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Mar 19, 2014 9:53 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Oddone's Freedom A Release For Victim's Widow As Well

Mar 19, 2014 11:56 AM

Stacey Reister’s nightmare began before dawn on August 8, 2008, when she was awakened with the news that her husband of nearly 20 years had been attacked in a bar where he was working, and was in a coma.

On Wednesday afternoon—five years, seven months, one week and four days later—she was hoping the ordeal would finally come to an end for herself and her two children.

In a Riverhead courtroom on Wednesday, Anthony Oddone, the man who jumped on 40-year-old Andrew Reister’s back and killed him with a choke hold in the taproom of the Southampton Publick House on the fateful night, was slated to be sentenced for manslaughter in the first degree, to which he plead guilty last month. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years—a term that Ms. Reister once prayed Mr. Oddone would serve.

But Mr. Oddone will instead walk free on Wednesday, his punishment the five years and four months he spent in custody from the night of the fight until just before this past Christmas.

And that, Ms. Reister said this week, is okay, if it means an end to the ordeal.

“On the one hand, I would love him to pay every day for the rest of his life, but on the other, I have my children to consider, and they’re my first priority,” Ms. Reister said on Tuesday, the eve of what should be the final day in the drawn-out case. “They were too young to understand it the first time around—this time would be different. I couldn’t put them through that.”

Mr. Oddone was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in December 2009, after a nearly two-month-long trial and nine days of jury deliberation. The judge in the case, C. Randall Hinrichs, who also was to oversee Wednesday afternoon’s proceedings, sentenced him to 22 years in prison, but, in 2010, an appellate court reduced the sentence to 17 years.

Then, in September 2013, the State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, after initially rejecting the case for appeal, overturned the conviction, saying that Judge Hinrichs improperly barred Mr. Oddone’s defense attorney from reminding a witness about the duration of the headlock that ended up killing Mr. Reister. He lost consciousness that night, never regained it, and died three days later.

Ms. Reister this week recalled the day news of the State Court of Appeals ruling came down in the fall, throwing out the conviction. She was in her classroom at an East Quogue preschool when a friend called her. She fell to the floor.

“Everything came back from day one, like it was happening all over again,” Ms. Reister recalled on Tuesday. “I completely lost it. I was devastated. They had to pick me up off the floor.”

Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Annie Oh, who had been co-counsel on the prosecution’s side during the initial trial and had argued the people’s side of the appeal, called minutes later. The D.A.’s office, which has declined to comment on any part of the appeal process, was resolute to take up a renewed prosecution of Mr. Oddone and push for a second trial, Ms. Reister said.

But with Mr. Oddone free on $500,000 bail since late December, the defense would certainly not have had much incentive to make the path to trial an easy or quick one.

“The D.A. was absolutely committed to going through with a new trial, and there wasn’t any doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be convicted again,” she recalled on Tuesday. “We met for hours—they put all the options on the table, what the terms would be for each charge. A plea deal never came up.”

Mr. Oddone’s attorneys brought the plea deal to the table. At trial, if convicted a second time, Mr. Oddone faced a maximum of an additional nine years in prison, the time remaining on his previous pared-down sentence. Ms. Reister said the offer was for Mr. Oddone to plead guilty to the highest charge, if the judge was inclined to sentence him only to the time he already served.

“I was very torn,” Ms. Reister said, “but I realized I couldn’t do it to my kids. I am Mom first. Their piece of mind is more important than my own.

“The first time David was 8, he was just learning to read,” she continued, referring to the two children she was preparing to pick up from school. “This time around, he’s doing current event articles—and we’re the current events. Mary, she is just starting to put together that she doesn’t have a dad. It’s very difficult. To take all that and put a trial on top of it? I couldn’t.”

The decision to accept the plea deal essentially assured Mr. Oddone that he had spent his last day in prison. But Ms. Reister said she was surprised to find a new freedom for herself as well.

“It really felt like I was being released from prison—it made the sun shine a little brighter,” she said. “I suddenly didn’t have to worry about the next appeal, and the next trial, and the next this or that, and everyone talking about it everywhere I went.”

Five years of being a victim, of being pitied, of engaging in a fight that would have no winner, as Ms. Reister views it, should have come to an end on Wednesday afternoon. For all the gushing appreciation she showers on her friends and neighbors, on the Suffolk County corrections officers’ union, and on the D.A.’s office for fighting with and supporting her through the months of misery and years of struggle, having it all finally come to an end will be the biggest favor to her.

Trips to the grocery store that end in tears simply because one well-meaning, caring and concerned acquaintance shows the genuine anguish he or she feels for her, or lets out a gasp of condolences, have been the hardest part of the recent months, most notably since the conviction was overturned just before the holidays.

“I am so blessed for this community and the support they have given, and the expression of sympathy, which is genuine and comes from a good place,” Ms. Reister said. “But I need it all to go away.”

And with Mr. Oddone expected to walk out of the courthouse on Wednesday afternoon, trailed by a court order for five years of parole supervision, and into the arms of his waiting family, Ms. Reister says she hopes some of the most biting effects of what he did five years, seven months, one week and four days earlier will wander out of her life as well.

As for Mr. Oddone, who offered a crestfallen “I’m sorry” to her in court after being convicted by a jury four years ago, Ms. Reister offers no interest in how he leads his life going forward, nor what contribution his freedom might allow him to make down the road.

“I’d rather worry about myself—I don’t really care what happens to him,” she said. “My priority is our own healing and sanity. He’s not worth my time. I have more important things to do.”

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Ms. Reister is a class act. Her children are fortunate to have her as their Mom after the loss of their Father.
By suzer67 (51), nanuet on Mar 19, 14 9:44 PM
God Bless you Stacey and your lovely children
By Talbot77 (53), southampton on Mar 20, 14 1:43 PM
So glad this is over. You deserve nothing but the best
By seatv (1), southampton on Mar 20, 14 1:45 PM
Yes...i think the ENTIRE Reister Family handled it with dignity and grace... not hard for parents to sit and listen to that on a daily basis of how someone did that to their son! No one will replace their son!
By AnonymousSgh (183), Sag Harbor on Mar 22, 14 4:05 PM
*correction: Not EASY
By AnonymousSgh (183), Sag Harbor on Mar 22, 14 4:07 PM