YOUNGSTOWN Men seek new trials in mob-related cases
Lawyers say the trio's double-jeopardy right was violated, among other things.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Three men serving life sentences for their roles in a series of mob-related shootings want their sentences to be overturned and a new day in court.
A hearing was Wednesday in the 7th District Court of Appeals courtroom in the Mahoning County Courthouse, where lawyers for Jeffrey Riddle, Lavance Turnage and Bernard Altshuler argued that their convictions were tainted because of errors made by visiting Judge Richard M. Markus, who presided over their trial in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in 1999.
The men were convicted of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity that included murder, attempted murder and felonious assault. They participated in the killing of Ernie Biondillo and the shootings of county Prosecutor Paul Gains and Atty. Gary Van Brocklin, a former county prosecutor.
They were convicted of nearly identical charges in federal court and are serving simultaneous life sentences for both convictions.
Arguments: Altshuler, 68, is represented by Atty. John B. Juhasz, who argued that piling a state trial and conviction on top of the federal conviction amounted to a "sham duplication" of effort and violated the men's rights to protection against double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crimes.
A. Steven Dever, special prosecutor, said, however, that state and federal law allows people to be tried under state laws, even if they've already had a trial in federal court.
Evidence used against the men during their trial included tape recordings made by using wiretaps at the home and telephone of former mob boss Lenny Strollo. Jurors were given transcripts of the dialogue on those tapes, were allowed to read them while listening to the tapes and were allowed to use them during deliberation.
Atty. Scott C. Essad, who represents Turnage, 29, said that's a violation of state law and should not have been allowed.
"That's an incredibly prejudicial thing to have those transcripts right there in front of you," Essad said. He said jurors should have had to rely on their own hearing to decipher what was on the tapes.
Dever said the tapes were authenticated by FBI Agent Robert Kroner, who was responsible for their being recorded.
John P. Laczko, who represents the 42-year-old Riddle, said the trial should have been moved to another county because of the amount of pretrial publicity that could have tainted the juror pool.
Response: Appellate Judge Mary DeGenaro said, however, the lawyers showed no proof that any of the seated jurors were affected by the publicity. And Judge Joseph Vukovich said keeping the trial in Mahoning County could have been a smart tactical move by the original defense attorneys.
"Can you imagine the facts of this case being explained in, say, Guernsey County?" he said.
Judge Cheryl Waite also was on the three-judge appellate panel.