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.

Panel Overrules 2 Judge Barlett Decisions Dismissing Criminal Cases

Judge Catherine Bartlett took a double loss this week when a state appeals panel overruled two of her rulings dismissing cases when she sat in Rockland criminal court.
These two rulings by Bartlett added to the bad feelings and strong disagreements on the law between her and Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe.
The Appellate Division determined Bartlett was wrong on the law and the facts when she essentially dismissed charges against Donovan Mais, accused of breaking into a woman’s bedroom and pulling covers off her body. The woman’s screams led the suspect to flee the house.
In her decision, Bartlett wrote the Clarkstown police arrested Mais based on his race and violated his constitutional rights.
The officer saw Mais walking out of a wooded area not far from the house a hour after the incident and he fit the general description of the suspect.
The panel found the officer legally detained Mais and upheld his subsequent statements to police and being identification by the woman on the street. The panel also upheld Bartlett’s suppressing a flashlight found during a frisk and clothing found in his house. The panel ruled the officer didn’t have cause to search Mais and the subsequent search warrant didn’t include clothing.
The decision reinstate the charges against Mais.
Read the Donovan Mais decision
In the second case, theAppellate Division also found Bartlett was wrong on the law when she threw out an indictment accusing David Read domestic violence charges involving his wife.
Bartlett found the indictment was defective. The panel reversed he and reinstated the indictment.
Read the DavidRead decision
Both appeals were argued by Itamar Yeger of the Rockland District Attorney’s Office.
Bartlett, an Orange County Republican appointed as a Court of Claims judge, no longer sits in the Rockland Courthouse nor handles criminal cases. She was transferred as of January back to Orange County.
Read more Saturday at lohud.com

Correction on Bartlett’s Decision Involving SV Man Charged with Gang Assault

Sept. 4 Correction:

Acting state Supreme Court Judge Catherine Bartlett didn’t find Victor Dempsey not guilty of criminal charges, but her ruling provided the same result of dismissing the charges.

Bartlett issued a trial order of dismissal involving the case against Dempsey, charged with first-degree gang assault and other charges. Her decision came weeks after the non-jury trial ended when the defense attorney asked that the case be dismissed for failing to sufficiently prove the charges.

Bartlett dismissed the indictment counts without a verdict on Wednesday because she viewed the evidence was insufficient to support the charges.

——-

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett today announced she found Victor Dempsey not guilty of first-degree gang assault charge resulting from a fight between two street gangs at a Spring Valley apartment building in December.

Six other men had pleaded guilty to the charge and received state prison sentences from Bartlett, who heard testimony and saw evidence, including surveillance tapes, in a non-jury trial by Dempsey.

After several weeks of delays, Bartlett announced her verdict but did not issue a written decision outlining her reasoning, other than to say the prosecution failed to prove its case. Bartlett had allowed statements and other evidence against Dempsey following pre-trial hearing.

Her decision is final and non-appealable. Defense lawyer David Narain didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment.

District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said he was working on a statement. Prosecutor Stephen Moore was on vacation and didn’t attend the verdict announcement.

Monsey Couple Accused of Welfare Fraud Dumps Lawyers

Days after being arrested, a Monsey couple has dumped the two lawyers hired to defend them against charges of welfare fraud and fraudulently obtaining federal rent subsidies to live in their house that’s appraised at $1.4 million.

John Edwards and David Goldstein – two of the county’s most prominent defense lawyers – got the heave-ho from Nathan and Mindy Misky prior to an appearance last night in Haverstraw Justice Court.

Edwards and Goldstein said they were not given a reason for their dismissal after appearing initially in court and helping the couple make $50,000 bail each following their arrest Tuesday morning on one count each of third-degree grand larceny and third-degree welfare fraud.

The couple was not represented by counsel last night. Justice John Grant adjourned the case until Aug. 13 after prosecutor Gary Lee Heavner told him that an investigation was continuing and a grand jury would not hear the case today, as planned.

The Rockland District Attorney’s Office has accused the couple of stealing $26,000 in federal Section 8 housing benefits between February, 2006 and April, 2007. The couple, who have 12 children, are accused of placing ownership of their mansion – six bedrooms and three baths – under a holding couple and then applying for rental vouchers as the tenants.

Prosecutors also accused them of fraudulently obtaining more than $49,000 in food stamps and Medicaid benefits through the Rockland Social Services Department between April, 2006 and February, 2008.

They also are accuses of providing false financial information to obtain benefits, including not reporting bank accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars and failing to report ownership in multiple properties valued at several millions dollars in Rockland and Sullivan counties., DA Thomas Zugibe has said.

The couple could face federal charges since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General is working with Rockland prosecutors fraud issues involving
HUD programs.

Murderer Belton Brims Loses Appeal

Murderer Belton Brims has lost a bid to vacate his New York prison sentence of 75 years to life for killing Arnold and Elaine Sohn in 1980 and escaping from the then-delapidated county jail in New City.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett denied Brims’ bid for a new hearing, siding with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office’s position that the former Spring Valley man’s contentions lacked merit.

The couple’s daughter, Sheryl Sohn, set up a robbery to repay a drug debt to Brims, a Spring Valley thug and drug dealer known as Panama. Sohn left a door unlocked to her family’s Jill Lane home so Brims could enter and steal $30,000 in heirlooms and jewelry. Sohn had her eye on her grandmother’s heirloom ring.

The Sohns came home unexpectedly early from a holiday party on Dec. 29, 1980. Brims and James Sheffield beat them and drowned Elaine Sohn in the bath tub.

Sheryl Sohn served 26 years of a sentence of 25 years to life for her role in the murder of her parents, being paroled in December 2006.

Brims, now 55, not the first member of his family to be imprisoned, also robbed a gas station in New Jersey. His New Jersey sentence could end between December 2009 and April 2018.

When released, he goes straight to New York to serve 50 years to life for the double murder of the Sohns and 25 years for escaping from the county jail. He escaped from the jail by sawing off the bars and made his way to Selma, Ala., where poiice captured him.

In court papers filed in state Supreme Court in Rockland, Brims argued his New York sentences should run concurrent to his New Jersey sentence because he began serving his New York jail term first.

Brims also claimed his escape conviction should be vacated because he was only “on loan” to New York for the murder trial during his New Jersey sentence, so his escape was technically from New Jersey custody.

Bartlett agreed with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office that Brims’ arguments were meritless. She denied his motion for a new hearing.

Prosecutors argued Brims sseparate convictions in New York and New Jersey should run consecutively, as originally ordered by the judge.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, Brims can’t become eligible for parole until 2055 for the murder and escape convictions.

Sheffield is working off a 52-year sentence for the double murder. He fled the night of the Sohn killings, and later talked his way out of police custody in New Jersey and Toronto. He was eventually captured in California and returned to Rockland.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said today that Brims will never be released from prison.

“This important victory will keep Mr. Brims behind bars, where he belongs, for the rest of his life,” Zugibe said.