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

Convicted mayor called for jury duty

Put this one in the “irony” file.

White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley, who declined to be tried by jury on domestic violence charges and was convicted instead at a bench trial, was called for jury duty today on the third floor of the Westchester County Courthouse.

Bradley should be well acquainted with the courthouse by now. He has made numerous appearances there since his arrest a year ago. It was where, after a lengthy trial, he was found guilty of attempted assault and criminal contempt of court, both misdemeanors, and three counts of harassment, a violation. It’s also the same building where his divorce proceedings are being held.

Today, Bradley was among more than two dozen other members of the public who were called for the murder retrial of Selwyn Days, a former Mount Vernon man accused of killing Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home health worker Betty Ramcharan in 1996. The trial is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

I’m guessing that Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit, who will preside over the Days trial, isn’t going to let him be on the jury.

Jury selection begins in Selwyn Days retrial for 1996 Eastchester slayings

After a winter break, Completely Legal is back with news from the courts of the Lower Hudson Valley.

Today, jury selection began in the retrial of Selwyn Days (left), charged with two counts of murder and related charges for the brutal 1996 slayings of Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his home healthcare worker, Betty Ramcharan. The trial was supposed to start in November before acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Holdman. It was postponed and reassigned to Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit. It’s expected to last more than a month.

This will be Days’ third trial for the same crime; the first one in 2003 ended in a hung jury and the second in 2004 ended with a conviction that was overturned in December 2009, after four witnesses came forward and said Days was in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21, 1996 — the time frame in which authorities said the killings took place.

Days, a former Mount Vernon resident, is accused of killing 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 Harris of sexually abusing her a few months before the killings. Her son, who has 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 crime. 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 him with a baseball bat after he used a racial slur, then stabbed him with a kitchen knife, which he used to slash Ramcharan’s throat when she walked in.

A convict who said Selwyn Days admitted in prison to killing Harris and Ramcharan is expected to testify for the prosecution. Days’ alibi witnesses, who prosecutors say have close ties to Stella Days, will testify for the defense.

Days’ appeal is being championed by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative and led by Manhattan defense lawyer Roberto Finzi. They claim Days was coerced into confessing to the crime by detectives who took advantage of his low IQ.

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.

Jailhouse snitch can testify in Eastchester double-homicide retrial, judge says

A prison inmate who said Selwyn Days (left) confessed two years ago to the 1996 killing an Eastchester millionaire and his home health aide will be allowed testify against him at his murder retrial this fall.

The decision by acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Holdman could strengthen the prosecution’s case against Days, a former Mount Vernon resident who is being tried for the third time for the double slaying.

Days’ defense team tried to prevent a jury from hearing testimony  from inmate Scott Irwin, saying he was a “roving agent” of the government —namely the Westchester County District Attorney’s office — which violated Days’ right to counsel. But the judge found that Scott Irwin, who is serving a seven-year sentence for robbery and attempted arson, came forward on his own.

“It was through the bars of adjoining cells that Mr. Irwin and the defendant became friends and eventual confidants,” Holdman wrote.

Days, now 45, has been incarcerated for nine years, since he was arrested in the killings. His appeal is being led by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative and lawyers from two Manhattan firms. Days’ lawyers say they are prepared with not only an alibi defense but also psychological evidence showing that his confession to police was false.

At an Aug. 10 hearing in Westchester County Court, Irwin said he met Days at the Elmira Correctional Facility in September 2008. Within a month, Irwin said, Days confessed to his involvement and gave details of the slayings. He said Days was confident he would be acquitted and would become a millionaire after he sued the county.

Irwin also said Days asked him to kill his ex-girlfriend, who told police to look at Days for the two homicides and testified at his first trial that he bragged to her about the killings. He contacted Westchester prosecutors in January 2009.

The bodies of Harris, 79, and Ramcharan, 35, were discovered in 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. A plastic bag was over her head and an electric cord was around her neck.

Days’ mother, Stella, used to work for Harris and accused him of sexually abusing her several months before the killings. Her son, who had a criminal record, was not arrested until February 2001, after he violated a protection order by going to his ex-girlfriend’s home. The woman suggested to police they look at him for the two homicides.

No forensic evidence linked Days to the scene. Prosecutors relied on a taped confession in which Days acknowledged going to Harris’ home to confront him about the abuse allegations. He said he hit Harris with a bat and stabbed him, and slashed Ramcharan’s throat when she walked into the room.

His first trial in 2003 ended in a hung jury. He was convicted a year later and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

Then in December, a judge threw out Days’ conviction after four witnesses testified that he was in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to 21, 1996 — the timeframe in which aurthorities said the slayings took place.

Days is currently being held on $300,000 bail at the county jail in Valhalla. Irwin is scheduled to be released on July 20, 2011.

Judge rejects suppression request for Selwyn Days

tjndc5-5b3dn4w4bjklloe86jt_thumbnail A jury will get to hear Selwyn Days’ incriminating statements when he is re-tried for a third time in the brutal 1996 slayings of an Eastchester millionaire and the man’s home health aide, a judge ruled last week.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel denied motions by Days’ defense lawyers to suppress statements that Days made to police on Feb. 15-16, 2001. The judge said Days had a “full and fair opportunity” to litigate all the issues at a suppression hearing in 2002 and that the defense’s argument of newly-discovered evidence was “without merit.”

Days’ defense team also lost their request to have an expert testify about false confessions. The judge wrote: “(S)uch testimony has been held to be inadmissible by New York courts. New York courts have held that false confessions and circumstances surrounding such confessions are within the understanding of the average juror.

However, Wetzel did order a “limited purpose” hearing to determine if two of Days’ fellow inmates were acting as agents of law enforcement when Days allegedly made incriminating statements to them while behind bars. The defense claims the inmates elicited information from Days to get their own sentences reduced.

Days, now 45, has been incarcerated for nine years, since he was arrested in the killings of Archie Harris and Betty Ramcharan. He was convicted of both murders in 2004 after his first trial ended with a hung jury.

That conviction was overturned last year, when four defense witnesses, including a magistrate judge and a police officer, testified that they saw Days in Goldsboro, N.C., between Nov. 19 and 21, 1996, when it is believed the victims were killed. Following the hearings, Judge Jeffrey Cohen ruled that Days’ trial lawyer had not done enough to investigate an alibi: that he was in North Carolina when the crime was committed. He also granted Days’ claim of ineffective counsel, finding that defense lawyer Christopher Chan had failed to take advantage of DNA evidence to raise reasonable doubt.

The bodies of Harris, 79, and Ramcharan, 35, were discovered in Harris’ Berkley Circle home Nov. 21, 1996. Harris was on a blood-soaked carpet next to a bloody baseball bat in his bedroom; Ramcharan was in a bathroom, next to a kitchen knife, a plastic bag over her head and an electric cord around her neck.

Days’ mother, Stella, used to work for Harris and accused him of sexually abusing her several months before the killings. Her son, who had a lengthy criminal record, was not arrested until February 2001, after he violated a protection order by going to his ex-girlfriend’s home. After hours of questioning by detectives, Days acknowledged going to Harris’ home to confront him about the sexual abuse allegations. He said Harris hit him with a baseball bat and that he took the bat from the man after pretending to be unconscious. He said he hit Harris with it and stabbed him, and then slashed Ramcharan in the throat when she walked into the room.

No forensic evidence linked Days to the bloody scene; prosecutors relied on the videotaped confession. Assistant Westchester County District Attorneys Perry Perrone and Christine O’Connor will prosecute Days in his third trial. Days will be defneded by a team of lawyers led by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative.

He is due back in court on May 21.

Decision delayed in wrongful conviction case

tjndc5-5b3dn4w4bjklloe86jt_thumbnailWestchester County Judge Jeffrey A.Cohen has not yet decided if he will free convicted murderer Selwyn Days or keep Days in prison for decades to come.

Cohen was expected to release his decision tomorrow, six months after presiding over a wrongful conviction hearing to overturn Days’ conviction for the 1996 slayings of an Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his live-in home health aide Betty Ramcharan. Days was convicted of both murders and is serving 50 years to life.

Two of Days’ lawyers now say the case has been moved to Jan. 26 when Cohen, who will be a state Supreme Court justice in Orange County by then, could render a written decision or postpone the decision yet again.

Days’ new defense team says the conviction should be tossed out because of new testimony from four alibi witnesses who, together, place Days in North Carolina from Nov. 19 to 21 in 1996 – the time frame in which the slayings occurred. They also claim that new forensic tests performed on the knife that killed Ramcharan found DNA from the real killers – two unknown men. Investigators had never found forensic evidence linking Days to the crime scene.

But prosecutors said that all of the alibi witnesses had close ties to his mother, Stella Days, and should not be believed. They also argued that tiny pieces of random DNA on the murder weapon aren’t enough to dismiss the jury’s verdict – or ignore Days’ confession to the crime.

Days, now 44, was convicted largely due to a videotaped confession in which he told police he beat and stabbed the pair after confronting Harris about sex-abuse allegations lodged by his mother, a former caregiver. Days’ defense said detectives took advantage of his low IQ and coerced a confession from him that was a “disjointed, undeveloped account” of the crime. Manhattan defense lawyer Glenn Garber, who has taken the case as part of his Exoneration Initiative project, has accused Days’ trial lawyer of incompetence.

We’ll have to wait and see what Cohen decides.

Photo: Selwyn Days