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Mar 26, 2014 10:07 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Death Of Judge Opened Door For Overturning Of Oddone Conviction

Mar 26, 2014 11:00 AM

For all the years of wrangling by legal eagles, the reams of expert testimony, the parsing of facts by juries and judges, the ultimate resolution of Anthony Oddone’s deadly run-in with Andrew Reister came down, in the end, to the swing of chance.

Mr. Oddone was convicted by a jury, sentenced to 22 years in prison by a judge, had that sentence reduced by a panel of appeals judges and then had his attorney’s request for further appeal rejected by the state’s highest court.

In a criminal matter, an application for leave to appeal, as it is known, to the state Court of Appeals is a defendant’s last chance to have his or her case judged one last time. The application, a written dissection of the legal concerns in the case, and the counter from the prosecution, are submitted and reviewed by one of the seven judges sitting on the Court of Appeals, who determines whether the case warrants the entire court hearing the case. The Court of Appeals reviews only so-called “matters of law” with regard to cases, or issues in which a legal standard might not have been upheld or applied during the prosecution of the case.

In Mr. Oddone’s case, the appeal filed by attorney Marc Wolinsky in early 2012 landed on the desk of Judge Theodore Jones. Judge Jones had served on the court since 2007 and had taken an active role in court efforts to prevent wrongful convictions. But he declined to recommend that Mr. Oddone’s appeal be heard by the court.

The case, essentially, was over. Mr. Oddone would remain in prison for the remainder of his sentence, another 12 years.

There was one more shot—a long shot. The law allows for the defense attorney to pen a letter of request to the judge for reconsideration, a chance for Mr. Wolinsky to respond to the reasons the judge had cited in rejecting the appeal application. Such reconsiderations are rarely successful. It is not known whether Judge Jones ever read the arguments for reconsideration.

“The request for reconsideration was on his desk when he died,” Mr. Wolinsky said of the events that led him to be in the hallway outside the courtroom following Mr. Oddone’s release last week. “The judge who took over his cases, took a look and came to a different ... conclusion.”

Judge Jones suffered a heart attack at his home in Rockland County on November 6, 2012. Almost exactly one year later, on November 14, 2013, Mr. Wolinsky presented his critique of Mr. Oddone’s 2009 trial to the full Court of Appeals’s panel of judges.

A month later the judges dismissed the conviction, citing the trial judge’s decision to not allow defense attorney Sarita Kedia to refresh the memory of a witness about statements she had made regarding the fatal incident a year earlier.

On December 23, 2013, Mr. Oddone was released from prison on $500,000 bail. In February he pleaded guilty to the same charge he’d been convicted of, to avoid a second trial, after an agreement with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office and Andrew Reister’s family assured that he would not return to prison.

“Back when they filed the original appeal we had won, this should not have happened,” Stacey Reister, Mr. Reister’s widow, said of the strange sequence of events that led to last week’s final day in court. “The judge dies and a new judge says they should hear it. Just pure dumb luck. Unbelievable.”

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