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Nov 24, 2009 12:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Oddone trial nears conclusion; defense witness challenged

Nov 24, 2009 12:20 PM

A forensic pathologist told the jury in the Anthony Oddone murder trial late last week that he believes it is possible that Andrew Reister died suddenly while struggling with Mr. Oddone because of a weak heart, and not because Mr. Oddone held him in a choke hold until his heart had stopped for several minutes.

Dr. Daniel Spitz took the stand for the defense on Friday afternoon shortly after the prosecution rested its case against Mr. Oddone. Dr. Spitz said that previously diagnosed medical conditions, such as sleep apnea and heart palpitations, which had once caused Mr. Reister, who was 40 at the time of his death in August 2008, to lose consciousness while sitting in his car at a stoplight, can cause stress on the heart and make a person more likely to suffer sudden death. Mr. Reister’s weight—a particular point of contention in the trial—and the fact that he had a slightly enlarged heart, something discovered during an autopsy, added to the possibility of sudden death, Dr. Spitz said on the witness stand.

Mr. Oddone, 26, of Farmingville is charged with second-degree murder and accused of intentionally killing Mr. Reister, a Suffolk County correction officer and father of two from Hampton Bays who was working part-time at the Southampton Publick House. Witnesses have testified that Mr. Oddone held Mr. Reister in a choke hold from behind during the scuffle at the bar on August 7, 2008, until long after he had lost consciousness, despite bystanders’ efforts to make him release the hold. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

The trial took a turn for the theatrical during the prosecution’s cross examination of Dr. Spitz this week.

Almost as soon as she began cross examining Dr. Spitz—a county medical examiner from Michigan, called by the defense to challenge testimony given by Suffolk County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. James Wilson—Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield questioned not the doctor’s previous testimony but his personal motivations for appearing on the stand.

With objections from Mr. Oddone’s attorney, Sarita Kedia, accompanying almost every question, and many of those objections sustained by Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, Ms. Merrifield asked the doctor if he had recently taken a pay cut at his job, and if he was merely testifying for the defense to offset his loss of income. The doctor tried to answer her questions with explanations, over Ms. Merrifield’s demands that he answer with only a “yes” or “no” response, even pounding her fist on a table at one point.

“Isn’t it true, Doctor, that you’re testifying in this case to make up the lost income?” Ms. Merrifield asked, raising her voice dramatically. “Isn’t that the only reason you’re here, Doctor?”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Spitz responded dismissively.

He did acknowledge that he had been paid some $16,000 for his testimony, in line with his typical fee for giving similar expert testimony in trials across the country, which he does often. He said he bills about $4,000 per day that he is out of his home county. He also acknowledged that budget cuts in Macomb County, Michigan, led the district attorney’s office there to propose cutting his consulting fee for testifying in trials there, but he denied that he has taken a salary cut or that his testimony in the Oddone case was related to his Michigan contracts in any way.

An October article in the Macomb Daily newspaper, which Ms. Merrifield referenced in her questioning, reported that the local district attorney wanted to cut Dr. Spitz’s trial appearance fee from $250 to $125 an hour, an approximately $10,000-a-year reduction. Dr. Spitz is already the county’s highest-paid employee, the article said, earning more than $200,000 in annual salary to serve as the part-time county medical examiner for Macomb County, separate from his appearance fees. He is also the medical examiner for a neighboring county, as well as making regular appearances on a variety of television shows as an expert in facts surrounding death, according to the Macomb Daily.

Ms. Merrifield asked Dr. Spitz if he’d only gotten his job because his father, a renowned forensic pathologist who worked on the investigation of the Kennedy assassination, had held the position before him. Dr. Spitz similarly denied the accusation.

Dr. Spitz, the second witness called by Ms. Kedia, stood by his earlier testimony that he felt Mr. Reister could have died a sudden death during the struggle with Mr. Oddone because of existing medical issues rather than from the choke hold. He said he thought Dr. Wilson had misinterpreted some of the medical facts uncovered during his autopsy of Mr. Reister’s body. Under questioning by Ms. Kedia on Friday, Dr. Spitz said that a variety of medical problems with which Mr. Reister had been previously diagnosed, including sleep apnea and heart palpitations, could have weakened his heart and put him at risk for sudden death.

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$16,000 that could have been given to a more worthy cause such as the Reister family. I think it says a lot that with their deep pockets these bridge members could only find a half wit ME from Detroit.
By HB 4 Life (72), Hampton Bays on Nov 24, 09 2:34 PM
...until its someone who you know or are close with that is dealing with something like this. Then its okay i guess... :/
By slamminsammy (104), East Moriches on Nov 24, 09 4:44 PM
Ah, yes. You often become board certified, a professor in your field, chief medical examiner in 2 counties, author and editor of professional text books, and naitonally recognized by being a half wit! Don't be ignorant because you don't like what he said. Only medical examiners from Suffolk County NY are to be considered experts? Unlikely!
By FOTO (36), Lake Grove on Nov 24, 09 2:52 PM
HB 4 life didn't say "Only medical examiners from Suffolk are experts", or that he or she was board certified....so why so defensive? Surely the residents of this county who are keeping track of this case would logically question why Ms. Kedia would have to go allll the way to Michigan to find a "qualified" expert witness. Could his reputation have played a bigger part in her selection than his alleged "expertise"? Me thinks so. Tis my right to think so. And look at that- I expressed my opinion ...more
By maryb123 (84), east hampton on Nov 24, 09 4:09 PM
The point that ultimately discredits all his testimony is that he writes in his textbooks that part of the process is eyewitness accounts and he readily admitted discounting this in his investigation. This man is nothing more than a hired gun. So far the testimony has only been that he choked him for over two minutes. Multiple witnesses have said a very similar story and that was a chokehold however Dr. Detroit wants to spin it.
By HB 4 Life (72), Hampton Bays on Nov 24, 09 6:44 PM
By multiple witnesses, are you referring to the witnesses called by the prosecution who all had large discrepancies as to the manner in which Mr. Oddone's hands were observed on Mr. Reister's body? Two hands around his neck, right hand, left hand, standing up, kneeling down, on the ground, face to face, front to back, and who knows what other number of variations of positions were described?! The witnesses, who for a large part all worked AND lived together, and were allowed to discuss their testimony ...more
By SHPDwife (4), South Hampton on Nov 24, 09 9:20 PM
1 member liked this comment
They all said he choked him for over two minutes and that should be enough for u Mrs. M.
By HB 4 Life (72), Hampton Bays on Nov 24, 09 9:39 PM
Thats funny I didn't hear that similarity amongst all of their stories... and I think you mean Mrs. D.
By SHPDwife (4), South Hampton on Nov 24, 09 10:12 PM
Ive seen enough live trials on tv to know that basically if you search long & hard enough you can find someone - even an expert - to see your side of the story, agree to testify and say what you want them to say. (That goes for prosecution & defense sides.) It doesnt make an expert any less of an expert it just means he disagrees with someone in the same field. Ever hear the expression "go to another doctor to get a second opinion??" We all know all you have to do is raise doubt. The testimony could ...more
By Sam (252), Westhampton Beach on Nov 24, 09 7:12 PM
It is apparent that the prosecution in this case has failed to prove intention on the part of Mr. Oddone and that the defense has likely conveyed enough reasonable doubt to the jurors that a conviction on the charge of murder in the second degree is highly unlikely.
By NYUlawAlum (1), New York on Nov 24, 09 9:34 PM
4 members liked this comment
I don't need a law degree from NYU to know when u choke someone for over two minutes that's murder.
By HB 4 Life (72), Hampton Bays on Nov 24, 09 9:41 PM
"It s apparent". Oh is it? Did I miss something somewhere? I think what is "apparent" is that you probably aren't an NYUlawAlum at all. ;)

Nice try though.
By maryb123 (84), east hampton on Nov 25, 09 11:34 AM
As I stated (as a lay person) from the start, the prosecution over-reached in the indictment with "intentional." It's clear -- I'll even risk using the word "apparent" and opening myself up to an ad hominem attack by maryb123 -- has not met the standard to sustain such a charge.

And HB4Life may not "need an NYU Law Degree," but some knowledge of the law might be a good idea.

Oddone doesn't escape a conviction, but it won't be for Murder 2.

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Nov 25, 09 11:44 AM
"I'll even risk using the word "apparent" and opening myself up to an ad hominem attack by maryb123"....don't be afraid of me Frank, just because I challenge your thoughts (and your grammar.) As far as you prediction of Oddone's conviction, I am well aware that things may turn out exactly that way. But you never know, do you.
By maryb123 (84), east hampton on Nov 25, 09 2:22 PM
I think that maybe your not giving the jury the credit they deserve, the excuse's that Oddone used to diminish his actions are all being dismissed by the testimony of others, "I was drunk, I don't remember, I didn't choke him for that length of time" these are lies that the jury will see as a feeble attempt to show lack of intent. I'll give you that his intention to start were not to commit murder, but when he had to chance to stop he didn't. No, I think the jury will be smart enough to see through ...more
By pjcd (24), Smithtown on Nov 25, 09 8:07 PM
1 member liked this comment
When in doubt just attack.
By fix-it-now (216), sag harbor on Nov 30, 09 9:30 PM
The idea is to offer up another factor that may have lead to Andy's death. Does it leave a bad taste in ones mouth? Yes. At the end of the day, a man is dead. Mr. Oddone will go to jail because his actions caused that death. The only questions is...how long. Murder..Manslaughter... he is going to jail, his life is pretty much ruined. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the second Thanksgiving without Daddy...for Andy's children. Think about them when you sit down with your families.
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Nov 25, 09 11:57 AM
1 member liked this comment
maybe they wont grow up to be correction officers
By big (14), sag harbor on Nov 26, 09 11:15 AM
Clearly you have some serious issues with corrections officers. Had a bad experience due to some criminal activity yourself? Surely you are talking from personal experience. Must have been a bad one if you must resort to taking shots at a deceased man's children. Why don't you just vent your childish anger elsewhere, considering Andrew Reister was the polar opposite of the unflattering stereotypical image of Corrections Officers that you are hell bent on portraying all over this site.
By maryb123 (84), east hampton on Nov 27, 09 1:37 PM
Newsday is reporting that the trial is over. Oddone will not testify. Closing arguments are expected to start Tuesday.

Have a good Thanksgiving.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Nov 25, 09 3:17 PM
When I attended the Suffolk County Police Academy in 1978 we were taught to use the "Choke Hold" in self defense class. It was sometime in the early 1980s that we were informed we were NOT to use the "Choke Hold" any longer, as it is now described as "Deadly Physical Force" The arguement is that Mr. Reister was in poor health. The truth is, if not for the actions of Mr. Oddone, Mr. Reister would have gone home to his family at the end of that evening.
By Middleman (16), east quogue on Nov 25, 09 5:07 PM
2 members liked this comment
If Dr. Wilson really said "a carotid sleeper hold—a vice grip on someone’s neck that puts pressure on a part of the neck that causes the brain to send a signal to the heart to stop beating. If held for a long period of time, Dr. Wilson said, the stopped heart could cause brain death." then he doesn't know what he's talking about. The carotid restraint puts pressure on the carotid artery to decrease or block blood flow to the brain causing the person to pass out or go to sleep temporarily allowing ...more
By hbonnemx (1), san diego on Nov 25, 09 5:29 PM
Gee, I guess you should have offered your services as an Expert to the other side.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Nov 25, 09 7:27 PM
"The scene was a ridiculous amount of force. Look at the default pic of me, that was taken by --------------- of the Southampton Press about one hour after I was home. You can see the bruises on my arms from some abuse inside the jail. A correctional officer told me as soon as I went in, "we tried you, we found you guilty and we will punish you in here." And they did."
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Nov 25, 09 8:18 PM