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.

A bit of levity at the Selwyn Days trial

Every murder trial, no matter how horrific, has at least one humorously entertaining moment. Such a moment came this morning at the retrial of Selwyn Days, who is being tried for the third time in Westchester County Court in the deaths of Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home healthcare worker Betty Ramcharan.

Stanley Rosen, a spry and wiry nonagenarian, took the stand to offer a time frame in which the killings took place. He was one of the last people to see Harris and Ramcharan alive. He came to adjust his previous testimony that he met with Harris on Nov. 19, 1996. Phone records show he was mistaken and he actually saw Harris and Ramcharan at Harris’ Berkeley Place home on Nov. 18. Prosecutors contend that Days killed the pair between Nov. 18 and Nov. 21, 1996.

When Assistant District Attorney Perry Perrone asked Rosen about how the DA’s office flew him up to New York to testify, this funny exchange took place:

“We provided a hotel room?”

“Yes”

“Meals?”

“If you call it that,” Rosen deadpanned. The entire courtroom cracked up, and a sheepish Perrone smiled and muttered about the county’s budget.

Not letting the moment slide, lead defense lawyer Roberto Finzi promised Rosen he would keep his cross-examination brief, so the DA’s office “can get you home and off the county’s diet.” Finzi bantered a bit with Rosen when asking two DA investigators who flew down to Florida to show Rosen the newly-discovered phone records in March 2010.

“In March?” Finzi said, likely thinking of the weather in Florida at that time. “Beats New York.”

“Sure does,” Rosen said.

Before retiring to Florida, Rosen sold advertising for Martinelli Publications, a chain of 8 weekly papers in southern Westchester, and he met with the cantankerous Harris at his home to discuss a full-page ad Harris wanted to buy in the Eastchester Record. Harris, who had been accused of sexually abusing his last health aide — the defendant’s mother, Stella Days — wanted to publicly offer $500,000 to charity if anyone could offer proof that he ever molested any of his healthcare workers. While he testified previously that he met with Days on Nov. 19, he said phone records now show he met with Harris on Nov. 18.

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

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.