One of Long Island's most colorful, protracted and bitterly contested murder cases should be retried because the prosecutor's animosity toward the defendant led her to deliberately violate his right to a fair trial, an appeals lawyer argued Friday in Brooklyn.
After a trial that got worldwide attention, Manorville handyman Daniel Pelosi, 41, was convicted in 2004 of bludgeoning financier Ted Ammon to death at the victim's East Hampton beach home in October 2001.
Ammon, 52, was killed just before his divorce from Generosa Ammon -- Pelosi's lover -- was to be finalized. She inherited his $85 million estate and married Pelosi three months later, but died of breast cancer before his trial.
Friday, Pelosi attorney Richard Mischel of Manhattan argued that Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson, now chief of the office's homicide bureau, overstepped the bounds of allowable courtroom behavior in her cross-examination of Pelosi and her closing argument.
"The prosecutor knew exactly what she was doing," Mischel said. "She did so for personal reasons."
Those reasons were that Pelosi had threatened to harm her and her children before the trial. That's why she baited Pelosi, demeaned him and painted him as a demonic sadist willing to do anything to get access to Ammon's wealth.
"This was nothing short of a courtroom mugging of the defendant," Mischel told Supreme Court Appellate Division justices. "She never should have prosecuted this case."
"You think that's what turned the tide?" asked Justice William Mastro, skeptically. He noted that defense attorneys never objected at the time. "You're arguing a prosecutor was running amok, with a defense attorney standing mute."
Justice Joseph Maltese asked if defendants should be allowed to disqualify prosecutors they don't like by threatening them. "Just because the defendant threatens her, she has to step aside?" he said.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Costello told the court that Pelosi made his character an issue during cross-examination with his decision to testify.
"Mr. Pelosi fancied himself the star of the show," Costello said. "It was the defendant who opened the door to many of these questions."
Mischel also argued that there wasn't enough evidence to convict Pelosi. In particular, he said the time of Ammon's death didn't leave Pelosi enough to time to drive to East Hampton to commit the murder and get back to his sister's home by 4 a.m.
"There was overwhelming evidence of guilt in this case," Costello said.
"So why does the prosecutor gild the lily, so to speak, and tear his kishkes out?" asked Justice John Leventhal, returning to Mischel's main point.
Pelosi is serving a prison sentence of 25 years to life for the murder. Family members who watched the arguments declined to comment afterward.
The court typically issues decisions after a few weeks.