Police said a message on the envelope contained a threat about anthrax.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- An apparent joke backfired and has resulted in a homicide suspect's facing another charge.
Perry S. Ricciardi, 22, of Struthers is charged with making terroristic threats after sending a letter to his attorney with a warning that anyone opening it, except his attorney, would be infected with anthrax, police said.
Jail employees saw the letter July 31 and called city police the next day.
Ricciardi is in jail without bond on criminal homicide charges in the October 2000 stabbing death of 12-year-old Shannon Leigh Kos of Youngstown. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Two other men also were charged in her death, and one already pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. Ricciardi and the other man are awaiting trial.
Ricciardi's attorney, Dennis A. Elisco, said he's upset that the charge was filed and that the letter was opened by police.
Elisco said he and his client correspond by mail two or three times a week about the upcoming trial and case.
A jail employee confiscated one of Ricciardi's letters July 31, which was marked legal mail but also contained the following statement at the bottom: "If you or anyone other than Dennis Elisco and you open this, Anthrax will be inside rather than a letter, only Dennis Elisco is immune. Beware."
The unopened letter was turned over to police, who questioned Ricciardi, according to an affidavit filed to support the charge.
Ricciardi told police the statement was intended as a joke for the benefit of his attorney, the affidavit said.
"It was stupid and not politically correct, but there was no criminal intent," Elisco said.
Elisco said he was upset to learn that the letter had been opened and read by police.
"I'm very upset the envelope was opened and confidential communication on a murder charge between a client and his attorney was read by law-enforcement officers. It's really bothersome from a legal standpoint. That's one of the most important privileges -- attorney-client confidentiality -- and it should be carefully safeguarded," he said.
Looking for threats
Court documents said the police officer read the letter to ensure there were no threatening statements in it. Police said the letter will be kept in its envelope and the letter and its contents will not be shared with anyone but the investigating officer.
Elisco said he's unsure if he has a legal recourse against police for opening a confidential correspondence meant for him.
The attorney said he intends to represent Ricciardi on the new charge. A preliminary hearing is set for 8:15 a.m. Friday before District Justice Melissa Amodie.
Ricciardi is expected to go to trial on the homicide charges sometime this fall.