Selwyn Days: another mistrial?

Although this is the second day of deliberations in the Selwyn Days double murder trial, the number and type of readbacks requested by the jury may suggest that the jury is deadlocked.

Yesterday, the jury asked to re-hear Days’ confession to the brutal 1996 slayings of 79-year-old Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his 35-year-old home health aide, Betty Ramcharan, as well as the definition of reaonable doubt. They also asked to see a calendar from 1996 (alibi witnesses said Days was in North Carolina in the days before the murders) and to re-hear testimony from a man who said that one of his employees saw Days in New York around the time of the killings.

Today, the jury asked to re-hear testimony from a former Mount Vernon police captain who took the anonymous call in 2001 that suggested Days was responsible for the murders. The call came from Days’ ex-girlfriend, Cherlyn Mayhew.

Days, a former Mount Vernon resident, is on trial for the third time. His first trial in 2003 ended in a mistrial; he was convicted the following year and sentenced to serve 50 years to life in prison. A judge overturned the verdict in 2009 and ordered a new trial. The current trial, before Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit, began Feb. 7.

If the Days’ case has a hung jury, it will be the second mistrial in a homicide case this month in Westchester County Courts. On March 4, a jury deadlocked after 4 1/2 days of deliberations in the manslaughter trial of former Eastchester police officer James Pileggi. The breakdown was 1-2 for conviction. The District Attorney’s office plans to retry the case.

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

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

Lippe guilty of murder in burning death of wife

A Westchester County jury took eight hours — six yesterday and two today — to find Cortlandt jewelry artist Werner Lippe guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, (pictured left) a 49-year-old school nutritionist who disappeared two years ago.

Lippe had confessed to knocking his wife unconscious and burning her remains in a backyard oil drum. He testified at trial that the confession was coerced.

The 11:40 a.m. verdict unleashed a wave of emotion and relief over Faith Lippe’s family and friends. Her sister, Dawn Faigle, threw her arms around prosecutor Christine O’Connor in the District Attorney’s office upstairs and fought tears as she recalled the psychological abuse Werner Lippe inflicted on her sister. She publicly thanked O’Connor and prosecutor John O’Rourke for their hard work on the case.

“Their endless devotion sends a strong message that domestic violence will not be tolerated and these criminals will be brought to justice,” she said.

For more about the verdict and courtroom reaction, as well as background on the trial, click here.

Closing arguments wrap up Lippe trial

It’s up to the jury now.

Twelve jurors listened today to more than four hours of closing arguments in the murder trial of Werner Lippe, accused of killing his wife of 18 years during a bitter divorce fight in October 2008 and disposing of her body without a trace.

Lippe, a 68-year-old jeweler, remained stoic as Assistant District Attorney Christine O’Connor urged the seven men and five women on the jury to believe that Lippe’s confession to a friend, who was wearing a police wire, had been both truthful and voluntary.

Defense lawyer Andrew Rubin argued during his closing statements that it was a false confession borne out of paranoia, fear and confusion. There is no body, no eyewitnesses and no forensic evidence in the case.

O’Connor ended her summations by playing a recording of Werner Lippe telling his friend, “She doesn’t exist. You cannot find her. It’s impossible.” As the tape played, those words appeared on a screen with a photo a smiling Faith Lippe. Her cousin, Shari Caradonna, walked out of the courtroom in tears.

Faith Lippe was a nutritionist in the Ossining schools. She was 49 when she disappeared.

Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli will instruct the jury on the law Monday morning, and deliberations will begin immediately afterwards.

Lippe faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

This is his second trial. His first trial ended in February with a hung jury, which was unable to reach a verdict after 27 hours of deliberations. The vote was 7 to 5 for acquittal.

Jury selection to start Nov. 8 in Eastchester double-slay retrial

Selwyn Days will get a pre-screened jury for his third trial in the 1996 slayings of an Eastchester millionaire and his home healthcare worker.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Holdman said he needs to know if the five- to six week-trial would pose a hardship to prospective jurors before jury selection begins Nov. 8. The jurors also might be asked if they’ve read or seen any media coverage of the trial to help shrink the jury pool up front.

Holdman said he wants to avoid the trouble he experienced trying to seat a jury late last month in a mortgage fraud case. Jury selection in that case took three days because dozens of people in the 160-member jury pool said they simply could not take a month off of work to sit on that jury, which isn’t expected to start deliberating the case for another two weeks.

Prosecutors and Days’ defense team said they had no problem with the pre-screened jury and agreed to meet with Holdman Nov. 3 to review what jurors would be asked and to discuss any last-minute pre-trial issues.

Days, a former Mount Vernon resident, is charged with first- and second-degree murder in the slayings of Archie Harris, 79, and Betty Ramcharan, 35, 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 him of sexually abusing her a few months before the killings. Her son, who had 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 scene. 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 and stabbing Harris, then slashing Ramcharan’s throat when she walked in.

Days’ first trial in 2003 ended in a hung jury. He was convicted a year later and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. But in December, a judge threw out Days’ conviction after four witnesses testified that he was in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21, 1996 — the timeframe in which authorities said the slayings took place.

Prosecutors argued that Days’ alibi witnesses all had close ties to Stella Days and should not be believed. A convict who said Selwyn Days admitted in prison to killing Harris and Ramcharan will testify for the prosecution. The defense said they will put two additional alibi witnesses on the stand.

Days’ appeal is being led by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative and lawyers from two Manhattan firms. Assistant District Attorneys Perry Perrone and Christine O’Connor are prosecuting the case.

Days is being held in the county jail in Valhalla with bail set at $300,000.

Lippe retrial begins in wife’s murder case

Round 2.

The same prosecutors, same defense lawyer and same defendant returned to Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli’s second-floor courtroom today to retry Werner Lippe for the alleged murder of his wife, Faith, nearly two years ago.

Click here to read about the lawyers’ opening statements to the jury.

Lippe’s first jury was deadlocked, voted 7 to 5 for acquittal in February. This time around, jurors were specifically asked if they watched “CSI” or similar TV shows, since there is no body, no witnesses and no forensic evidence in the case.

Assistant District Attorney John O’Rourke, who gave closing arguments in Lippe’s first trial, opened for the people today. That likely will mean ADA Christine O’Connor will summarize. Veteran defense lawyer Andrew Rubin continues to represent Lippe, who is approaching his second year at the Westchester County jail, where he has been remanded since his Oct. 30 arrest.

O’Rourke, taking a piece of Rubin’s opening argument from the first trial, said Lippe didn’t have to be “Superman” to burn his 49-year-old wife’s slender body to ash on Oct. 3, 2008 and dispose of the remains without leaving a shred of evidence. Rubin countered with another image, saying Lippe was no “evil genius” and was not responsible for his wife’s disappearance.

Lippe’s confession to his wife’s murder was another point of contention between the lawyers, with O’Rourke saying it was proof of his guilt and Rubin saying it was proof that Lippe was coerced into making up an outlandish story so that an old friend, who was working with police, would leave him alone.

The trial is expected to continue Wednesday and last for three weeks. The jury consists of seven men, five women and five alternates.

Elderly killer sentenced in wife’s “mercy” slaying

Paul Weinstein said nothing this morning as a Westchester County judge sentenced him to eight years in state prison for what he told police was a mercy killing of his elderly wife in their New Rochelle home last year.

Weinstein, 78, had agreed to the sentence when he pleaded guilty in June to first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Helen Weinstein on Sept. 23.

The prison term for Weinstein, who has been in jail for more than 10 months, could end up a life sentence for the frail ex-pharmacist.

In court papers, Weinstein told police that his wife, also in her 70s, was “starting to lose it” and that the shooting was a mercy killing. Later, he told authorities that an argument with his wife “set him off.”

He used a World War II-era Walther handgun to shoot his wife as she lay in bed in their 12th-floor apartment at a senior citizen housing complex at 35 Maple Ave. He called 911 to report what had happened and, after a brief standoff with police, surrendered.

He tried suffocating her with a pillow and, when that failed, took the 9 mm handgun from the bedroom closet, loaded it and hid it under a kitchen towel so his wife wouldn’t be alarmed.

The gun fired on the second try.

Weinstein told detectives he apologized to his slain wife, called police and then got into his bathtub and tried shooting himself in the head several times, but the gun would not fire.

Prosecutor Christine O’Connor said the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office has said Weinstein’s age and poor health were considered when reducing the second-degree murder charge to first-degree manslaughter. O’Connor also said the couple’s daughter had asked her office for leniency.

Weinstein, a licensed pharmacist for 54 years and a former supervisor at R&R Pharmacy in Mamaroneck, was represented by Allan Focarile of the Westchester Legal Aid Society.

Elderly wife-killing suspect appears in court

For the first time in months, Paul Weinstein appeared in Westchester County Court on charges that he fatally shot his sickly wife last year.

Weinstein, a 78-year-old pharmacist, shuffled into the courtroom using a walker with wheels.  He had missed his last few court appearances due to medical problems. He has been incarcerated since his arrest on Sept. 23 — the day his wife was shot.

The diminutive Weinstein sat in a chair as his court-appointed lawyer, Allan Focarile of the Legal Aid Society, and prosecutor Christine O’Connor had a bench conference with acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea.  Weinstein is due back in court on June 10, at which time the case will be assigned a trial judge or be resolved with a plea bargain.

According to court papers, Weinstein told police that an argument with his wife “set him off” and that he shot her dead in their New Rochelle home after he failed to suffocate her with a pillow.

He used a World War II-era Walther handgun to shoot his wife as she lay in bed in their 12th-floor apartment at a senior citizen housing complex at 35 Maple Ave. He then called 911 to report what had happened and, after a brief standoff with police, surrendered.

Weinstein insisted his wife’s slaying was a mercy killing.