State appeals court dismisses killer Mark Garrett's appeal
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The state's highest court Monday dismissed an appeal from the man convicted of killing a pregnant 13-year-old Wyandanch girl in 1998.
The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Mark Garrett was not entitled to a post-trial hearing on whether Suffolk County prosecutors had failed to disclose damaging information about a detective who testified at his murder trial.
Prosecutors had argued that if Garrett's appeal was successful, it might impose new burdens on prosecutors to seek out damaging information on their witnesses and turn it over to the defense.
Garrett's latest appeal argued that prosecutors should have informed him about an unrelated lawsuit accusing a detective of beating a confession out of a defendant, as he claims happened to him by that same detective.
At issue was the Brady rule, a fundamental criminal law, which generally requires prosecutors to turn over to defendants any evidence that could help convince a jury the defendant isn't guilty.
The Appellate Division ruled last year the case should be returned to the trial court for a hearing on whether the Suffolk County district attorney's office "had sufficient knowledge of the suit against the detective so as to trigger its obligations under Brady."
The Appellate Division ordered the trial court to conduct a hearing on the issue, ruling that the detective's testimony was the primary evidence against Garrett, and that the case was "weak" without it. The district attorney's office appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals said in its ruling Monday that, "unlike the Appellate Division, we do not see the circumstantial evidence connecting defendant to the killing so 'weak' as to compel the conclusion that the allegations against (the detective) constitute Brady material."
Garrett's attorney on the appeal, Steven Feldman of Uniondale, said he would urge his client to seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Garrett, 49, is serving a prison sentence of 25 years to life for killing Lytecia Cooper, the pregnant daughter of his brother's girlfriend. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2000, based in part on a confession he signed, but also on circumstantial evidence tying him to the crime. Garrett claims Suffolk homicide detectives -- including Det. Vincent O'Leary -- beat the confession out of him.
Years after his appeals were exhausted, he found out a Suffolk detective O'Leary had been sued in 1998, accused of beating a confession out of another man.
After the Appellate Division ruling, but before the Court of Appeals decision to hear the case, lawyers discovered that the O'Leary in the federal suit, which was settled, is James O'Leary, not Vincent O'Leary.
But because the Court of Appeals had to rule on the issues raised, it proceeded as if the detective was the same person.