As expected, the two attorneys in the murder trial of Anthony Oddone wrapped up their arguments this week by characterizing the incident in drastically different ways—the prosecution, as a cold-blooded killing; the defense, as a tragic accident.
After receiving instructions from Suffolk County Court Judge C. Randall Hinrichs on Wednesday, the jury will now decide the fate of Mr. Oddone, of Farmingville, a golf caddy accused of killing an off-duty correction officer, Andrew Reister of Hampton Bays, in a Southampton bar in August 2008. In addition to returning a verdict on the charge of second-degree murder, jurors will have the option of finding the defendant guilty of one of several lesser charges, or finding him not guilty of any criminal charge.
Before a packed courtroom in Riverhead on Tuesday, attorney Sarita Kedia delivered an impassioned five-hour closing argument in defense of her client, urging the jury to acquit.
In a marathon summation, Ms. Kedia maintained that Mr. Oddone was simply defending himself from an attack by a larger man when he wrapped his arm around Mr. Reister’s neck from behind after the part-time bouncer had shoved him off the table he was dancing on in the Southampton Publick House. She said the “headlock” was a spontaneous reaction, not a malicious attack that was intended to cause Mr. Reister’s death.
“He was just dancing on a table at a bar one second ... and then—boom,” she said, clapping her hands together.
She called the district attorney’s decision to file a murder charge against Mr. Oddone “overzealous” and said that nothing her client, whom she referred to as Tony throughout, had done that night could have been expected to cause Mr. Reister’s death.
“It’s a tragedy when anyone dies. It’s especially tragic when anyone dies too young—it’s devastating,” she said. “But, ladies and gentlemen, a sudden, unexpected death doesn’t equal a crime. This young man, Anthony Oddone, wasn’t engaging in any criminal activity ... He was only defending himself—he was attempting to restrain his attacker.”
But in a dramatic summation on Wednesday morning, Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield urged the jury to convict on the murder charge and not a lesser count, saying the attack that resulted in Mr. Reister’s death was neither accidental nor justified.
“He killed him with his bare hands—that’s brutal,” she told the jury on Wednesday morning. “You know that to kill someone with your bare hands takes minutes. It’s grisly.”
To drive home the point, Ms. Merrifield stood silent and motionless for a full three minutes—a prosecution estimate of the amount of time Mr. Oddone held the victim in a choke hold—quietly counting the time on her wristwatch. The courtroom was rapt, and soon observers were fidgeting and coughing, only occasionally breaking the silence.
She maintained that the incident was the result of “simple, flat-out rage” on Mr. Oddone’s part, and she derided the defense for alleging that the defendant was acting in self-defense—a maneuver designed to give the jury justification for an acquittal.
“He chose to continue choking him,” the prosecutor said. “All he had to do was let go. Let go. He didn’t want to let go.”
She ended her closing argument by urging the jury, “Show this defendant the same mercy as when he choked Andrew Reister, choked him out on the ground, and killed him in front of a room full of people.” She added that the numerous witnesses didn’t deter the attack: “He didn’t care. He wanted to do it, and he did it.”
The trial has stretched on three weeks longer than initially anticipated when the jury was seated on October 12.
Mr. Oddone, 26, is accused by District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office of intentionally killing Mr. Reister, a Southampton native and father of two who was 40 at the time of his death. The defendant faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. Because Mr. Reister was a Suffolk County Jail guard, Mr. Oddone has been held on Rikers Island in New York City for the last 15 months rather than at the county lockup.
On both days, the courtroom was packed with the family and friends of both Mr. Oddone and Mr. Reister, as well as dozens of attorneys who attended to observe. The audience on Tuesday included Robert Rubin, owner of The Bridge golf course near Sag Harbor where Mr. Oddone worked, the club’s head professional, and several of the course’s members who are rumored to be financing Mr. Oddone’s legal defense.
When the jury begins deliberations on the second-degree murder charge, jury members may consider charges of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
On Monday afternoon, Judge Hinrichs granted a motion by Ms. Merrifield to include the charge of manslaughter in the first degree. Second-degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, but in order to return a guilty verdict on that charge, the jury would have to conclude that Mr. Oddone intended to kill Mr. Reister during the altercation.