Judge: Defense lawyer in murder case can seek internal reports in taxi driver shooting

Thomas Moroughan, right, and his attorney, William Petrillo, Thomas Moroughan, right, and his attorney, William Petrillo, at First District Court in Central Islip on Friday, March 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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A State Supreme Court justice ruled Wednesday that a defense lawyer in a murder case may be entitled to police and prosecutors' reports about a Suffolk detective who investigated the shooting of an unarmed taxi driver by an off-duty Nassau police officer who had been drinking.

The decision came after the attorney argued that he needed the reports because those internal probes raised questions about the conduct of the detective in the taxi driver case. That detective, Ronald Tavares, took the defendant's statement in the murder case.

In the taxi driver case, off-duty Nassau Officer Anthony DiLeonardo shot taxi driver Thomas Moroughan by the side of Oakwood Road in Huntington Station during a traffic dispute in February 2011. Suffolk police arrested Moroughan and charged him with assault.

The Suffolk district attorney's office dropped the charges three months later. Tavares was one of two detectives who took the cabdriver's signed statement, records show.

In the murder case, Aston Barth, 33, of Central Islip, is accused of killing next-door neighbor Jason Campbell, 35, with an ax and stuffing the body in Barth's closet for nearly a week in December.

Defense attorney Scott Gross of Mineola told Justice William Condon that he needed the police internal affairs report and a Suffolk district attorney's report on Tavares' conduct in the Moroughan case.

Detectives "forced or coerced or made up a confession in a very serious investigation," Gross said. If Tavares was found to have committed misconduct, that would affect his credibility as a witness now, Gross said.

Condon allowed Gross to subpoena the reports, saying he would review them and give them to him if he deemed them relevant. Gross argued he was entitled to them under the Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to give the defense potential exculpatory material.

Prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock said he didn't know whether the reports existed, but would comply with the Brady rule.

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter, Suffolk police and the county attorney's office declined to comment.

Lawyers and experts said there's little doubt Gross is entitled to such files. "It seems to me that a previous case involving misconduct in taking a confession would be favorable evidence to a defendant that these cops behaved wrongfully in taking a confession from him," said Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School. Suffolk police and the county attorney's office didn't respond to requests for comment.

The Internal Affairs report found that Moroughan signed a sworn statement Suffolk homicide detectives wrote for him while he lay in a hospital bed, on morphine, with two bullets still inside him and with a broken nose. Moroughan said the Suffolk detectives did not allow him to consult with an attorney before signing it.

The statement helped exonerate DiLeonardo and incriminate Moroughan and was later shown to include events contradicted by the department's own investigation, the report states.

DiLeonardo has not been charged in the shooting. Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale said in June that his department has "an active internal affairs investigation open regarding this incident."

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