The state's highest court Thursday ordered a new trial for a Farmingville man found guilty of choking to death an off-duty Suffolk correction officer who was moonlighting as a bouncer at a Southampton bar.
In a unanimous ruling the seven judges on the New York State Court of Appeals threw out the 2010 first-degree manslaughter conviction of Anthony Oddone, 30, in the death of Andrew Reister, 40, of Hampton Bays, and ruled that Oddone did not have a fair trial.
Reister was working as a bouncer at the Publick House in August 2008 when he told Oddone to stop dancing on a table. The two men got into a fight, and during the scuffle Oddone put Reister in a headlock and held him until he was unconscious. Reister died of cardiac arrest two days later.
The panel said it was improper for then-Suffolk County Court Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, who presided over Oddone's trial, to bar Oddone's defense attorney from challenging the testimony of Megan Flynn, a waitress at the bar who saw part of the struggle.
Immediately afterward, Flynn had told investigators for an insurance company that Oddone had his arm wrapped around Reister's neck "for maybe 6 to 10 seconds" before he let go. During trial, which took place more than a year later, Flynn gave a different answer. She said, "It could have been a minute or so."
At trial, Oddone's lawyer, Sarita Kedia of Manhattan, tried to jog Flynn's memory by giving her the statement she made to insurance company investigators. But Hinrichs wouldn't allow it, barring the defense from challenging the length of the chokehold.
That, the judges ruled, was a mistake.
"In this the trial court erred," Judge Robert Smith, writing for the court, said in yesterday's decision. "More fundamentally, it was simply unfair to let the jury hear 'a minute or so' of testimony -- testimony damaging to the defense, from a defense witness' own lips -- while allowing the defense to make no use at all of an earlier, much more favorable, answer to the same question," Smith wrote.
Hinrichs, now a State Supreme Court justice and district administrative judge for Suffolk County, declined to comment.
Marc Wolinsky, the Manhattan attorney who represented Oddone in his appellate case, was glad the judges agreed that Oddone didn't get a fair trial.
"It actually took a few minutes to sink in that we have achieved a reversal," Wolinsky said. "I just had to sit back and absorb it."
Wolinsky broke the news to Oddone's mother Thursday morning.
"She's beside herself with happiness," Wolinsky said.
Reister's wife and Oddone's mother declined to speak with Newsday. Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota did not return calls and emails, and Assistant District Attorney Anne E. Oh, who handled the appeal, was not in her office Thursday.
The panel also criticized Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield for overstating Flynn's testimony during her summation.
"Megan Flynn even told you, the defense's own witness told you it was one to two minutes," Merrifield told jurors.
However, Flynn testified the chokehold could have lasted "a minute or so."
Oddone, who argued self-defense, is currently serving a 17-year sentence.