The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Richard Diguglielmo: Setting The Facts Straight
Last Wednesday, January 2nd, in a front page article in The Journal News, entitled, ‘08 Brings Hope For DiGuglielmo, some statements were made that this reporter, who attended every one of eight days of hearings before County Court Judge Rory J. Bellantoni, believes deserve some clarification and correction.
For one thing, while it is true that the 440.10 Petition filed by former New York City Transit Police Officer Richard DiGuglielmo was based
upon the sworn statements of Michael Dillon, who had recanted his final statement to the Dobbs Ferry Police as well as his statement at
trial, the following must be kept in mind:
• Richard DiGuglielmo’s petition was filed well more than a year prior to the evidentiary hearing conducted by Judge Bellantoni.
• At the hearing, Mr. Dillon’s testimony was quite clear about the fact that, although his statement to Dobbs Ferry Police on the night of the tragic incident, October 3, 1996, was identical to what he told News 4 New York, that Charles Campbell, who had already struck Of-ficer DiGuglielmo’s middle-aged father twice “very hard” with a metal baseball bat, was swinging the bat toward the older man’s head at the moment he was shot three times, his final statement given to Dobbs Ferry Police about 1:00 a.m. October 8th was substantially different
because, for at least three nights in between, he was taken from his job at CTI in Mamaroneck by all three detectives of the Dobbs Ferry
Department as well as Chief George Longworth, and transported, like a suspect, to their headquarters, and grilled for hours until he said what they wanted to hear from him.
• Having altered his original, honest, and accurate account, Dillon told Judge Bellantoni that he felt “stuck” with the account that he gave in the wee hours of October 8th and thus repeated it, at trial, fearing what might be done to him if he gave his original, accurate account that the shooting was clearly “self-defense.”
• In addition to Mr. Dillon, a Mr. James White, who also witnessed the incident from start to finish and had told Dobbs Ferry Police that it was “self-defense” was likewise harassed and treated like a suspect, but refused to alter his account, even after numerous interrogation sessions similar to what Mr. Dillon reported at the hearing. Mr. White was never called as a witness.
• Dobbs Ferry Detective Lieutenant Guarnieri, testifying for the Respondent District Attorney’s Office, attempted to deny any knowledge of the repeated questioning of Dillon and White between October 3 and October 8, 1996, and was not credible.
The Journal News article quoted Attorney Debra Cohen, who it identified as “representing the Campbell family” but failed to inform readers that Cohen and her attorney-husband, Randolph McLaughlin, who attended the criminal trial as spectators, and were involved in the 52 weeks of paid pickets under Al Sharpton outside the DiGuglielmo’s deli, had proceeded, following that trial, to collect $460,000 for William Campbell, brother of Charles Campbell, and themselves, in a Wrongful Death civil action.
Under the circumstances, Debra Cohen’s statement, quoted in the article, “There is no reason for the decision (the conviction) not to stand,” is obviously self-serving. To state, as the article goes on to do, “The deli had a history of fretting over their spaces,” immediately followed by, “Campbell was confronted by three men, including DiGuglielmo and his father,” is misleading. Given that, firstly, the elder DiGuglielmo had asked Campbell to park a few feet away in the same lot, but not in front of the store window. And, only upon Campbell’s refusal did he then place a “No Parking” sticker on Campbell’s window as the Dobbs Ferry Police had instructed him to do, long before the incident.
Secondly, and more significantly, to state, “Campbell was confronted by three men,” was a complete misrepresentation of the facts given
that it was undisputed, even at trial, that Charles Campbell, upon being told by the “pizza shop owner”, a man involved in illegal drug distribution, that a sticker had been put on his car window, ran across the street, fists flying, to pummel the elder DiGuglielmo, whose son Richard, and son-in-law Robert Errico, happened to be inside the store and came out to protect the father.
It is somewhat surprising that The Journal News saw fit to give vent to the sentiments of Attorney Debra Cohen but failed to contact any
of Mr. DiGuglielmo’s attorneys for their statement. Nevertheless, the article does acknowledge James White’s testimony at the hearing, stating, “During the hearing, Dillon’s accusation of police intimidation was supported by another witness, James White, who said Dobbs Ferry Police tried pressuring him into changing his account.”
However, while accurately reporting that Mr. White refused to change his account of what he had witnessed on the evening of October
3, 1996 in the parking lot of the Venice Deli, the statement that he “was considered unreliable by both Prosecutors and Defense lawyers
and was never called to testify,” was completely incorrect. The fact was Prosecutors knew that the Dobbs Ferry Police had failed, even after
repeated long interrogations, to get White to waver from his original statement and were, of course, not about to call a witness who would
give a truthful account of a “shooting in self-defense.”
As for the Defense attorneys’ unwillingness to call Mr. White as a witness at trial, that had to do with his stated unwillingness to meet
with them prior to trial, in deference to his 76-year-old father who was in failing health, who was a former FBI agent, and who forbid him from doing so. As explained by Defense counsel Steven Lewis, at the hearing, firstly, the Prosecution had withheld any information about White’s and Dillon’s repeated interrogations by Dobbs Ferry Police from the Defense in Discovery. And, secondly, no Defense attorney would ever put on a witness, at trial, who had flatly refused to meet with him prior to testifying.
In reality, there were really only three eyewitnesses to the entire incident, including the shooting, all of which is estimated to have taken
no more than 90 seconds. Those three witnesses are Michael Dillon and Jimmy White, both of whom testified at the recent hearing, called
by Judge Bellantoni, as well as Kevin O’Donnell, who was seated in the CTI van next to Dillon, directly viewing the incident. Mr. O’Donnell, while unwilling to come to New York from Florida, had nonetheless corroborated to Defense investigators, from his own experience, the accounts of repeated interrogations by Dobbs Ferry Police testified to by Dillon and White.
The Guardian has been advised that attorneys for Mr. DiGuglielmo have submitted a Post Hearing Brief, of just under 50 pages, and the
Westchester District Attorney’s Office has submitted one of approximately 100 pages. A decision, with regard to the need for a new trial
based upon the evidence presented in the eight-day hearing, is expected in open court on January 30.