Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Get Away with Murder, Part Two

Did I throw you off with the post in between this series?  Well, we're back at it.  Check out part one here.

The same day Samuel Ciapa's body was discovered by authorities, Alan Tomaski fled to West Virginia.  That's fantastic evidence called "consciousness of guilt."  In this case, however, it was the prosecution's undoing.  

A lengthy investigation ensued.  Tomaski and his co-defendant Hesse were prime suspects, but the case never developed to the point of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  The crime occurred in a suburban police department, with limited murders.  The case warranted constant attention from their detectives.  In a bigger police department, it might have moved to the back burner as newer homicides replaced it.  

Following his conviction for manslaughter in the first degree and sentence, Tomaski had time to do his research.  He stumbled upon a case similar to his.  In People v. Turner, the prosecutor asked for the lesser charge of manslaughter first on the murder second indictment.  Defense counsel objected on the ground that manslaughter was not proven during the trial.  The appellate court held it was ineffective assistance of counsel for the defense attorney not to object on the grounds that the statute of limitations had passed.  The court reversed the conviction and dismissed the indictment.

Tomaski had hope and sent the case to his lawyers.

Two private, high-powered attorneys with seventy years of criminal defense experience filed a motion. In it, they said that they were ineffective in their representation.  The People replied saying that they were very effective, because it was the strategy all along.  Allow the lower charge, so that they could appeal it later on and get the case dismissed.  Very shrewd, said the prosecutor.

The original trial court held a hearing and both defense attorneys took the stand in public.  Both admitted that they missed the issue, that they committed an error.  That they were not effective in their representation.  

The prosecutors countered and questioned about their legal experience and strategy.  They argued that this was a tactical decision and because of that, Tomaski shouldn't benefit.

The court seemed to agree with the defense attorneys.  That's when the prosecution remembered the statute of limitations has a flip side.  It can be extended in certain situations, like when a defendant is out of the state or imprisoned in another state.

They took out their calculators and went to work.  The murder was in August of 2002 and Tomaski was indicted in June of 2010.  That was almost eight years - a little less than three years over the statute of limitations.  If they could show Tomaski was out of the state for that period of time, it would be excludable and not counted against the five year period.

Tomaski was in and out of jail for the years he was in West Virginia.  There was no proof he was in New York.  A sigh of relief!

Wrong.  Grandma's journal surfaced.

If you recall from the first post, the police collected Tomaski's grandmother's journal when they searched her house.  Grandma told the defense attorneys to look in the journal.  In it, she described the dates when Tomaski was home in New York with her.  She described when he went to West Virginia and even when she picked him up and drove him back to New York.  

Time for another hearing.

Grandma testified and read the relevant portions of the journals.  It was undisputed that Tomaski was in West Virginia for over two years when he was in jail there.  The prosecution had to save around 150 days of disputed time when he was not in jail.  Grandma said he was in New York and the prosecution countered that grandma could not be credible because she was covering for Tomaski.  The judge listened to her testimony and read her journal.

And then, in July of 2012, the court decided that grandma was believable.  Her journal was collected before the statute of limitations issue was even a relevant issue.  It was difficult to believe she contrived the journal entries, which were in police custody, before anyone knew the statute of limitations would become the key.

After serving 18 months for the murder of Sam Ciapa, Tomaski walked out the front door.  He could not be tried again because of double jeopardy.  The jury acquitted on murder second and the statute of limitations barred manslaughter first.

And that is how you get away with murder.

Check out the articles, here and here.  


  1. This is an absolute travesty of "Justice", and if it were an election year with an actual viable candidate (lucky for him, there isn't), I think that DA Sedita would be at grave risk of losing the election.
    It Sedita, Bargnesi, and company stipulate that this appeal was a strategical ploy by Joel Daniels (almost universally accepted as one of the best defense attorneys in WNY) and Andy Lotempio (Again, highly regarded, and a former judge), then they have to acknowledge that they are "Homicide" prosecutors who were ignorant with regard to the statute of limitations regarding manslaughter, or were just trying to sneak one past the jurors, the judge, and the defense, because they were afraid of a loss because their proof wasn't going to go well.
    Either way, this is unacceptable, and this story should not be yesterday's news already. DA Sedita should be taking a beating in the media like no other in recent history.
    Lets not gloss over the fact that a violent, savage murderer is going free because of their mistake, not some dumb jury, ie Corasanti, OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony, etc...
    Whatever happened to presenting the evidence to the best of your ability, and let the jury do it's job? I know that juror's are typically people who aren't smart enough to get out of jury duty and suffer greatly from the CSI effect, but it isn't your job to compensate for that. Your job as any member of the criminal justice community is to do your job ethically, within the confines of the law, and let the chips fall where they may. Oh yeah, I forgot, we are talking about politicians here.
    One final thing. Metaphorically, If this were elementary school, Joel Daniels just beat up and took Frank Sedita's lunch money.....Twice!!!

  2. I can only empathize with those prosecutors. There is no worse feeling than calling a victim or their family to tell them the case was reversed due to some error and we have to do it all over again. But in those cases, at least you get another shot. You feel even worse when it was your fault and not due to some technical error the court overlooked.

    In this job, some cases you carry around your neck forever, like Atlas's stone. The weight creeps into your chest, waking you at night and reminding you of what happened. I am sure these prosecutors will always feel the error in this case.

  3. The ultimate result of this sort of case (if someone in my family had been the victim) would be the sight of me driving a backhoe down the street, with all that implies.