Two serial killers, two different fates

An undated file photo of convicted serial killer

An undated file photo of convicted serial killer Robert Shulman, who died in 2006. (Credit: Handout)

Robert Shulman was a serial killer who murdered prostitutes because prostitutes are easy to kill, and because nobody was likely to call the police to report them missing right away, and because this would increase his chances of escaping detection for the crime. He was a smart killer, no doubt about it.

He probably hated women, too. But that goes without saying. He was our second smart serial killer-of-prostitutes this decade. Joel Rifkin of East Meadow was the first. Both men graduated from East Meadow High School. Both were loners, and both were troubled from an early age, and both made the choices that turned their roiling psyches into killing machines. Both were pretty good at evading capture, and both were finally ensnared by their own compulsions.

You could even muse on how both were faceless men who, despite years of publicity about their heinous acts, never took shape in the public imagination. Both were like invisible men, people who lived deep in a tunnel, even as their faces were plastered all over the newspapers. Whatever elements their personalities and their crimes have in common, though, they will not share the same fate. Rifkin will live, as long as he is able, inside the prison system.

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Shulman, in all likelihood, will be executed. The death sentence was delivered yesterday. Suffolk County Court Judge Arthur Pitts sentenced him to die by lethal injection before Labor Day, pending appeals. The appeals will extend the 45-year-old postal worker's life at least for several years.

Then, barring new evidence, you and I, who will pay for his room and board, his lawyers and his last meal, will pay someone to kill him.

If the polls are correct, most New Yorkers will accept that responsibility willingly, while some will be repelled by it. The overwhelming majority probably won't give it a thought.

After her service was over, one juror in the Shulman trial said half the people she talked to about the case had never even heard of Shulman.

"They would squint, like, `Who?' " said Laurena Mozejko, who was among a handful of jurors who attended yesterday's sentencing.

The sentencing took all of 20 minutes. Then, within moments of condemning a man to death, Judge Pitts was handling a full plate of routine matters: a parole violator; a lawyer seeking more time to prepare his case on behalf of a client. The judge looked neither relieved nor on edge. He looked just like a judge doing a judge's work.

The logic that dictates death for Shulman and life for Rifkin is a political logic: The Legislature enacts, the governor signs, and capital punishment is the law. The rest is a matter of following the law; doing one's duty is how people involved describe it.

" . . . He was also into sado-masochism, you know, though we weren't allowed to introduce it at trial," said Assistant District Attorney

Georgia Tschiember, the prosecutor in the Shulman case, speaking outside the courtroom yesterday to a group that included several jurors, reporters, and John Bunting, the father of Kelly Sue Bunting, one of Shulman's victims.

"They should have let you introduce it," said juror Mozejko. "That would have been very relevant . . . "

"But, you were excellent," said Barbara Caporusso, an alternate juror.

"It was shocking to me to see these bodies," said Tschiember.

Sometimes, she seemed to be in a conversation with the others. Sometimes she seemed to be talking to the wall behind them, or to an invisible being. "And I've seen a lot.

"[One of the victims] looked like hamburger. It didn't even look human. I mean, I never thought of a human being as a piece of meat, but that's what it looked like ... "

"Oh my god," said Mozejko.

John Bunting, whose daughter was found in a garbage can, her arms dismembered, stood silently beside the prosecutor, hands folded in front of him, as she spoke. He wore a black suit and black shoes. He had sat through the entire trial, and had heard every piece of evidence.

He gazed at Tschiember from deep-set blue eyes, peering from beneath bushy white eyebrows that overhung his face like two snow-covered cliffs.

"I said to myself when I saw that body, `Oh please, don't let her head be missing,' " Tschiember said, laughing a nervous laugh. The two women joined her in her nervous laugh. Bunting looked on.

"I just want to say, you have such resolve," said Caporusso, turning to Bunting. "You have obvious love for your daughter. My heart bleeds for you. You did a tremendous job for your daughter, being here day after day ... " Bunting looked at her, his face a roadmap of lines and folds, crevices and hollows. He nodded a thank you.

Then the prosecutor started talking again about evidence, and about her harrowing experience in handling this case for you and me.

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