflected in judges’ paychecks.

Westchester DA tapped to lead New York DA group

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore is now the newest president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York. She was sworn in to a one-year term on Saturday at the association’s annual conference in Cooperstown, N.Y. In a statement, DiFiore said she was “truly honored” to be chosen from among the state’s 62 District Attorneys.

“In any profession, receiving recognition from one’s peers always holds a particular distinction, and when coupled with the important work that the Association does on behalf of prosecutors throughout the state and being able to contribute to this coming year’s agenda is sincerely gratifying,” she said.

Franklin County District Attorney Derek P. Champagne, the association’s outgoing president, praised DiFiore’s experience, commitment and work ethic.

“Her tireless commitment to Justice through the Justice Task Force and her distinguished legal career makes her the perfect spokesperson and leader for the association,” he said in a written statement. “I look forward to assisting her in any way possible to build upon the associations’ reputation as being the preeminent voice of Justice and the voice for those who cannot speak because of acts of violence in New York State.”

The DA’s Association has about 1,000 members. It was formed in 1909 as a professional organization for district attorneys and assistant district attorneys in New York State. Thirty-eight district attorney offices have fewer than 10 prosecutors and 20 offices have fewer than five. Seven offices, including Westchester, have more than 100 prosecutors.

Photo: Champagne swearing in DiFiore on Saturday. Courtesy of the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Man arraigned in train station beating

A 50-year-old Mount Vernon man is being held without bail on charges that he beat a man with a trash can at the White Plains train station after stealing his cell phone.

Robert France (left) was arraigned in Westchester County Court today on a nine-count felony indictment charging him with multiple counts of robbery and assault, as well as one count of criminal mischief.

According to the Westchester District Attorney’s office, France attacked a man at the White Plains Metro-North station on April 12. He approached the man at 2:50 a.m., took his cell-phone and began hitting him with a large garbage can.

The man’s lower leg was broken and required three screws. He also needed multiple stitches in his left hand, the DA’s office said.

France was arrested by MTA police. He was indicted on June 30 and faces up to 25 years in state prison if convicted on the top counts, which are first-degree robbery and first-degree assault. He is due back in court on Aug. 2.

Photo: Westchester County Department of Correction

Casey Anthony verdict prompts calls for “Caylee’s Law”

The acquittal of Florida’s Casey Anthony (left) yesterday has sparked an online campaign demanding a federal law that would make not reporting your child missing within 24 hours a felony.

The campaign, called “Caylee’s Law,” was started by an Oklahoman woman who was angered at the verdict. So far, more than 37,000 people have signed online petition. UPDATE: As of 3 p.m. Thursday, July 7, nearly 383,000 signed the petition.

Anthony was found not guilty of murder and manslaughter Tuesday in the case of her two-year-old daughter Caylee’s death. One of the most controversial parts of the case — one that had much of the pyublic convicned of her guilt — was that she waited a month before notifying law enforcement that her daughter was missing. The little girl was was last seen on June 16, 2008; hner disappearance wasn’t reported until July 15 of that year.

“I could not believe she was not being charged with child neglect or endangerment, or even obstruction of justice,” petition-starter Michelle Crowder said in a written statement released by Change.org. “I am hoping that this will be made into a federal law so that no other child’s life, disappearance, and/or death is treated in the manner that poor Caylee’s was treated. No child deserves that.”

If Caylee’s Law is enacted, it would join several other  laws named after small children who were victims of violent deaths. The most recent one in New York has been Leandra’s Law, which makes driving drunk with a child in the car a felony punishable by prison time.

Yonkers man sentenced for raping boy, 14

WHITE PLAINS — A Yonkers man was sentenced today to 10 years of sex offender probation for raping a 14-year-old boy in 2007.

Patrick Martens (left) apologized in court for his past behavior, which the victim’s father said has turned his son into a heroin addict.

“He’s so ashamed and scared,” the father said.

Martens, who lives on Kincaid Drive, was accused of sodomizing the boy in his home in December 2007. The boy didn’t tell his family until he was confronted about his drug use last year, his father said, and began to cry when he described the abuse.

In a victim’s impact statement, the father said he contacted Martens online, posing as his son. He said Martens wrote back, saying he wanted to have sex with the victim as well as his younger brother.

He said his son, now 18, has become a “dark, lost soul” since being abused and contracted hepatitis C as a result of his heroin use. He said his son told him he hopes to overdose because he can’t bring himself to commit suicide any other way. The father called the 45-year-old Martens “a pathetic excuse for a human being” who took advantage of his son.

Martens, an ex-instructor with the Yonkers Fife and Drum Band, pleaded guilty on April 12 to second-degree criminal sexual act, a felony punishable by up to seven years in state prison. Assistant District Attorney Mary Clark-DiRusso said it was in the victim’s best interest not to have the case go to trial, where he would have to describe the sex acts to a jury.

Westchester County Judge Susan Cacace signed an order of protection banning Martens from having any contact with the victim or his immediate family, who live near Martens. The judge said the conditions of his probation “are severe and they are lengthy” and that he would be closely monitored for the next 10 years.

As part of his sex offender probation, Martens is forbidden from going to parks, playgrounds, malls or any places children under 18 often meet.  He cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center or playground and needs permission to travel.Martens also will be required to attend and pay for group counseling, as well as submit to polygraph tests. He cannot own a computer without permission and must pay for software that monitors and limits computer use. He is forbidden to have any photos of minors, including ones cut from publications, or to have cameras and video recording equipment without permission.

Martens, a former guard at Co-Op City in the Bronx, was a former instructor with the Yonkers Fife and Drum Band, which is made up of city firefighters but not run by the department. Yonkers Fire Commissioner Tony Pagano has said Martens has not taught the Yonkers band for at least three years.