The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
The Wheels Of Justice Continue To Turn For Richard DiGuglielmo
Westchester County Court, White Plains
Judge Rory J. Bellantoni Presiding
Last Monday morning, November 19, the twice-postponed Post-Dispositional Evidentiary Hearing, scheduled by County Court Judge Rory Bellantoni in response to the 440.10 Application of Richard DiGuglielmo, presently serving a 20-year-to-life sentence for the Depraved Indifference Murder of Charles Campbell, got underway.
One of the more controversial and improbable outcomes in a long series of suspect prosecutions under the 12-year reign of former Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, herself the subject of a federal investigation, the conviction of New York City Transit Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo for the killing of a bat-wielding assailant who was beating the of-ficer’s father, has defied legal sensibility for more than a decade.
Many have recognized the prosecution as one of political opportunity for Pirro, who tried the October 3, 1996 tragedy in the press for a whole year, employing the services of ‘rabble-rouser’ Al Sharpton, and paid busloads of pickets, the entire time before coming to trial, just before running for re-election in November 1997.
Officer DiGuglielmo, his middle-aged father, and his brother-in-law, were all acquitted of Second Degree Assault. Additionally, Officer DiGuglielmo was acquitted of Second Degree Intentional Murder; but, through a series of incorrect jury instructions, and twisted and turned witness testimony, he was convicted under the theory of Depraved Indifference Murder, a crime for which he could not be convicted today.
One of the witnesses, Michael Dillon, then 20, who immediately following the incident, told Channel 4 News, “You see your father getting beat with a bat; you’re going to do something about it. So it was self-defense from where I saw it.” That witness gave sworn statements to investigators for defendant DiGuglielmo, more than a year ago, that are the basis for the present 440.10 Motion before Bellantoni. Those statements, that allege that
between his first statement to Dobbs Ferry Police the evening of October 3, 1996, in which he described an act of self-defense, and his last statement, given in the wee hours of October 8, there were at least two other interrogations by that police department, involving harrassment by two or more officers coming to his job and
taking him in the back of a marked police car to Dobbs Ferry Police Headquarters for several hours of interrogation, three nights in a row, until he changed his account to one that satisfied their needs.
Prior to the commencement of testimony, Judge Bellantoni ruled on an informal request by the Rivertowns Enterprise Newspaper to use a camera and recording device in the courtroom, denying it. The Judge then declared, “We are here today to take the testimony from Mr. Michael Dillon as to whether there was any
undue influence exerted on him between his first and last statements.”
Attorney Andrew Schapiro, of the law firm Mayer, Brown in New York City, who has been Mr. DiGuglielmo’s pro bono attorney for more than eight years, called his first witness, Michael Dillon, now 31, to the stand.
Schapiro inquired, “Mr. Dillon, on October 3, 1996, did you have the occasion to sign a statement?” Dillon responded, “Yes.” Schapiro then asked, “On October 7, 1996, did you have the occasion to again sign a statement?” Dillon replied, “Yes.” Schapiro then asked, “Was that statement accurate?” The witness
After establishing that Dillon had given an interview immediately following the incident, to Channel 4 Television News, and voir diring the videotape containing a clip from the interview of October 3, 1996, that tape was played and viewed by everyone in the courtroom, including some 2 dozen family, friends and supporters of DiGuglielmo on one side of the courtroom and an equal number of same for the family of decedent Charles Campbell, on the other.
Following the tape, Mr. Schapiro asked Dillon to read from the statement he gave to Dobbs Ferry Police on October 3, 1996, shortly after the shooting. Describing Officer DiGuglielmo’s actions, he read, “When he reached to within three or four feet of him, the Black male was still swinging the bat.”
Schapiro asked, “Did the police question you again?” The witness said, “Yes.” Schapiro continued, “How did you learn they were looking for you?” Dillon responded, “They showed up at my job.”
Schapiro probed deeper, “Did you go anywhere with the police?”
Dillon answered, “Yes, to the police precinct in Dobbs Ferry.” Asked how long he was questioned for, Mr. Dillon estimated about two hours. He went on to explain that the Dobbs Ferry Police showed up three more times at his job, each time reporting the same scenario, each time transporting him in the back of a police car, essentially handling him like a suspect rather than a witness. He described the police interrogations as an “intimidating atmosphere.”
He acknowledged that family members, his father, his older sister “thought the Dobbs Ferry Police Department’s behavior toward him was strange.” Bringing out a copy of the last of several statements taken from him by the
police, attorney Schapiro asked Dillon, “The October 7, 1996 statement, was that in your words?” Dillon responded, “No.”
At this point, Assistant District Attorney Timothy Ward sought to voir-dire on the statement, which was actually produced after many hours of interrogation at about 1am October 8, 1996. Granted permission by the Judge to proceed, Ward asked Dillon to read the entire statement to himself and then, upon the witness’ completion of the task, Ward asked, “Any words added or subtracted by Dobbs Ferry Police?” Dillon answered, “No.” Ward then asked, “At the bottom where it says deponent, did you sign that?” Dillon responded, “Yes.”
Schapiro who now continued his direct examination asked, “Is this statement in your own words?” The witness answered, “No.” Going further, Schapiro got specific, “What does this statement say about whether the bat was swinging?” Dillon responded, “It says he was not swinging the bat.”
Attorney Schapiro then asked, “How did you feel about that?” The response from Dillon was, “I was feeling intimidated and tired.” Schapiro then asked, “Are you nervous today?” Dillon answered, “Extremely.”
Schapiro: “Do you want to be here?”
Schapiro: (Referring to an investigator for the Defense) “A er you signed a statement for Mr. Duno, did anyone from the DA’s office show up at your home in Harrison?”
Dillon: “Yes. DA investigator Ed Murphy, with a gentleman I don’t know.”
Dillon then described going to the DA’s Office and going over the October 8, 1996 statement for one and a half hours.
Mr. Schapiro now produced the e-mail that Dillon sent to Defense Investigator Duno following that meeting at the DA’s Office with Assistant DA Ward, Investigator Murphy, and another DA attorney.
ADA Ward immediately objected to exposure of the e-mail, but was overruled by Judge Bellantoni. Ward then began to voir-dire with, “You were concerned...” at which point Bellantoni asked, “Are you going to voire-dire or cross-examine him?” Ward immediately backed off and discontinued his line of questioning.
Mr. Dillon now told the Court that he felt intimidated at his August 11 meeting with Ward and Murphy at the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, amongst other reasons, because Mr. Ward had asked him if he was sure he wanted to get reinvolved in the case given that “in 1996 it was a race issue, and I would be opening myself up again.”
ADA Ward now began his cross-examination of witness Michael Dillon, attempting to soften the impact of what Dillon had just accused him of doing at the August 11 meeting. Ward asked, “Do you remember who was at that meeting with you at the DA’s office in August?” Dillon answered, “You and Mr. Murphy, and another person.”
There followed several questions designed to shake Dillon from his certainty and his feelings toward what had occurred on August 11, but the witness held firm. Finally, getting nowhere with his line of questioning, Ward asked, “Do you know why you are here today?” Dillon said, “Yes.” Ward challenged, “Why are you here?”
Dillon shot back, “To tell the truth.”
It was now 1pm, and Mr. Ward was grateful to break for lunch. As matters turned out, the hearing did not resume after lunch because of an unexpected intervening event precipitated by Administrative Judge Frances
The hearing into recent statements by Michael Dillon, key witness in the trial of Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo in 1997, alleging that the statement he gave at trial that coincided with the last of five consecutive statements extracted from him by the Dobbs Ferry Police was not accurate as regarded what he actually witnessed, and initially reported, concerning the conduct of bat-wielding assailant Charles Campbell on the evening of October 3, 1996 and Defendant DiGuglielmo’s response to him, was called for in response to the 440.10 Motion brought by attorneys for Mr. DiGuglielmo more than a year ago.
Mr. Dillon is not the only witness or potential trial witness who has indicated that the Dobbs Ferry Police engaged in unlawful intimidation and witness-turning in a “full court press” effort to get statements and testimony for trial that would support the confabulated version of events by Jeanine Pirro in her effort to turn a clear case of self-defense, a justifiable homicide, into a bias crime simply because the enraged assailant was a Black man. the so-called “Deli Case”, much like the “Strike Zone” case, involving Anthony DiSimone, are two of the more well-known and egregious examples of Mrs. Pirro’s “prosecutions of political opportunity.”
It is most unfortunate that, once again, Mrs. Pirro’s successor sees fit to defend the extreme prosecutorial misconduct that resulted in Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo’s conviction based upon false testimony, in reality, suborned perjury, just as in the case of Anthony DiSimone, who was released from prison earlier this year, on a Writ of Habeus Corpus from Federal Court when the Westchester DA was compelled, seconds before a similar evidentiary hearing in Federal Court, to acknowledge that she was withholding 376 pages and 52 boxes of exculpatory material, including a confession by the actual killer, of Louis Balancio Jr. in 1994.
Northern Westchester RoundUp
Compiled by Catherine Wilson
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