Saturday, October 15, 2011
Prior crimes an issue for rabbi's trial
GOSHEN — Prosecutors want to use Victor Koltun's federal criminal record to discredit him if the rabbi testifies at his upcoming murder trial.
Koltun, 42, of Brooklyn, and co-defendants Frank Lewis, 57, of Brooklyn, and Craig Fennell, 52, of Manhattan, face first- and second-degree murder and conspiracy charges in the Nov. 4 double slaying in Newburgh of ex-Lloyd police Officer Francis Piscopo, 49, and Gerald Piscopo, 28, of Highland.
Pretrial hearings for the three suspects are winding down in Orange County Court. On Wednesday, Senior Assistant District Attorney David Byrne told the court he wishes to be able to cross-examine Koltun, a rabbi, on his 2000 conviction for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and on a 2004 violation of federal probation that stemmed from allegations that he threatened people to get them to file four fraudulent tax returns.
Koltun's lawyer, James Winslow, argued that the previous convictions would unfairly prejudice a jury against his client, and that prejudice would outweigh any legal value in revealing them.
He noted also that government prosecutors filed a notice urging a downward departure for sentencing on the probation violation — a measure rarely taken, and one usually done only when the defendant has been substantially helpful to prosecutors. Koltun was sentenced to three years of probation on that violation.
Judge Jeffrey Berry said he'll issue his ruling for Koltun on Oct. 24.
The same issues for Lewis and Fennell, who each have served state sentences for attempted murder, will be argued on Thursday. Their lawyers, Andrew Greher and Paul Trachte, oppose Byrne's request.
The legal standard for use of prior convictions is whether the value of that information outweighs the inclination a jury might have to convict based on a defendant's past conduct rather than properly weighing all of the trial evidence.