Gulity plea in Spring Valley stabbing death

Just this afternoon, a Spring Valley man accused of stabbing his roomate to death during a drunken fight pleaded guilty  to first-degree manslaughter in state Supreme Court in New City.

Juan Aguilar-Galvez, 40, faces 15 years in prison on Jan. 11 in the stabbing death Feb. 21 of his roommate, Candido del los Santo-Hernandez, 27, who suffered 14 stab wounds during the fight inside their Dutch Lane apartment. He faced a maximum of 25 years.

On Monday, Aguilar-Galvez’ lawyer, public defender Kenneth Murphy, asked for a non-jury trial before Justice William Kelly on a second-degree murder charge

All that changed today. Following a conference with the judge and protracted discussions with witnesses and the Spring Valley Police Department today, Rockland prosecutors Dominic Crispino and Richard Kennison Moran agreed to a plea to manslaughter with Murphy and Kelly.

“We believe that this disposition was fair, appropriate and in the interest of justice,” Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said, adding the plea decision relied on the “strength of the evidence and serious state of intoxication of the defendant and victim at the time of the incident.”

Even if a trial had been held, Kelly could have considered the lesser first-degree manslaughter charge instead of the murder count.

At the time of Aguilar-Galvez’s arrest, Spring Valley police said he was a naturalized citizen who had lived in the United States for 20 years. Because of this conviction, he faces deportation after he serves his sentence, Zugibe said.

Playful Taylor appears in Rockland court today

For a married man with kids who’s facing statutory rape charges involving a runaway Bronx girl forced into prostitution, Lawrence Taylor was in a good mood today when his black car pulled up in front of the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.  The Rockland Sheriff’s Department cordoned off the walkway to the front door for him.

His lawyer, Arthur Aidala, had pulled up seconds before in a white BMW and parked at the curb to the entrance.

“Hello,” Taylor said. “What’s going on, Bud.”

Then referring to Aidala’s parking spot (clearly illegal), Taylor said, “You must know somebody.”

The lawyer didn’t get a ticket.

When reporters asked Taylor if he had anything to say, he responded, “Have a nice day.”

He walked up to the courthouse door laughing with his friends and at one point he used his massive arms to put his longtime golfing buddy, Dino Kyriacou, in a headlock. Dino, who owns the Ramapo Diner, stands just above Taylor’s shoulder. Dino and other golfing buddies were with Taylor on May 6, before Taylor was arrested on charges of having sex with a 16-year-old girl at his hotel room in Ramapo.

Inside the courtroom, Taylor stood silently before state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly. Taylor got a chair to sit in when his lawyer and prosecutors Arthur Ferarro and Patricia Gunning spoke with the judge.

At one point, after Taylor felt uncomfortable about his dress, Aidala told Kelly, “My client profusely asked me to apologize to the court for not having a jacket and tie. He has great respect for the court.”

Kelly responded bruskly,  “He’s suitably attired. No need to apologize.”

What didn’t happen in court is TMZ, the TV-Internet website that tracks the hijinx of celebrities, wanted to video-stream Taylor’s court appearance. Kelly noted state law converning allowing  cameras and/or video in courtroom  was never reaffirmed by the Legislature.

 Both the defense and prosecution said, ” No,” arguing cameras and/or video would be disruotive. Prosecutor Patricia Gunning noted if Taylor goes to trial, the prosecution’s victim is a teenager. Kelly said, No.

Earlier post before Taylor appeared in court:

The countdown is down to two hours before Lawrence Taylor’s 2 p.m. appearance at the Rockland County Courthouse.

If the former linebacker’s past appearances are a barometer, the media from New York City and elsewhere will be out in force to surround him as he enters and leaves the Courthouse. While reporters shout questions to him, Taylor has said little, leaving  camera personnel and note-book-holding reporters usually without some word or words of wisdom or quip.

And the media will likely leave without a plea and told to come back another day, though Taylor’s lawyers likely would prefer less attention when he appears in court.

The media show aside, Taylor is facing serious charges —  paying $300 to a 16-year-old runaway from the Bronx  for sex at the Holidome off Arimont Road in Montebello.

In the background – but not too far away – the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is involved. Federal prosecutors have charged the accused Bronx pimp Rasheed Davis with human sex trafficking, including using violence and drugs to force and coerce the girl to have sex with men. One could surmise that federal prosecutors are interested in what Taylor has to say and what he does concerning the state charges.

The federal complaint against Davis doesn’t help Taylor since it includes Taylor’s admission to Ramapo police that he had paid the 16-year-old (who told him she was 19, not that what she said matters in court) for sex. She told the police that too. And then there is forensic evidence.

Taylor is moving slowly between state and federal prosecutors as his lawyer works on his behalf. Taylor would like to avoid state prison — with the rape and sexual abuse counts carrying up to four years. 

A guilty plea to a sex crime would put Taylor on the state sex registry, which could hurt his ability to make money signing autograph or making personal appearances before children.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe  said he’s open to a plea to the top felony counts, 10 years probation and possibly jail time.

If Taylor rolls the dice and goes to trial and is convicted, Zugibe has said state prison joins the equation.  Zugibe is quick to add that the judge – in this case state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly – has the final word on sentencing.

Taylor’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, is a different story. He’ll hold news conferences, offering little insight into the case other than what could happen  in the legal process — such as pretrial efforts to suppress his client’s statements to the cops, his client being identified. Aidala has said Taylor didn’t have sex with the girl and claims the girl told a roommate she didn’t  have sex with Taylor.

All those different angles will be decided in court — either through a guilt plea or trial.

Top right photo: Lawrence Taylor  walking into the Rockladn County Courthouse today.

Second photo: Taylor and his wife walk to a car at courthouse parking lot after a previous appearance.

Lau’s Prosecution Adjourned Again In Killing Of Gymn Teacher Until July 28

The prosecution of Eric Lau on charges of murdering his Clarkstown neighbor —  gym teacher Jami Erlich — was adjourned again this morning in state Supreme Court in the Rockland Courthouse in New City.
Lau, 33, must appear again in court before Justice William Kelly on July 28.
The defense and prosecution are awaiting the judge’s decisions on pretrial motions. A trial date could be set on July 28.
Lau is charged with murdering Erlich on Nov. 29 inside her home at Lake Road Condominiums in Valley Cottage.
Erlich was talking with a boyfriend on the telephone when she was attacked. She was found with her throat slashed and her skull fractured.
Lau has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree burglary. The Rockland District Attorney’s Office has offered Lau the maximum sentence of 25 years to life to plead guilty. Lau’s being held in the county jail in lieu of $2.5 million bail. He also faces assault charges on accusations of attacking a correction officer.
Erlich, a popular gym teacher at Richard P. Connor Elementary School in Suffern, was talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone when she was attacked.
Erlich’s friends told The Journal News that she called Lau her “creepy neighbor” and that he had persistently called her to ask her out on dates. She moved into the complex in July, a few months before her divorce became final, and lived alone. Lau had lived there for more than a decade.
Authorities said they found some of Erlich’s belongings in his apartment.
Lau is contemplating a psychiatric defense.
He has a history of violence.
At age 16, Lau was placed through the state in David Hall, a 14-bed special residential treatment facility for teenage boys with psychiatric illnesses at Green Chimneys in Putnam County. At some point, Lau, then 18, was expelled from Clarkstown South High School for assaulting a 16-year-old student in November 1996.
Lau, at age 19, was convicted of the attempted robbery of three Albertus Magnus students. He punched one of the victims in the face.
He is being represented by attorney Bruce Klein from the Bronx. The prosecutor is Executive Assistant District Attorney Stephen Moore.

Upper Right Photo: Eric Lau
Upper Left Photo: Jami Erlich

Judge Kelly and the Athlete

State Supreme Court Justice William Kelly  reminisced a bit between cases on Wednesday morning.

His inspiration was Henry Villejas, who completed nearly two years in a drug rehabilitation program in lieu of jail. Kelly sentenced him to three-years probation on a low drug possession charge as part of the drug rehabilitation program DeTAP.  

Noting Villejas had a DWI charge during rehab and some relapses, Kelly strongly suggesting that  Villejas take this non-prison sentence as a second chance to remain clean and keep his life drug and crime-free. He also spoke to Villejas about his future plans, including getting licensed to cut hair.

After Villejas left the courtroom, Kelly started talking about him as an athlete during his high school years.

Kelly told lawyers and court personnel how  years ago Villejas and his son Michael met in a high school championship wrestling match – a battle of middleweights, the judge said. Villejas represented North Rockland and Kelly’s son Clarkstown.

“My son pinned him,” Kelly said with pride, but with respect for Villejas abilities on the mat. “That was quite a night.”

Kelly also said Villejas “was an outstanding baseball player, all-county shortstop,” on high school.

And then the judge went back to his criminal calendar.

Witness fails to Identify Man in Robbery-Try Trial

The Rockland District Attorney’s Office’s record on trials got off to a rocky 2009 start this week. The office lost far more trials than it won last year.

During an attempted robbery case this week against Raymond King of Nyack, a major  prosecution’s witness, store clerk Asim Javed, declined to identify King after looking around the courtroom. Javed apparently rough it up with King inside a Spring Valley deli last May.

King was sitting at the defense table in a suit-and-tie with his lawyer, Kenneth Murphy, who told me this was the second time in his 25-year-career that he’s witnessed a witness being unable to identify his assailant. The only other time was in the Bronx.

Murphy said Javed presented himself very well in court and attends Rutger’s University. When it came to pointing out King, he changed the course of the jury trial before New York state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly at the County Courthouse in New City.

“My heart did a little flip and my first thought was things were finally going our way,” Murphy said. “Our defense was this wasn’t a robbery or attempted robbery. It was an argument over matches and identification was not an issue. I thought they might try to identify him in some other fashion.”

Prosecutor Dominic Crispino apparently was a bit taken back when Javed put  a hole in his case after testifying for 15 to 20 minutes, possibly thinking this might raise reasonable doubt among the jurors, Murphy said.

Crispino asked for an adjournment from Kelly – a legal term for a time-out – and consulted with his bosses.

Crispino came back to court with an offer of  third-degree attempted assault and a sentence of time served. Plus, King pleaded to a felony violation of probation charge with a time-served sentence.

Murphy said he jumped at the offer and went to his client, who took a plea to a lesser charge with no jail time, as opposed to potentially 1 to 3 years upon conviction. King had been held in jail since his arrest on May 1, but that could not be undone.

Spring Valley police arrested King, 44, of Nyack, in May. He had been working at a local religious school – the former Singer’s catering hall –  when he went into RJS Quick Pick Deli on Central Avenue.

King went in for cigarettes and a soda, Murphy said. Inside the deli, he had words with Javed’s mother, who didn’t speak English, over whether he’d get matches or should buy a lighter.

Murphy said Javed came out, thought King was pushing buttons on the cash register and tussled with King, who ran off. The police were called, hunted for King, caught him and charged him with attempted robbery, a charge brought by a grand jury.

Murphy doubted the case should have been indicted as an attempted robbery, saying the supposed victims and prosecutors over-reacted.

“It was not a robbery, but a fiasco,” Murphy said. ” I do think they over-reacted. Nothing was taken.”