New Rochelle man to serve 20 years for afternoon stabbing death

A New Rochelle man was sentenced to 20 years in state prison today for the brazen midday slaying of a rival in downtown New Rochelle last year.

The sentence for 21-year-old Laurell Smith (left) was five years less than the maximum for first-degree manslaughter, the felony charge that he was convicted of in June.

Smith fatally stabbed Kevin Williams on Sept. 18, as he was walking along on North Avenue with his uncle at 2:30 p.m. Smith yelled at Williams from an apartment window, and the two began arguing. Smith, who was already on probation, ran out of the apartment building and confronted Williams on the street, asking him at one point if he was scared. Williams reportedly replied, “No, I’m not scared.”

Smith then pulled an 8-inch knife from his waistband and forced it into the left side of Williams’ abdomen, stopping an inch from his right kidney, prosecutors said. Williams died an hour later at Sound Shore Medical Center.

Smith was charged with second-degree murder, but a jury acquitted him after his lawyer argued that Smith only wanted to hurt Williams, not kill him. The murder charge carried a life sentence.

Smith also was sentenced to serve one to three years in prison for violating his probation by committing another crime. The sentence will run concurrently, or at the same time as his manslaughter sentence, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Williams’ aunt, who spoke briefly at the sentencing, told Smith that she hoped God would forgive him for killing her nephew.

Two of Smith’s accomplices pleaded guilty to their role in trying to cover up the attack and protect Smith. Rico Johnson, 20, and Krista Leggieri, 18, pleaded guilty in March to second-degree hindering prosecution and evidence tampering, felonies, for helping to hide Smith’s clothes and the knife. Johnson was sentenced to five years’ probation, with four months in the Westchester County jail. Leggieri was sentenced as a youthful offender; her file has been sealed.

Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit sentenced all three defendants in the case.

New Rochelle man convicted for Bronx murder

A 25-year-old New Rochelle man was found guilty yesterday of murdering one man and trying to murder another in the Bronx four years ago.

A jury took less than three hours to convict Joseph Sanchez of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, as well as three counts of second-degree weapon possession, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s office.

Sanchez was found guilty of fatally shooting Joseph Viera and wounding Bonifacio Soto on April 7, 2007. Prosecutors argued that it was Sanchez who pulled up in front of a Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant, at 162 East 174th Street and Morris Avenue, got out of his car and pointed a gun at Viera. They said Sanchez attempted to shoot Viera twice but the gun jammed, but Sanchez later shot Viera twice in the chest.

When Soto tried to help Viera, prosecutors argued, Sanchez shot him in the mouth. According to testimony, the fatal shooting may have been the result of a dispute over $30,000 that Viera believed had been stolen from him, according to the Bronx DA’s office.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Ann Donnelly set sentencing for June 2. Sanchez, who lived at 248 Centre Avenue before his arrest, faces up to 50 years to life in prison if given consecutive sentences for each crime. He is being held without bail.

DWI: the impact on a New Rochelle family

Jennifer Taylor, whose twin sister, Amy, (pictured left) was killed at 29 by a drunken driver n New Rochelle last year, gave a heartbreaking victim’s impact statement at the sentencing of the driver, Louis Nardella, in Westchester County Court on Tuesday. I was only able to use two sentences from her statement in the story that ran in today’s paper. But if you ever wondered about how devastating drunken driving can be, take a look at what Jennifer Taylor wrote about her sister, her family and the driver who tore her family apart, and what has prompted her to work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to lobby Albany for tougher sentences for drunk drivers who kill:

Amy Maria Taylor was born just one minute before me, weighing in at about 3 and 1/2 pounds, we were premature, born 6 weeks early, but I still managed to weigh in at 7 pounds.  Though Amy was born the smaller one, she got strong and fast quick, while I became the “sicker” one. Diagnosed with Asthma at 9 months was no easy task for my mother. Not sure how she juggled twins, let alone one who was sick most of the time. As we got older, Amy absolutely took on the “big sister” role, though one minute older than me she took care of me. The nights I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t breathe was nothing abnormal. We almost had a routine, Mom would get the car, Amy would help me get dressed and off to the emergency room we went.

Life with Amy was such a privilege, she was my sister and best friend all wrapped up into one person, her smile was infectious and she just made you want to be around her.  We lived in the same place our whole lives and maintained friendships that have lasted for decades. The Taylor Twins (as were becoming known as) were inseparable. Once Amy passed I had so many people tell me that they envied our relationship, some asked how we got so close, if we ever fought cause we were always together. We worked together, Spent time together, went to school together and lived together It never got old. Yea we had our fights, but they lasted 15 minutes and we got over it. We realized early on that we rather be the best of friends then just be 2 sisters.  Amy and I were happy just being together.  I’m really having a hard time writing about the kind of person Amy was. I can not put into words what she exactly meant to me, and what Louis Nardella took from me the night he decided to get into the car high and drunk, and killed my beloved Amy. Please allow me to try and explain what life has been like since ….

It was 1 a.m. on May 23rd when my mother woke me up and said “Jenn, there’s a bad accident outside and I’m tyring to reach Amy”. I looked out the window and what I saw was a scene from a movie, fire trucks,  cop cars, ambulances, people, lights…It was crazy. But I knew Amy left the house a while ago to go meet friends, and there was no way the accident invloved Amy, There was just no way. My mom rubbed her stomach, and said “I have a bad feeling, and I want to talk to Amy.” I told mommy to go lay down and that I would call Amy just so she can reassure my mom she was fine. I called Amy about 10 times and left about 3 messages. I had no idea that my sister was dying just across the street and the phone was ringing right next to her.

At about 1:40 a.m., my cousin Danielle called me frantic, she said “Amy was in an accident and they are trying to get her out of the car”. I flew out of bed, flew is an understatement. I left the house, I didn’t have time to wait or anyone, I needed to get to Amy, cause I knew she was probably scared and looking for me. I don’t remember walking across the street, I just remembered seeing half of my sister’s Honda accord. Half of it. Papers were everywhere, Papers she had from school. I remember glass, people, cops, It didn’t dawn on me that I didn’t see Amy until an officer said he would take me to the hospital. By this time my mother came outside, dad was still getting dressed, the look on her face I can never explain, I just knew I never wanted to see it again. She asked me what happened to her baby, and I said I didn’t know, The cops asked if we were ready to go, my mother had to wait for my dad. Left to go be with Amy, in my head I knew she was probably needing me. I never thought she was dead, never. I prepared myself for broken bones, maybe unconsciousness, coma, internal bleeding, I remembered wondering if I knew my blood type in case Amy needed a blood transfusion. When I got there Danielle, Brianne and Terry who are also a Detective, Sargent and teacher for the city of New Rochelle came out from the back and told me Amy didn’t make it. It felt like someone kicked me in my throat, then my stomach, then my heart.  I stood there for about 2 minutes and said, “I don’t want to hear that” and walked out. I never saw Amy again.

Life for the Taylor family will never be the same. I didn’t sleep the first 48 hours or so, if I closed my eyes and woke up it would be real, if i stayed up maybe someone would say it was a mistake. That never happened. On May 23rd my twin sister and best friend was dead and that fact is still very hard to swallow. I was a complete wreck, and of no use to my parents who were planning Amy’s funeral. I couldn’t deal with what to dress her in, what color casket, where to have the services. My cousin Heather completely stepped in and helped Mom and Dad thru the absolute worst time in their lives. Im so grateful for her and her help. What did I do? I laid in my bed, with the blinds closed day after day. I couldn’t even take my mother to view Amy’s body, my half sister Jackie did, I can never explain to her how much that meat to me. I managed to make it through the wake and funeral. To this day I can not tell you how, I can say I don’t remember much about it. Post traumatic stress is what my therapist said happened to me. Sometimes I ask my friends and family to tell me what the wake and funeral were like, I don’t remember most of the people who came, I don’t even remember what I said at the funeral. I have it written down folded and tucked away with all of the sympathy cards and letters.  Once the floods of friends and family stopped coming by reality set in for my family. My life sentence began on May 23rd. the walls in my bedroom became a cell I couldn’t escape. Some days getting out of bed was impossible. I can’t look out my window because I see the cross that was left to mark where my sister took her last breath. I was trapped. I hear my mother cry every night. Sometimes multiple times a day, I’m helpless. I can not console her because I can not console myself.  I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child and she doesn’t know what its like to lose a twin. So our frustrations build and we argue. I lost my job a few months after Amy died, I couldn’t keep it together, images of her coming in and smiling at me were overwhelming, I spent half the day in the bathroom crying. I was sent home so many times I lost count.

My mom, dad and myself haven’t had dinner together since she died, the 3 of sitting at the table without the 4th member Amy was too much. I remembered we so happened to be eating at the table and we were in silence, I looked up and saw Daddy looking at Amy’s empty chair and tears streaming down his face. I got up and went back to my cell, the four walls that used to occupy me and myt win sister. My father was the core and strength for my mother and I. He made decisions, held back tears as he spoke at Amy’s funeral, and even to this day keeps Mom and I grounded. Then there are the nights I hear him crying, saying he misses his kid. I see his face when he looks into mine, sometimes i feel like hes searching for Amy’s face. Holidays and birthdays are no longer the same. Last year Amy and I were anticipating our 30th birthday. How did I spend my 30th? Crying, putting flowers down at the site where Amy died, and sitting in my living room. How can I ever have a happy birthday? I always shared my birthday, always had 2 names on a cake, always spent it with Amy, this year it was just my name on the cake, after 30 years of joint parties it was just my name on a cake. Mom and dad spent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are spent at the cemetery, I haven’t been to Amy’s final resting place since she was buried. I can’t do it, not yet anyway. So mom and dad go alone and I try to be the best daughter I can be for them.

My mom isn’t the same, there’s n emptiness in her that I can’t explain, She cries all the time, everyday in fact. She worries about me from the minute I leave the house til the second I get home, holidays are coming up and its like a silent torture for us. I’m in therapy once sometimes twice a week. I don’t sleep, I have anxiety, I go into panic mode if one of my friends are out and I haven’t heard from them. I’m depressed, I’m on anxiety and antidepressant medications, I’m afraid to go into supermarkets or other public places, I don’t want people to see me, or ask me how I am, or mistakenly call me Amy. I also still have her closet the way she left it,  My mother has constant chest pain, her stress levels are through the roof, shes depressed, and stays indoors whenever she’s not working. My father throws himself into work and holds everything in. We’ve completely fallen apart as a family unit. We’re doing the best we can to keep Amy’s memory alive and her name fresh in every one’s mind.

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.

Lippman on Top of the Roc

tjndc5-5nzg18v3eqffndcf3wu_layoutChief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the head of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will be the guest speaker at a New Rochelle Bar Association dinner on Monday, April 12.

The dinner will be at 6 p.m. at the Top of the Roc on Memorial Highway in New Rochelle. New York State Court of Appeals Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and Theodore T. Jones also will be guests at the dinner.

If you want to go, pay $45 to the New Ro Bar by April 7.

Westchester DA gets $500K to make an “impact”

New York State has handed a cool half-million dollars to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office to help them fight crime with some local police departments.

The money comes from Operation IMPACT, which stands for Integrated Municipal Police Anti-Crime Teams, and targets areas that have problems with violent crime. The District Attorney’s office will use the dough to hire three new prosecutors, a criminal investigator and a crime analyst.

Operation IMPACT is sending a total of $1.6 million to Westchester County, specifically for police departments in Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains, New Rochelle and Greenburgh, as well as the county Departments of Probation and Public Safety.

Here’s the breakdown:
District Attorney – $511,342
Yonkers – $423,222
Mount Vernon – $363,530
Co. Dept. of Public Safety – $132,555
Co. Dept. of Probation – $99,821
White Plains – $24,750
New Rochelle – 20,071
Greenburgh – $20,000

To learn more about Operation IMPACT, click here

New lawyer in hand-chopping case

Accused hand chopper Christopher Calise got a new attorney today — Christopher McClure, best known as the lawyer for convicted wife killer (and ex-neighbor of Bill and Hillary Clinton) Carlos Perez-Olivo, now serving 25 to life for murder.

Calise, 44, of Yonkers  is charged with first-degree assault for allegedly trying to chop off the hand of a New Rochelle man who owed him (or his employer) $50,000. He is being held on $200,000 bail.

The Legal Aid Society of Westchester, which took Calise’s case, asked to be relieved as counsel, citing an unspecified conflict of interest. McClure stepped in as assigned counsel … over the objections of Calise, who wanted Legal Aid to stay on until he hired a private attorney.

Westchester County Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen told Calise that it wasn’t a good idea not to have a lawyer in his situation, even for a few days, so McClure was brought in, perhaps only on a short term basis.

Calise’s alleged accomplice, Michael Mann of Fort Lee, N.J. is also facing assault charges in the attack. You can read the grizzly details by clicking here.

Judge says “Olvídalo!” to school lawsuit

Brace yourself for this one:

A state judge has rendered a decision in a lawsuit filed by the father of a New Rochelle High School student over a confrontation his daughter had with her Spanish teacher in October 2005.

According to court papers, the teacher approached the girl during class and told her she had to leave because she flunked Spanish 2. The teacher told her this in front of other students and ordered her to turn in her textbook and go to the counselor’s office. The girl argued that she passed the earlier class, and the teacher said that was a lie.

The girl’s father, an attorney, sued for emotional distress, and here’s what he wrote:

“It is clear that the conduct of the teacher … was so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community, certainly in a student/teacher relationship.”

Telling a kid to leave the classroom now qualifies as outrageous, extreme and atrocious? Really?

The school district fired back, saying the girl was never teased about the incident, never sought counseling or treatment and — this is my favorite — stayed with the teacher and passed the Spanish 3 class.

The father continued:

“The actions here were between an adult who was in a position of power, authority and influence over this child. Her words must be seen as more than just insults. This occurred at the hands of a teacher in what was to be a safe and nurturing school classroom to a young 14 year old girl in front of her friends during class for no rational reason whatsoever.”

O.K. So maybe the teacher should have told her to leave before class began, or waited until after everyone left. But does this rise to the level of a civil suit?

State Supreme Court Justice Francis Nicolai had the answer: No. While the remarks may have been inappropriate, he said, they were not “utterly intolerable in a civilized community” and he dismissed the complaint last week.

Olvídalo, for you non-Spanish speakers, is the equivalent of fuggedaboudit. I’m sure the student in question already knows this. She passed Spanish 4, according to the court papers.