For the second time in two months federal prosecutors based in Manhattan have announced plans to seek the death penalty, adding a drug-related quadruple murder conspiracy from Westchester County on Wednesday to the pending capital case against alleged terrorist Sayfullo Saipov.
The latest death-penalty approval from the Justice Department was disclosed Wednesday in federal court in White Plains, where ex-cop Nicholas Tartaglione is charged with luring four men to a Chester, N.Y., bar in 2016 and participating in their killing as part of a cocaine conspiracy.
In February, prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty for Saipov for a 2017 truck attack that killed eight on Manhattan’s west side bike path. The last executions in the Southern District of New York were Ethel and Julius Rosenberg for spying for the Soviet Union in 1953.
Tartaglione’s lawyer, Bruce Barket of Garden City, said he was “appalled” by the decision to seek to execute his client, and didn’t know exactly what aspect made it stand out to the Justice Department, which must approve all capital cases.
“This is an inexplicable, unnecessary, unjust, despicable decision,” Barket said. “They’re going to spend millions of dollars in a case where who did what to who is at best unclear.”
Tartaglione, a former police officer in Briarcliff Manor, has been in custody since he was charged in 2016 with the killings of Martin Luna, Urbano Santiago, Miguel Luna and Hector Gutierrez.
Prosecutors have alleged in court filings that Tartaglione believed Martin Luna had stolen money as part of a drug deal, and lured him to a bar owned by Tartaglione along with three Luna relatives or associates who were not involved.
After Martin Luna was killed, prosecutors say, Tartaglione took the body to his farm in Otisville , and the other three were shot by co-conspirators and transported to the farm, where all four were buried in a mass grave.
Tartaglione has one co-defendant, Joseph Biggs. His lawyer said Thursday that he is not facing the death penalty, and declined to comment on Tartaglione.
A spokeswoman for Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, confirmed the decision to seek the death penalty against Tartaglione, but declined to comment further.