A Riverhead man's appellate attorney asked a court Thursday to throw out his manslaughter conviction for killing a father of three during a police chase, arguing that decisions by the trial judge deprived the man of a fair trial or a fair sentence.
John Licausi Jr., now 55, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after he crashed into a car driven by Scott Foster, 46, of Manorville, while being pursued by police in March 2008.
Licausi took off while an officer questioned him about stolen lawn equipment he was allegedly trying to sell. He then broadsided Foster's car in Farmingville.
A jury convicted Licausi in 2010 of aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges.
Richard Herzfeld, Licausi's Manhattan appellate lawyer, told justices of the Appellate Division Second Department in Brooklyn Thursday that Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson made numerous errors and showed bias in his handling of the case.
Herzfeld said one such instance was Hudson's refusal to penalize the prosecution for destroying GPS records from the pursuing police car. Those records could have shown a needlessly dangerous chase over a minor matter in violation of police rules, Herzfeld said.
Justice L. Priscilla Hall appeared unimpressed by that argument.
"He didn't have to go faster," she said of Licausi. "He could have stopped."
Herzfeld also said a warrant for Licausi's blood, which showed cocaine intoxication, was signed improperly. And he said Hudson improperly allowed a police officer to testify that Licausi said, "I killed him! I killed him!" after the crash. The defense was never notified of that statement, as the law requires, the lawyer argued.
Herzfeld said the final indication of Hudson's bias was an excessive sentence, based on a finding that Licausi was a career felon. Herzfeld said none of the defendant's earlier crimes had involved violence.
Hudson's remarks before and during the trial indicated he was eager to sentence Licausi harshly, Herzfeld said.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Marion Tang told the justices there was no need to revisit the case and that the sentence was appropriate.
"He has burglaries" in his past, she said of Licausi. "He has other cases where he has fled from a police officer. The defendant has willful disregard for any kind of police authority, property, the rules of the road."
"And human life," Justice Reinaldo Rivera added.
"Yes," Tang replied. "The results here are truly, truly tragic."
Still, Rivera said the sentence seemed "too heavy-handed" for a vehicular fatality. Tang disagreed.
"This was something that was waiting to happen," Tang said. "Looking at the defendant's history, you could say this was an inevitable result."
But Hall asked if Hudson referring to Licausi as a sociopath before the trial began was a sign of bias. Tang said the remark was taken out of context.
The justices will decide the case in a few weeks.