Jury selection begins in Selwyn Days retrial for 1996 Eastchester slayings

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.

Jailhouse snitch can testify in Eastchester double-homicide retrial, judge says

A prison inmate who said Selwyn Days (left) confessed two years ago to the 1996 killing an Eastchester millionaire and his home health aide will be allowed testify against him at his murder retrial this fall.

The decision by acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Holdman could strengthen the prosecution’s case against Days, a former Mount Vernon resident who is being tried for the third time for the double slaying.

Days’ defense team tried to prevent a jury from hearing testimony  from inmate Scott Irwin, saying he was a “roving agent” of the government —namely the Westchester County District Attorney’s office — which violated Days’ right to counsel. But the judge found that Scott Irwin, who is serving a seven-year sentence for robbery and attempted arson, came forward on his own.

“It was through the bars of adjoining cells that Mr. Irwin and the defendant became friends and eventual confidants,” Holdman wrote.

Days, now 45, has been incarcerated for nine years, since he was arrested in the killings. His appeal is being led by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative and lawyers from two Manhattan firms. Days’ lawyers say they are prepared with not only an alibi defense but also psychological evidence showing that his confession to police was false.

At an Aug. 10 hearing in Westchester County Court, Irwin said he met Days at the Elmira Correctional Facility in September 2008. Within a month, Irwin said, Days confessed to his involvement and gave details of the slayings. He said Days was confident he would be acquitted and would become a millionaire after he sued the county.

Irwin also said Days asked him to kill his ex-girlfriend, who told police to look at Days for the two homicides and testified at his first trial that he bragged to her about the killings. He contacted Westchester prosecutors in January 2009.

The bodies of Harris, 79, and Ramcharan, 35, were discovered in 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. A plastic bag was over her head and an electric cord was around her neck.

Days’ mother, Stella, used to work for Harris and accused him of sexually abusing her several months before the killings. Her son, who had a criminal record, was not arrested until February 2001, after he violated a protection order by going to his ex-girlfriend’s home. The woman suggested to police they look at him for the two homicides.

No forensic evidence linked Days to the scene. Prosecutors relied on a taped confession in which Days acknowledged going to Harris’ home to confront him about the abuse allegations. He said he hit Harris with a bat and stabbed him, and slashed Ramcharan’s throat when she walked into the room.

His first trial in 2003 ended in a hung jury. He was convicted a year later and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

Then in December, a judge threw out Days’ conviction after four witnesses testified that he was in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to 21, 1996 — the timeframe in which aurthorities said the slayings took place.

Days is currently being held on $300,000 bail at the county jail in Valhalla. Irwin is scheduled to be released on July 20, 2011.

Judge rejects suppression request for Selwyn Days

tjndc5-5b3dn4w4bjklloe86jt_thumbnail A jury will get to hear Selwyn Days’ incriminating statements when he is re-tried for a third time in the brutal 1996 slayings of an Eastchester millionaire and the man’s home health aide, a judge ruled last week.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel denied motions by Days’ defense lawyers to suppress statements that Days made to police on Feb. 15-16, 2001. The judge said Days had a “full and fair opportunity” to litigate all the issues at a suppression hearing in 2002 and that the defense’s argument of newly-discovered evidence was “without merit.”

Days’ defense team also lost their request to have an expert testify about false confessions. The judge wrote: “(S)uch testimony has been held to be inadmissible by New York courts. New York courts have held that false confessions and circumstances surrounding such confessions are within the understanding of the average juror.

However, Wetzel did order a “limited purpose” hearing to determine if two of Days’ fellow inmates were acting as agents of law enforcement when Days allegedly made incriminating statements to them while behind bars. The defense claims the inmates elicited information from Days to get their own sentences reduced.

Days, now 45, has been incarcerated for nine years, since he was arrested in the killings of Archie Harris and Betty Ramcharan. He was convicted of both murders in 2004 after his first trial ended with a hung jury.

That conviction was overturned last year, when four defense witnesses, including a magistrate judge and a police officer, testified that they saw Days in Goldsboro, N.C., between Nov. 19 and 21, 1996, when it is believed the victims were killed. Following the hearings, Judge Jeffrey Cohen ruled that Days’ trial lawyer had not done enough to investigate an alibi: that he was in North Carolina when the crime was committed. He also granted Days’ claim of ineffective counsel, finding that defense lawyer Christopher Chan had failed to take advantage of DNA evidence to raise reasonable doubt.

The bodies of Harris, 79, and Ramcharan, 35, were discovered in Harris’ Berkley Circle home Nov. 21, 1996. Harris was on a blood-soaked carpet next to a bloody baseball bat in his bedroom; Ramcharan was in a bathroom, next to a kitchen knife, a plastic bag over her head and an electric cord around her neck.

Days’ mother, Stella, used to work for Harris and accused him of sexually abusing her several months before the killings. Her son, who had a lengthy criminal record, was not arrested until February 2001, after he violated a protection order by going to his ex-girlfriend’s home. After hours of questioning by detectives, Days acknowledged going to Harris’ home to confront him about the sexual abuse allegations. He said Harris hit him with a baseball bat and that he took the bat from the man after pretending to be unconscious. He said he hit Harris with it and stabbed him, and then slashed Ramcharan in the throat when she walked into the room.

No forensic evidence linked Days to the bloody scene; prosecutors relied on the videotaped confession. Assistant Westchester County District Attorneys Perry Perrone and Christine O’Connor will prosecute Days in his third trial. Days will be defneded by a team of lawyers led by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative.

He is due back in court on May 21.

Decision delayed in wrongful conviction case

tjndc5-5b3dn4w4bjklloe86jt_thumbnailWestchester County Judge Jeffrey A.Cohen has not yet decided if he will free convicted murderer Selwyn Days or keep Days in prison for decades to come.

Cohen was expected to release his decision tomorrow, six months after presiding over a wrongful conviction hearing to overturn Days’ conviction for the 1996 slayings of an Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his live-in home health aide Betty Ramcharan. Days was convicted of both murders and is serving 50 years to life.

Two of Days’ lawyers now say the case has been moved to Jan. 26 when Cohen, who will be a state Supreme Court justice in Orange County by then, could render a written decision or postpone the decision yet again.

Days’ new defense team says the conviction should be tossed out because of new testimony from four alibi witnesses who, together, place Days in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to 21 in 1996 – the time frame in which the slayings occurred. They also claim that new forensic tests performed on the knife that killed Ramcharan found DNA from the real killers – two unknown men. Investigators had never found forensic evidence linking Days to the crime scene.

But prosecutors said that all of the alibi witnesses had close ties to his mother, Stella Days, and should not be believed. They also argued that tiny pieces of random DNA on the murder weapon aren’t enough to dismiss the jury’s verdict – or ignore Days’ confession to the crime.

Days, now 44, was convicted largely due to a videotaped confession in which he told police he beat and stabbed the pair after confronting Harris about sex-abuse allegations lodged by his mother, a former caregiver. Days’ defense said detectives took advantage of his low IQ and coerced a confession from him that was a “disjointed, undeveloped account” of the crime. Manhattan defense lawyer Glenn Garber, who has taken the case as part of his Exoneration Initiative project, has accused Days’ trial lawyer of incompetence.

We’ll have to wait and see what Cohen decides.

Photo: Selwyn Days