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Judge tosses evidence against musician charged with girlfriend's death

Robert Savinetti leaves Nassau police headquarters in Mineola

Robert Savinetti leaves Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on Aug. 2, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau judge has thrown out breath and blood test results along with most statements made to police by a musician facing manslaughter and drunken driving charges in his girlfriend’s death, calling the evidence “fruit of his unlawful arrest.”

State Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti in a decision Monday ruled for the second time in favor of Robert Savinetti after the defense sought to suppress evidence in the prosecution’s case against him.

Last August police arrested Savinetti, 58, of Melville, with authorities charging that he ran over and killed his live-in girlfriend with his Toyota RAV4 while drunk. They said the two had been arguing while leaving Cardoon Mediterranean restaurant in Seaford.

Savinetti drove off shortly before 11 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2017, while his girlfriend Lisa Miceli, 44, ran alongside his SUV, according to prosecutors. Authorities alleged she then lost her footing and fell under the Toyota, before Savinetti drove over her and away from the scene. 

A grand jury indicted Savinetti – from Long Island cover band Copy Cat – on charges including manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, leaving a fatal crash scene, assault and drunken driving offenses.

Defense attorney Marc Gann said he expects the top charge to stand. But he believes others, such as the vehicular manslaughter charge tied to the allegation Savinetti was drunk, will be dropped.

In suppressing evidence, the judge ruled Savinetti’s initial detention by police at the Adler Court scene, when they put him in handcuffs, “amounted to an arrest, which was required to have been supported by probable cause to believe that he had committed a crime.”

The judge found that when Savinetti first walked up, officers had no reason to believe he had caused the victim’s injuries or even had been driving a vehicle. Records show Savinetti said he returned after getting a call from the restaurant's owner asking him to come back because his girlfriend was on the ground.

Prosecutors argued police handcuffed Savinetti when he approached, as Miceli was being given CPR, to prevent his entry to the crime scene. They said he was “frantic,” screaming “that’s my girlfriend,” and asking “is she OK?”

They said the act of initially handcuffing Savinetti wasn't an unlawful arrest, but “the beginning of a brief, non-custodial investigatory detention.”

But Delligatti said an officer shouldn’t have put Savinetti in handcuffs then, or searched him and seized his wallet, cellphone and keys. Records show police uncuffed Savinetti a short time later to perform sobriety tests, then put them back on.

Court papers said the breath tests the judge threw out showed Savinetti’s blood alcohol concentration at .13 percent and .14 percent, before a blood test – also suppressed – showed a .12 percent BAC. The legal threshold for intoxication is .08 percent.

A spokeswoman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas released a statement Thursday saying prosecutors would press on with the case.

“We strenuously disagree with the judge’s decision to suppress this evidence, which was properly obtained by police. Nonetheless, we will move forward prosecuting this case with the strong evidence that remains,” spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said.

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in statement Thursday the detectives on the case are “highly regarded” senior investigators, and police will continue to work on the victim’s behalf and support the prosecution.

Gann said he thinks the judge “did the right thing,” and added: “I think police jumped to conclusions to do what they wanted to do without following proper protocols.” 

The Mineola attorney also said Savinetti had loved Miceli, a mother of two, “and continues to think about her.”

The judge also threw out Savinetti's interview with homicide detectives, his statement to police that he'd had four glasses of chardonnay and a question he asked about whether he was "being arrested for DWI."

Delligatti kept in Savinetti's statements from before he was handcuffed that “just because people fight, doesn’t mean they don’t love each other,” and that he'd left Miceli there “because she was smoking and I wanted to teach her a lesson and told her to find another way home.”

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