Judges Cite Trial Errors in Upsetting Three Convictions

, New York Law Journal

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Judge Robert S. Smith

ALBANY - The Court of Appeals Thursday ordered a new trial for one defendant, vacated the conviction of a second and said a third defendant's conviction may have been affected by a conflict of interest involving his lawyer.

The court said that lower court judges could have corrected the potential errors it cited in the three rulings.

In People v. Oddone, 236, the judges unanimously vacated the first-degree manslaughter conviction Anthony Oddone for the headlock strangulation of bar bouncer Andrew Reister in 2008 at the Publick House bar in the Hamptons.

The court ruled that the judge at Oddone's trial in Suffolk County Court erred by refusing to let Oddone's attorney refresh the memory of a defense witness while she was on the stand.

The waitress, Megan Flynn, had told insurance investigators before the trial that she thought Oddone had Reister in a headlock "for maybe 6 to 10 seconds."

When Flynn, who was called by Oddone's attorneys, was asked how long the headlock lasted, she replied, "I didn't have a watch. I wasn't keeping track of time. But it could have been a minute or so. I don't know."

Defense attorney Serita Kedia then tried to show Flynn her previous statement, but was not permitted to do so by the judge, C. Randall Hinrichs, who is now a Supreme Court justice.

Hinrichs said the witness had "given no indication she needs her memory refreshed."

Writing for the Court of Appeals, Judge Robert Smith (See Profile) said Flynn's testimony was germane to a central point of Oddone's defense, that he had not applied the headlock for an excessive length of time, and limiting Kedia's examination of the waitress "was important enough to justify reversal."

"When a witness, describing an incident more than a year in the past, says that it 'could have' lasted 'a minute or so,' and adds 'I don't know,' the inference that her recollection could benefit from being refreshed is a compelling one," Smith wrote.

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