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Nov 18, 2009 1:07 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Oddone defense case likely to be short, if not sweet

Nov 18, 2009 1:07 PM

As prosecutors wrap up the case against Anthony Oddone, the golf caddy accused of killing off-duty prison guard Andrew Reister in a Southampton bar last summer, talk around the Riverhead courthouse has begun to shift to the coming defense presented by Mr. Oddone’s attorney, Sarita Kedia.

Ms. Kedia, for her part, isn’t offering any insights to her strategy, or whether she plans to have Mr. Oddone take the stand in his own defense. Her approach could take a number of tacks in its attempt to raise doubts in the jury’s mind about the case Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield has presented over the last five weeks of testimony.

Ms. Merrifield has called more than 25 witnesses, from college students to doctors, in her attempt to show that Mr. Oddone must have made at least a semi-conscious decision that he wanted to kill Mr. Reister as the two men struggled on the floor of the Southampton Publick House in August 2008.

Ms. Kedia’s roster of witnesses will almost certainly be much shorter than the prosecution’s. One veteran defense attorney said this week that defense cases tend to be very short, particularly if the lawyer thinks they’ve raised doubts in their cross examination of prosecution witnesses.

“It’s a very, very rare case that you have a defense case that even approaches 25 percent of the witnesses called by the prosecution,” said John Carman, a former public defender and now a defense attorney in Nassau County. “The risks of having a witness backfire are enormous. If you put a buffoon on the stand, you risk blowing the whole thing.”

Whether Ms. Kedia thinks she has raised doubts about the prosecution witnesses’ accounts is the question then. At the outset of the trial, both attorneys warned the jury in their opening statements that the recollections of eyewitnesses may vary in specific details. Indeed, some have recalled seeing Mr. Reister pull at Mr. Oddone’s shirt after asking him to stop dancing on a table; others said he shoved him. Ms. Kedia has highlighted various differences in statements or reports made in the hours after the incident that differed from those offered on the stand in recent weeks.

Mr. Carman said Ms. Kedia’s task of casting doubt is made considerably easier by the circumstances surrounding the fight.

“This type of offense, even though it resulted in a death, still falls under the category of a bar fight case,” Mr. Carman said. “That, more often than not, works to the advantage of the defense lawyer, whose job it is to create a cloud of doubt about the eyewitness accounts. It’s dark and chaotic and people are drunk.”

Ms. Merrifield called witnesses who, in large part, claimed to have not been drinking very much. They have all said that the fight seemed to last about two or three minutes but that Mr. Reister appeared to fall unconscious after just 30 seconds or so.

Rather than trying to retell the events of the evening in a different light then, Ms. Kedia may simply seek to offer one or two witnesses who will offer a different view of the events and then rely on her summation to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case.

Mr. Carman said that a defense attorney who presents a long and complicated defense case risks having the jury forget its doubts about the prosecution’s case and focus on the quality of the defense case. Raising some stark questions early and then leaving the jury to its deliberation may be the best strategy, he said.

“Once you’ve got the prosecution on the run, so to speak, you only stand to lose that momentum if you present a big defense case,” Mr. Carman warned. “If the defense witnesses are horrible, the jury will remember that, and they tend to focus on which [side of the case] was better—which isn’t the legal standard, of course, but it is the reality.”

Calling Mr. Oddone to the stand presents similar pitfalls that Ms. Kedia may find not worth the risk of exposing him to. During cross examinations, one facial expression or tone of voice could turn the jury.

“In a case like this, where everybody knows what he did, it’s not a ‘whodunit,’ and the question is whether he meant to do it,” Mr. Carman said. “Did he want the guy to die? If he didn’t, do you need to hear him say that?”

If a defendant does not testify, the trial judge will instruct the jury before its deliberations that it must not weigh the decision by the defendant not to testify—an order Mr. Carman said he’s found juries generally do heed.

Mr. Carman said that if Ms. Kedia—who watches the jury members almost constantly during Ms. Merrifield’s direct examination of witnesses—thinks she has raised doubts in the jury’s minds she will likely not call Mr. Oddone. But, Mr. Carman added, “If you are losing and you’re at a loss of what to do, then you put him up there.”

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he has no defense. he is a very deranged animal who deserves to die.
By local (106), north sea on Nov 20, 09 7:56 PM
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