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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last-minute shifts delay rabbi's trial on murder charges

GOSHEN — Prosecutors are ready for the murder-for-hire double-homicide trial of Victor Koltun, and the judge was prepared to start picking a jury. Instead, on Monday, Koltun got a new lawyer and an order for a new competency exam.

Koltun, 42, of Brooklyn, is the last defendant standing in the Nov. 4 slayings of former Lloyd cop Francis Piscopo, 49, and his nephew Gerald Piscopo, 28, of Highland. Koltun's co-defendants, Craig Fennell, 52, of Manhattan, and Frank Lewis, 57, of Brooklyn, pleaded guilty on Oct. 13 to conspiracy charges.

Koltun, at Orange County Court on Monday for a pre-trial hearing, told his court-appointed lawyer, James Winslow, that he intended to file a complaint against him. Winslow reported this development to Judge Jeffrey Berry, who had him read Koltun's written complaint into the court record.

Koltun's letter accused Winslow of failing to raise issues about the rabbi's frontal lobe epilepsy, bipolar disorder or multiple head trauma, which the rabbi believes could mitigate the case from first-degree murder to manslaughter. Koltun accused Winslow of not properly arguing for lower bail based on the rabbi's poorly controlled diabetes and seizures. Berry noted that Winslow made those arguments.

Koltun complained that his health has worsened in Orange County Jail, and he says he's been harassed there because he is a rabbi and a devout Hasidic Jew. He claimed the jail has not provided proper kosher food, so he has not eaten since Oct. 12.

Reached by phone, Undersheriff Kenneth T. Jones said he's unaware of any hunger strike by Koltun, and the jail abides by state requirements to provide food in keeping with individual inmates' religious beliefs.

A visiting rabbi was bringing in large quantities of food to Koltun, Jones said, but the jail put a stop to that.

I think Rabbi Koltun and the truth rarely travel the same road," Jones said.

Koltun's letter also accused Winslow of losing a cellphone given to him in January which, according to the rabbi, contained a recording of the Nov. 4 events on its memory chip. Winslow acknowledged the phone was lost, but said he was not told of any recording on it until summer.

Berry ordered a new competency hearing based on possible cognitive issues. He appointed Paul Brite as Koltun's new lawyer and adjourned the case to Dec. 7.

I think you've represented him very well on the record," Berry told Winslow. "The court and society thank you for your representation of Mr. Koltun."

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