DiGuglielmo conviction upheld in ’96 deli shooting

Former New York City Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo (left) lost any chance of getting out of prison before 2019 today. That’s because the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, rejected his bid to have his conviction overturned.

In a tersely worded two-page statement, the court found there was “no reasonable possibility” that DiGuglielmo would have been found not guilty had a jury been told that a witness felt he had been coerced to change his initial account that DiGgugliemo was justified in shooting Charles Campbell.

“We are pleased that our State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, found no merit to Mr. DiGuglielmo’s appeal and unanimously affirmed what has been our position all along, that Mr. DiGuglielmo’s murder conviction was properly obtained and the County Court was wrong in vacating the conviction,” Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said in a written statement today. “The jury in the case soundly rejected the defendant’s claim of justification after hearing eyewitness testimony from twelve people during his trial that the victim Charles Campbell was backing away when he was shot three times by Mr. DiGuglielmo. With today’s order, the Court of Appeals has rejected all claims against that the conviction.”

The Campbell family will be releasing a statement later today.

DiGuglielmo, who was convicted of second-degree murder, will be eligible for parole in eight years. He was released briefly in September 2008 after a former Westchester County court judge threw out his conviction, but was sent back to prison a year ago after an appeals court reinstated it.

DiGuglielmo family speaks out about reinstated sentence

The family of Richard DiGuglielmo (pictured), who was sent back to prison today after his conviction for shooting Charles Campbell to death, once overturned, was reinstated last week, issued a written statement following his incarceration:

“Richard DiGuglielmo served 11 years in prison until a judge, after a lengthy hearing and careful consideration, freed him. That decision cited new evidence that eyewitnesses who supported Richie’s version of events were essentially coerced into changing their statements at the original trial.”

“The death of Charles Campbell was a tragedy and there are no winners in this case. While we cant turn back events from that day in 1996, the courts should not compound this tragedy by ignoring all the evidence that shows Richie acted to defend his father’s life.”

We simply do not see how the court can say that the testimony of witnesses supporting Richie’s actions would not haver raised reasonable doubtt among the jurors, had that testimony not been manipulated by the police.”

“We are all devastated by the appellate court’s decision to send Richard back to prison. What measure of justice does it serve to free him and then send him back to prison after 18 months during which time he led an exemplary life with his family and friends? This is a cruel injusice for Richard and his family.”

“We are hopeful that the New York State Court of Appeals will recognize its responsibility to review this very poorly reasoned decision.”

To read more coverage of this story, click here.

Bellantoni and Lovett

Well, well, well, the rumor was true after all.

Former Westchester County Judge Rory Bellantoni is working for, or at least with, Jonathan Lovett, the controversial civil rights lawyer from White Plains.

Bellantoni’s last day as a judge was Monday, June 8. This morning, he was spotted with Lovett at the Mount Vernon city courthouse.

The Republican ex-judge never told me where he was going after leaving the bench, but a few weeks ago I asked Lovett point-blank if Bellantoni was going to work at his firm, and he told me “No.”

That comment was included in a news story about Bellantoni’s departure.

Today, my colleague, Jonathan Bandler, confronted Lovett after seeing him and Bellantoni together. Lovett claimed that he didn’t lie. You see, he explained, the question was if Bellantoni was going to work at my firm, which at the time was Lovett and Gould. That firm no longer exists; Lovett split from his longtime legal partner, Jane Gould, and now is working with Bellantoni and two other attorneys.

Isn’t this why people don’t trust lawyers?

There are some interesting connections between Lovett and the ex-judge. In February, Bellantoni granted disability benefits in February to suspended Harrison police officer Ralph Tancredi, one of Lovett’s clients. Lovett successfully defended Tancredi against domestic violence charges after the officer’s ex-girlfriend refused to testify against him.

Both Lovett and Bellantoni have gotten public accolades from the Westchester Guardian, the local tabloid run by strip-club owner Sam Zherka, another controversial figure around these parts. Zherka lauded Bellantoni’s 2007 decision to overturn the 1997 murder conviction of Richard DiGuglielmo, based on the recanted testimony of one eyewitness.

The town of Harrison and the Westchester District Attorney’s office are appealing Bellantoni’s rulings on Tancredi and DiGuglielmo, respecitvely.

Judge Bellantoni and curious timing

As you first read here on Completely Legal, Westchester County Judge Rory Bellantoni is resigning from the bench as of June 8. Bellantoni handed in his resignation letter, I’m told, one day after he was harshly criticized by an upstate judge over his controversial ruling that allowed Richard DiGuglielmo of Dobbs Ferry to be released from prison 10 years after his murder conviction for fatally shooting a man outside of his family’s deli.

State Supreme Court Justice Patrick J. McGrath was dealing with a Rensselaer County killer who was using Bellantoni’s decision on the DiGuglielmo case to get his conviction overturned. The killer argued that, like DiGuglielmo, he couldn’t be guilty of depraved indifference murder because, in fact, he intentionally killed someone. The law was changed a few years ago to ban prosecutors from charging someone with intentional murder AND depraved-indifference murder, and the Rensselaer killer wanted the law to be applied retroactively as it was for DiGuglielmo, saying there was insufficient evidence to uphold his depraved indifference conviction.

McGrath noted that judges in Federal Court and State Appellate Court denied DiGuglielmo’s appeals. He also noted that in 2004, another state judge ruled that it was improper to challenge trial evidence after the jury handed down its verdict and denied DiGuglielmo’s 440 motion, which challenges deparaved indifference murder convictions based on intentional versus reckless conduct.

McGrath blasted Bellantoni, saying his decision to grant DiGuglielmo’s 440 motion “is without basis under New York law.” He went on to say this:

“Judge Bellantoni ignored the mandatory denial requirements … in granting the defendant’s 440 Motion. Judge Bellantoni was required by statute and precedent to deny the defendant’s second 440 motion in spite of how unjust it may have seemed to him.”

“A judge should follow the law, not create it,” McGrath concluded, and denied the Rensselaer killer’s appeal.

By granting the 440 motion, Bellantoni allowed a hearing to take place, where a witness recanted his testimony that DiGuglielmo’s father was in imminent danger by Charles Campbell, which DiGuglielmo, an off-duty NYPD officer, said promoted him to shoot and kill the man he thought was going to beat his father to death with a baseball bat. The witness said he felt that Dobbs Ferry police pressured him to change his story in 1997 to make DiGuglielmo seem more guilty. Based on that, Bellantoni threw out the 1998 conviction last year, and DiGuglielmo remains a free man today.

An appeal of Bellantoni’s decision is now before the Appellate Court. A hearing date has not yet been set.