The owner of a Lynbrook roller rink testified Thursday that she never reported to police or prosecutors what may have been the last telephone call made by a young woman who went missing in 1984 and was later found raped and strangled.
"No one ever asked me," Rochelle Bernstein, 66, testified in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. "I was very traumatized. Perhaps I didn't mention it to them because a girl was murdered."
The victim, Theresa Fusco, was fired that night after a dispute with an assistant manager at Hot Wheels, Bernstein's roller rink. Bernstein said Fusco used the office phone to make a call shortly after she punched her time card at 9:47 p.m. on Nov. 10, 1984, and left.
She was reported missing by her mother the next day; her body was found under wooden pallets in a wooded area about a block from the rink on Dec. 5.
The surprise testimony came on cross-examination by an attorney for Nassau County, which is being sued for false imprisonment by three Lynbrook men who served 17 years in prison for the murder before DNA tests conducted in 2003 showed semen in Fusco's body did not belong to any of them.
Bernstein also testified for the first time that another employee, April Halstead, is the sister of Dennis Halstead, one of the three wrongly convicted men. She said she first realized who April Halstead was on Wednesday after looking at her picture.
Anthony Grandinette of Mineola, an attorney for one of the men, questioned how Bernstein happened to remember those details, "27 years later, after you sat down with defense counsel."
Judge Joanna Seybert sustained Nassau County's objection to these remarks and told the jury to ignore the comments.
Grandinette represents John Kogut, who -- along with Dennis Halstead and John Restivo -- claims detectives wrongly coerced a confession from him, planted evidence and refused to back down from a second prosecution after DNA evidence exonerated the men.
Kogut was retried in County Court in Mineola in 2005 and Judge Victor M. Ort, hearing the case without a jury, acquitted him of rape and murder charges.
"I believe that the scientific evidence in this case proves that too many material facts set forth in the defendant's confession are clearly not truthful," the judge ruled.