By Kathryn G. Menu
A manslaughter conviction that carried a 17-year sentence against Anthony Oddone — a caddy charged in the death of a Hampton Bays man —was overturned by the New York State Court of Appeals last Thursday.
Oddone was convicted in 2009 for first-degree manslaughter in the death of Andrew Reister, 40, who Oddone put in a headlock during a confrontation at the Southampton Publick House in 2008. Reister — a retired security guard — was working as a bouncer at the Publick House at the time of the incident and later died of brain injuries caused when his heart stopped during the altercation.
Oddone was originally sentenced in 2010 to 22 years in prison — a sentence the state Appellate Division reduced to 17 years in 2011.
According to the December 12 decision, the Appellate Division ruling — which upheld Oddone’s conviction —has been overturned because of a concern over testimony regarding the length of time Oddone held Reister in a headlock. The defense argued that several of the original trial court’s rulings in admitting and excluding evidence related to that issue were mistaken and that State Supreme Court Justice C. Randall Hinrichs did not allow the defense to “refresh his witness’s recollection with a statement the witness had previously given” regarding the headlock.
According to the December 12 decision, at Oddone’s trial, the prosecution asked seven witnesses to estimate the duration of the headlock. While the estimations varied, most registered the total time of the headlock somewhere near three minutes, according to court records. Two defense witnesses gave shorter estimates, stating the headlock may have lasted less than a minute.
The jury acquitted Oddone of murder, but convicted him of manslaughter in the first degree and the Appellate Court upheld that conviction.
“Of the issues raised by the defendant on this appeal, we find three —all related to what witnesses were or were not allowed to say about the duration of the headlock — that call for discussion,” reads the decision.
Oddone’s defense argued Dr. James Wilson, who performed an autopsy on Reister’s body, was permitted to testify that in his opinion his neck had been compressed for “something in the range of two, three, four minutes.” When a defense witness, Megan Flynn, testified to the duration of the headlock, which she observed, “could have been a minute or so,” defense counsel was not allowed to “refresh her recollection” with a prior statement she made that the headlock could have lasted “maybe six to 10 seconds.”
Oddone’s defense also argued in his appeal that Steven Penrod, “an expert in eyewitness observation” was not permitted in the original trail to testify that “eyewitnesses routinely overestimate, by large margin, the duration of relatively brief events.”
While the court rejects the defense’s attack on Wilson’s testimony, it agreed with the defense that the restriction placed on the questioning of Flynn was an error requiring a new trial.
According to the decision, Flynn — a waitress at the Publick House the night of the incident — told an insurance company investigator that the part of the headlock she saw lasted “for maybe 6 to 10 seconds.” She was not called as a witness by the prosecution, but called by the defense. On the stand, when asked the same question, Flynn said, “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.”
When the defense tried to show Flynn her previous statement it was not permitted by the court to do so.
“In this, the trial court erred,” reads the decision. “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,” reads the decision. “More fundamentally, it was simply unfair to let the jury hear the ‘a minute or so’ testimony — testimony damaging to the defense, from a defense witness’s own lips —
while allowing the defense to make no use at all of an earlier, much more favorable, answer to the same question.”
“Though Flynn was certainly not the central witness in the case, we conclude that the error in limiting counsel’s examination of her was important enough to justify reversal,” continues the decision.
Further, the prosecution would go on to use Flynn’s testimony in closing arguments, noting “Megan Flynn even told you, the defense’s own witness, told you it was one to two minutes.”
The ruling also notes the defense should not have been barred from calling a psychiatrist to the stand to testify on the accuracy of eyewitness accounts.
Attorney Marc Wolincky, a member at The Bridge in Noyac where Oddone was a caddy, argued the case before the Court of Appeals earning Oddone a new trial. Oddone has already served five of 17 years.