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Aug 19, 2009 1:18 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Accounts point to self defense claim in Southampton Village murder trial

Aug 19, 2009 1:18 PM

Even as the murder case against Anthony Oddone lurched toward an expected autumn trial last week, with the first pre-trial arguments on defense motions to quash evidence, it remains unclear what strategies the prosecution and defense will employ with a jury.

But court documents filed in the run-up to this month’s oral arguments reveal some of the legal jousting that has gone on between the two sides and provide new accounts of the night Mr. Oddone is alleged to have attacked Andrew Reister, a corrections officer from Hampton Bays who was moonlighting as an ID checker, at the Southampton Publick House.

Those accounts include the first eyewitness description of the fatal altercation to be made public, and a narrative of the interaction between Southampton Village Police officers and Mr. Oddone when he was first captured while trying to flee the scene in a taxi. They also hint that the defense might claim that Mr. Oddone was acting in self-defense.

Mr. Oddone is accused of putting Mr. Reister in a choke hold and holding it until after he lost consciousness. Mr. Reister was rushed to the hospital a short time later and declared brain dead two days after that. He died on August 9.

The two legal teams were in court last week for hearings on defense motions to suppress statements made by Mr. Oddone to arresting police officers on the night of the bar fight and his identification by two other eyewitnesses several hours later. The motions made by the defense claim that Mr. Oddone’s statements were made under pressure from the arresting officers and without him being fully advised of his rights, and that police procedure in seeking a positive identification of Mr. Oddone from eyewitnesses was not followed properly.

The hearings will continue on August 26, and Mr. Oddone’s attorney, Sarita Kedia—his fifth attorney since he was arrested a year ago—said Tuesday that she expects the trial itself to begin in late September or early October. The length of the trial will depend mostly on the extent of the case presented by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.

Mr. Oddone, 25, of Farmingdale has been held without bail since his arraignment on two murder charges. He is incarcerated at Rikers Island, the New York City detention facility, rather than the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead, where Mr. Reister, who was 40 when he died, worked as a corrections officer.

Ms. Kedia, a Manhattan defense attorney who took over Mr. Oddone’s defense on July 1, did not rule out the possibility that she may request a change of venue for the case. The idea has been suggested as a possibility by Mr. Oddone’s previous lawyers because of Mr. Reister’s roots in the area and his employment at the Riverhead jail, adjacent to the court where Mr. Oddone will be tried.

Ms. Kedia has not revealed exactly what her client’s defense is, though a variety of motions made on Mr. Oddone’s behalf in the last several months refer to his actions that night as self-defense.

The prosecution, meanwhile, has yet to settle on which of the two murder charges Mr. Oddone will be tried on: intentional killing or depraved indifference. Suffolk County Judge C. Randall Hinrichs denied a defense motion in May to dismiss the grand jury’s depraved indifference indictment. He ruled that the case may proceed with both indictments for the time being since it appears to be a rare instance in which either circumstance—Mr. Oddone intending to kill Mr. Reister when he put him in a choke hold, or displaying a wanton disregard for life threatening circumstances when he did not release Mr. Reister even after the bouncer had clearly fallen unconscious—remain a possibility in light of the facts of the case. One of Mr. Oddone’s previous attorneys, Paul Gianelli, had argued that the defense would be unfairly handicapped having to defend against both charges.

The two sides have been arguing for months, in written briefs, over the motions to have the murder indictments against Mr. Oddone dismissed outright, the depraved indifference charges dropped, a variety of evidence and statements suppressed and to have audiences in any ultimate trial restricted from wearing any garments or accessories that memorialize Mr. Reister. Corrections officers from around New York State turned out in uniform at two of Mr. Oddone’s hearings last year and packed the courtroom. The defense has claimed that if the same were to happen at the trial, it would be unfair to the defendant.

Judge Hinrichs dismissed all the motions except those concerning the suppression of identification of Mr. Oddone by two witnesses and the statements made by Mr. Oddone to police when he was being taken into custody, which are the subject of the ongoing hearings.

It seems clear that the issue of whether Mr. Oddone was acting in self-defense in response to an attack from a much larger man will be at the center of the case to come. The self-defense claim was brought up twice in statements made by Mr. Oddone and by a friend of his who was an eyewitness, both in the hours following the fight that left Mr. Reister in a coma.

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