Judge denies bail for man with overturned murder conviction

A federal judge has thrown out the 10-year-old A federal judge has thrown out the 10-year-old murder conviction of Eric Williams. Photo Credit: Handout, 2002

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The lawyer for a man whose 2003 murder conviction was reversed was unable to persuade a Suffolk judge Wednesday to set reasonable bail for his client, arguing that he is no flight risk after having served more than 10 years in prison.

Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson denied the request in the case of Eric Williams, 37, whose conviction for killing Candice Arena, 18, of Deer Park in 2001 was overturned last year by a federal judge who ruled that almost everyone associated with the trial acted improperly.

Williams, formerly of North Babylon, an admitted drug and illegal gun dealer, was accused of chasing and firing at a car in Deer Park in which someone who owed him money was a passenger. Although the shot hit no one, the driver lost control, Arena was ejected and killed.

The trial's key witness was Williams' girlfriend, Rebecca Madigan. He testified she had the gun during the chase, but she not only said he fired the gun, but that he'd told her he'd killed before.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson said everyone mishandled that testimony, which was improper because it allowed the jury to believe he had a propensity to kill. The trial judge should have called a mistrial and started over, Gleeson wrote. The defense attorney should not have highlighted Madigan's testimony when he questioned Williams. The prosecutor should not have remarked on it in her closing argument. And Williams' appellate lawyer failed to make certain arguments, Gleeson wrote.

Williams' new defense attorney, Daniel Russo of Westhampton Beach, told Hudson that his client's family spent themselves into bankruptcy "on attorneys who have failed this young man." Russo said Williams personally researched and wrote the motion that got his conviction overturned. "He has yet to have a fair trial," Russo said.

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Russo told Hudson that Williams would live with his family and had a job lined up if he made bail, which he suggested should be $50,000 cash or $200,00 bond. He also said the odds of conviction would not be high after a properly conducted trial.

Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson, the original prosecutor, vehemently disagreed. Williams didn't deserve bail, she said, because of the charge and his criminal history, and also his "substantial disciplinary history" in custody.

Arena's parents were relieved that Hudson denied bail to Williams. "I want to see justice done," said the victim's mother, Barbara Ann Arena. "He will never do enough time."

Russo said his client was frustrated and eager to have a new trial, which has not been scheduled. "He's done a lot of work on the case, far more than any lawyer has done for him," Russo said. "What cannot be disputed is that his first trial was anything but fair."

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