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Sep 2, 2009 1:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Oddone, Reister family in court for run-up to murder trial

Sep 2, 2009 1:26 PM

Dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt, and looking pale and more heavyset than in his mug shot from a year ago, Anthony Oddone sat solemnly in a Riverhead courtroom last week while his attorney, Sarita Kedia, and Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Denise Merrifield argued over the admissibility of evidence in his upcoming murder trial.

Among the issues the defense and prosecution were arguing over was whether the photo lineups used to identify Mr. Oddone as the man who put Andrew Reister in a fatal headlock at the Southampton Publick House on August 6, 2008, were tainted by improper procedures, and whether statements he made to a police officer before he was charged with a crime should be suppressed.

Judge C. Randall Hinrichs denied both defense motions, but he did agree to preclude comments Mr. Oddone made to Officer John Rodecker about drinking beer with friends prior to arriving at the Publick House on the night of the altercation. Mr. Oddone made those statements while he was being held for questioning at Southampton Village Police headquarters. He was brought there by Officer Rodecker, who had pulled over the cab Mr. Oddone was riding in near the 7-Eleven on North Sea Road less than a minute after a 911 call alerted police to the incident at the bar.

Judge Hinrichs said the comments Mr. Oddone made about drinking and his friends were not important to the officer’s attempts to discern whether the man he was speaking to was
the man reported to have fled the bar.

During her arguments for keeping the statements in evidence, Ms. Merrifield pointed out that Officer Rodecker had noted that Mr. Oddone had blood on his wrist—blood that testing later proved to be Mr. Reister’s.

As to the identifications of Mr. Oddone, Ms. Kedia—who spoke directly to her client only twice during the five hours of hearings on Wednesday—argued that Southampton Village Police and Suffolk County Homicide detectives tainted the process by showing a photograph of Mr. Oddone in the bar on the night of the altercation to at least one of the three men who later picked Mr. Oddone out of photo spreads and a face-to-face lineup. In other words, one of the people who identified Mr. Oddone saw a photo of him and his friends in the Publick House before the witness saw the lineup.

The photo showed Mr. Oddone and his friends—one of them Adam Cargill, who later told police he was the one who put Mr. Oddone in a taxi after the struggle that left Mr. Reister unconscious—inside the Southampton Publick House on the night of the fight, posed with broad smiles and their arms around each other’s shoulders. Police had apparently showed the photo to the three eyewitnesses to the bar fight, but they were asked to identify only Mr. Cargill from the photo. Ms. Merrifield said on Wednesday that police made no mention of Mr. Oddone to the witnesses with regard to the photo, though one of the men, when he saw it, pointed out Mr. Cargill and then pointed to Mr. Oddone and said, “That’s the guy that choked Andy,” referring to Mr. Reister, who was a Hampton Bays resident and a corrections officer.

Ms. Kedia also claimed that the officers conducting the identifications, Suffolk County Homicide detectives, had biased the witnesses by letting them know that they had correctly identified Mr. Oddone, and that other witnesses had done the same.

“There is no question that the officers who did the lineup confirmed to each witness that they had picked the same person as the other witnesses and that they had picked the ‘right’ person,” Ms. Kedia said.

Two of the eyewitness identifications were conducted on August 27, 2008, more than two weeks after the night of the fight.

Judge Hinrichs ruled that having been shown the photo with Mr. Oddone in it before being asked to identify him from an array of photos and in a lineup of men of similar appearance did not taint the identification process. While he offered mild criticism of the fact that a witness was shown the photo with Mr. Cargill in it before he was asked to identify Mr. Reister’s assailant, the judge said that the process was not flawed enough as to disallow the identifications in the case.

In the gallery on Wednesday sat Mr. Reister’s family, including his widow, Stacey, and nearly a dozen uniformed Suffolk County Department of Corrections officers, many of them former co-workers of Mr. Reister at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, which is next door to the Arthur M. Cromarty Criminal Courts Building, where Mr. Oddone’s trial will take place. At Mr. Oddone’s arraignment last summer, representatives of the corrections officers’ union said its officers would be present, in uniform, in the courtroom throughout the trial.

Defense attorneys have asked Judge C. Randall Hinrichs to forbid the officers from doing so during the trial, so as not to bias the jury. The judge has not yet ruled on the request, and officers present on Wednesday said they still plan to be in the courtroom, in uniform, any time the case is on the docket.

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