Will death sentence threat lead to plea bargain in Kissel...

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Will death sentence threat lead to plea bargain in Kissel...

Post  NEADP on Mon Jun 23, 2008 5:45 pm

The threat of the death sentence for one of the suspects in the slaying of Greenwich real estate developer Andrew Kissel indicates prosecutors hope to strike a deal to turn him against his co-defendant in return for more lenient treatment, some defense lawyers said.

"It seems like a classic squeeze play," Jim Pastore, an attorney with Greenwich-based Russell & Pastore, said of the capital felony charge against Leonard Trujillo. "Squeezing the one guy with a capital felony, hoping he would testify favorably against the other defendant."

But another criminal defense attorney, Matthew Maddox, said the capital felony charge reflects a growing desire among prosecutors as well as state residents to impose harsher punishment on violent criminals.

"The judiciary and citizens are looking increasingly with an eye towards law and order," said Maddox, whose practice is based in Stamford.

Assistant State Attorney Paul Ferencek added a charge of capital felony against Leonard Trujillo, 22, of Worcester, Mass., earlier this month, alleging in court papers that Trujillo received money from his cousin Carlos Trujillo, 47, to kill Kissel. Carlos Trujillo was Kissel's longtime personal assistant and driver.

Kissel's body was found the morning of April 3, 2006, in the basement of the mansion he rented at 10 Dairy Road, stabbed repeatedly and bound hand and foot, according to police. His body was discovered just days before his scheduled sentencing in federal court for defrauding banks and other institutions out of millions in loans.

Ferencek has declined to say whether he will seek the death penalty against Leonard Trujillo, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of capital felony, murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Carlos Trujillo has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

Under Connecticut state law, capital felony applies to any murder committed for actual or anticipated monetary gain and carries either the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Connecticut last carried out the death penalty in May 2005. Serial killer Michael Ross was the first person executed in the state in more than four decades. Darnell Crosland, a Stamford-based defense attorney, said that the rare use of the capital felony charge appears to be at least in part a strategic move to acquire leverage over Leonard Trujillo.

Crosland said while the alleged murder-for-hire scheme falls within the statutory definition of a capital felony charge, the death penalty is usually levied in more sensational cases.

"The question in this case is why raise the stakes here?" Crosland said. "For the most part a good number of murders, felony murders, robberies that lead to death are connected in some way to a desire or intent to gain financially, however in very rare cases are the individuals charged with capital felony."

Ferencek, the prosecutor in the case, has filed a motion seeking to try Leonard Trujillo first, but has not explained his reasons for the move. He declined comment on whether Carlos Trujillo could face a capital felony charge in the case.

According to warrants unsealed last week, Leonard Trujillo last fall met with police investigators several times to be interviewed and took them to locations in Greenwich, Norwalk, Stratford and Bridgeport he said he visited with Carlos Trujillo.

Yale Law School Professor Steven Duke said if Leonard Trujillo strikes a deal with authorities, the defense could argue his testimony was given to avoid a life sentence or execution.

"Bringing the capital felony charge is inherently coercive," Duke said.

Maddox said support for harsher penalties has been galvanized by the triple murder of a 48-year-old woman and her two young daughters during a home invasion in Cheshire in July.

The two paroled burglars accused of that crime face charges of capital felony, rape, arson, kidnapping and other offenses.

"In Connecticut in 2008 nothing would surprise me anymore," Maddox said about the Trujillo capital charge.

(source: The Stamford Advocate)

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