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Ronald SHORT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: January 9, 1999
Date of arrest: 14 days after
Date of birth: 1950
Victims profile: His two sons, Richhard, 7, and John, 3
Method of murder: Bludgeoning and hacking with an axe and a hammer
Location: Manhattan, New York, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to two life terms in prison and two additional terms of 25 years to life on May 9, 2001

Court Theatrics Abound At a Murder Sentencing

By Alan Feuer - The New York Times

May 10, 2001

It was supposed to be a sentencing hearing, but it turned into a circus.

The prosecutor stormed across the courtroom and told the defendant, to his face, to rot in jail.

The defendant's wife had a 24-page statement read aloud in which her dysfunctional marriage was described and her psychotherapist was thanked for helping her survive it.

The judge threw ostentatious glances at the clock, annoyed by the histrionics and eager to get to the job at hand.

And the defendant, Ronald Short, sat through it all in perfect stillness, his eyes clamped shut and his chin resting firmly on his fist.

When the two-and-a-half-hour hearing was finally over yesterday, Mr. Short had been sentenced to two life terms in prison and two additional terms of 25 years to life. Last month, Mr. Short, a 51-year-old commercial real estate manager, pleaded guilty to bludgeoning and hacking his two young sons to death and hiding their bodies in the basement coal room of a Manhattan building he oversaw.

The hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan was almost as surreal as the crime that Mr. Short acknowledged committing on Jan. 9, 1999. The prosecutors publicly wished Mr. Short ''a hopeless, joyless, lifeless'' term in prison. Mr. Short's defense lawyer said, ''He did all kinds of nutty things because he had lost his mind.''

Mr. Short sat motionless at the defense table wearing a dark green cable-knit sweater. His wife, Jolanta, sat directly behind him in the gallery, her chin raised so high in anguish that the tendons in her neck stood out.

When the sentence was handed down, Justice Edwin Torres read aloud an allusion-studded order that drew upon Shakespeare's ''Macbeth'' and Euripides's ''Medea.''

''This act of yours,'' he told Mr. Short, ''was not born of demons in your head but of bitterness and rancor.''

It was close to 11 a.m. when Mr. Short was led into Courtroom 928 with his denim jacket draped across his wrists to hide his handcuffs.

Larry Busching, an assistant Manhattan district attorney, stood up and gave the judge a detailed portrait of Mr. Short's abusive life. He said Mr. Short had forced his sons -- Richard, 7, and John, 3 -- to take cold showers with their clothes on. He also said that Mr. Short had tormented his wife, stealing the light bulb from the room when she tried to study and once pouring a full container of milk over her head.

When Mr. Busching finished, another prosecutor, Gary Galperin, described how Mr. Short had murdered his boys with a foot-long, hammer-headed hatchet. He said that Mr. Short stopped chopping at Richard's body only when his arm grew tired. At the height of his presentation, he strode toward Mr. Short and proclaimed, ''May your prison cell, much like the coal cellar for your children, become a dungeon of darkness!''

It is the custom at sentencings to allow survivors of the victims to tell their stories to the judge. Ms. Short asked a friend to read aloud her handwritten statement, nodding as her words were offered to the court.

The statement recounted her husband's controlling nature -- she was not allowed to have a mailbox key, it said -- and described his fruitless iteration among the numerous psychiatrists he saw. It described how, on the night of the killings, the couple had spit in each other's faces.

In the end, however, the statement recommended that Justice Torres consider Mr. Short's mental problems when the sentence was handed down. ''If it is possible,'' the statement said, ''don't take away his hope.''

Norman L. Reimer, a lawyer for Mr. Short, picked up this theme. ''This was not the act of a bad or evil person,'' he said. ''It was the act of a sick person. The man was crying out for help.''

Justice Torres then had the task of sentencing Mr. Short, and he was clearly ready. He had already paced behind the bench, rolled his eyes and glanced at the clock.

The judge acknowledged that Mr. Short had been ''beset by a sea of troubles.'' He compared the defendant to Macduff, a character in Macbeth, who moans, ''All my pretty ones?'' when he learns his children have been killed.

When the sentence was handed down, it was something of an anti-climax. Justice Torres ordered the prison terms for first- and second-degree murder to be served consecutively. He quickly left the bench.

Mr. Short was led away by a pair of armed guards while his wife stayed on, talking with family and friends.

And the prosecutors were seen chatting with the courtroom artists in whose sketches they now appeared.


Dad surprises with guilty plea in son's slays

By Barbara Ross - Daily News

Tuesday, April 10th 2001

A Queens father admitted the awful truth yesterday: He used a hammer and hatchet to slaughter his two young sons in the basement of a Manhattan building in January 1999.

Looking disheveled and ghostly pale, Ronald Short, 51, a real-estate manager, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.

The battered bodies of Richard Short, 7, and his brother John, 3, were found on a shelf in a coal room of an apartment building that Short managed on W. 25th St. in Chelsea.

The city's medical examiner ruled Richard died of multiple chop wounds to the head and neck and his younger sibling died of a fractured skull.

Short entered the plea over the objections of his lawyers, Norman Reimer and Sarah Jones, who said they had urged him to proceed to trial using an insanity defense.

At the time of the killings, he had been taking the drug Prozac to deal with depression.

Reimer told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edwin Torres that Short decided to plead guilty because "he does not wish to inflict on anyone the agony of [a] trial."

Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Gary Galperin said in court that Short confessed to the brutal murders after refusing for days to tell cops where his sons were. Galperin said Short killed the boys after getting into a fight with his wife, Yolanta, who threatened to tell police he had slapped her.

Short told cops he feared his wife, a Polish immigrant, would use domestic abuse charges to win custody of the boys and take them to her family home in Poland.

Prosecutors who expected to go to trial with Short next month were surprised by his decision to plead guilty.

Short was brought to the courthouse yesterday to be examined by the prosecutors' forensic psychiatrist in preparation for the trial, but that examination was canceled when his lawyers informed Torres that the defendant intended to plead guilty.

After the murders, Yolanta Short divorced her husband and now lives in Manhattan.

Galperin said prosecutors were confident that they could beat any psychiatric case the defense could mount.

"All in all, the psychiatric investigation has shown that the people would be able to prove he was guilty," Galperin said, without elaborating.

Torres told Short that he faced a maximum sentence of life in jail and should not expect less for pleading guilty. The judge set the sentencing for May 9.


Father of Two Slain Boys Is Held on Minor Charges

By Michael Cooper - The New York Times

January 25, 1999

Two young brothers whose bodies were found hidden in the coal room of a Manhattan loft building were homicide victims, officials said yesterday, as their father was ordered held on $10 million bail on minor charges related to their disappearance.

An autopsy found that Richard Short, 7, died of ''multiple chop wounds to the head and neck,'' said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Richard's younger brother, John Short, 3, was beaten on the head and suffered a fractured skull and brain injuries, Ms. Borakove said.

An ax found near the bodies will be tested to see if it was used to kill Richard, said a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The boys' father, Ronald Short, 49, who has been the focus of an intense police investigation since the boys were reported missing by their mother on Jan. 13, was charged in Queens with endangering the children's welfare by failing to bring them to school. He was ordered held on $10 million bail, officials said.

The charge was brought in Queens because the Shorts had recently moved to a co-op building in the Hunters Point neighborhood. The police say they believe that the boys were killed where they were found, in a loft building at 36 West 25th Street in Manhattan that was managed by Mr. Short, so any charges in connection with their deaths would have to be brought in Manhattan.

''Based upon what we know now, it would appear that the children were killed in Manhattan, and that under those circumstances any homicide charges will be prosecuted in New York County,'' said the Queens District Attorney, Richard A. Brown.

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, said, ''The homicides are under investigation by the N.Y.P.D. and prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney's office.''

Citing the extenuating circumstances of the case, Queens prosecutors asked Judge Laura D. Blackburne to order Mr. Short held on a high bail on the misdemeanor charges. Judge Blackburne set bail at $10 million.

The judge granted a request by Mr. Short's lawyer, Donald B. Lyons, for a psychiatric examination for Mr. Short to determine whether he is competent to understand the charges against him.

Two law enforcement officials who both spoke on the condition of anonymity said Mr. Short had recently checked himself in to a Manhattan hospital after telling officials that he was suicidal.

Neighbors of the Shorts, both at their former residence in Greenwich Village and at their new co-op in Queens, said yesterday that they were shocked by the killings. They recalled the slain boys as high-spirited children who always played together on their stoop and in the halls, and who often had polite words of greeting for their neighbors.

''The father seemed devoted to the kids, and the kids seemed really well adjusted,'' said Adrian Van Caneghem, 45, a resident of 521 Hudson Street in Greenwich Village, where the Shorts lived until last spring. ''They seemed like a normal, close-knit family unit. They were always happy and smiling -- they talked to the neighbors.''

But there was a history of domestic strife in the family.

On May 10, Mr. Short's wife, Jolanta Short, a nurse, filed a complaint with the police that Mr. Short had been harassing her, according to a police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Mrs. Short told the police that her husband had plunged a knife into a couch on Dec. 10, 1995, the official said, and Mr. Short was arrested on menacing charges. But the case was never prosecuted.

On July 4, the police official said, Mr. Short called the police and accused his wife of pushing their older son, Richard. After an investigation, no signs of abuse were found.

The family's current troubles began on Jan. 9, the police said, when Mr. and Mrs. Short had an argument in their apartment in the Citylights co-op at 4-74 48th Avenue. Mrs. Short left the apartment, the police said, and when she returned her husband and sons were gone.

Four days later, on Jan. 13, Mrs. Short called the police and reported the boys missing. When Mr. Short was questioned about their whereabouts, he told detectives that they were ''in a safe place'' but he would not say where they were, said an investigator who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On Jan. 15, Mr. Short was arrested on charges that he had endangered their welfare by keeping them out of school, a misdemeanor. He was freed the next day after his wife and relatives posted $10,000 bail. But he skipped his next court date, on Jan. 21, and a warrant for his arrest was issued.

Later that night, Mr. Short checked himself into St. Vincent's Hospital, where he told hospital workers that he was suicidal, two law enforcement officials said. The hospital called Mrs. Short, who called the police. Mr. Short was arrested at the hospital at 2 A.M. on Jan. 22.

The next day detectives found the bodies of his two children.

Mr. Lyons said Mr. Short was ''distraught, as anyone would be over the death of their two children.''

''He's been held in police custody for three days,'' Mr. Lyons said. ''It's a tremendously sad case.''

Neighbors at Citylights said Mr. Short was well known in the building: he served on the operations committee and ran for a seat on the co-op board, but lost.

The building has a chat room on the Internet, and Mr. Short posted messages there frequently, giving detailed minutes of his committee's meetings, complaining about the telephone and cable television service and about the way several paintings were hung on the lobby's wood-paneled walls. ''Leaving the screws on display for us to see every day is insulting,'' he wrote.

Yesterday that chat room was full of speculation about the deaths of the boys. ''I don't like the idea of sharing a roof with suspected murderers/ kidnappers/wife beaters,'' one resident wrote. ''I'd like to see them forced out. I don't want to see this building become like some public housing building where stuff like this is commonplace. We don't need this type of publicity."


Man Is Charged With Murdering Sons and May Face Death Penalty

By David Rohde - The New York Times

February 6, 1999

A 49-year-old man was indicted on first-degree murder charges yesterday, accused of hacking and bludgeoning his two young sons to death in Manhattan last month after his wife threatened to take the boys back to her native Poland.

The man, Ronald Short, could face the death penalty if prosecutors decide to seek such a punishment and he is convicted in the attack.

Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan District Attorney, said that Mr. Short's 7-year-old son, Richard, died of ''multiple chop wounds to the head and neck,'' and that his 3-year-old-son, John, died of ''blunt impacts to the head.''

Prosecutors would not disclose exactly why they believe Mr. Short killed his children, but a hatchet and a crowbar were removed from the basement of the building in the Flatiron district where the bodies of the two boys were found on Jan. 23.

Mr. Morgenthau has four months to determine whether to seek the death penalty for Mr. Short, who neighbors said had a history of physically abusing his wife. The case presents Mr. Morgenthau, who has declined to pursue the death penalty since New York reinstated capital punishment in 1995, with a decision that could prove politically thorny.

Relatives of some murder victims and police union officials have bitterly criticized the District Attorney, who has long opposed capital punishment, for failing to seek the death penalty against any defendant. Like other prosecutors across the state, Mr. Morgenthau has declined to explain his final decisions in death penalty cases, saying that doing so could weaken prosecution cases and inadvertently set legal precedents.

As he has been in other potential death penalty cases, Mr. Morgenthau was circumspect at yesterday's news conference announcing the indictment.

He declined to detail where, how or when prosecutors believe the boys were killed, or what evidence links Mr. Short to the slayings. When asked his reaction as a father to the killings, he replied, ''My reaction is that we're going to make every effort to make sure that Mr. Short is never a free man.''

Douglas B. Lyons, Mr. Short's lawyer, appealed to Mr. Morgenthau not to pursue the death penalty against his client.

''I hope that Mr. Morgenthau decides after a thorough review of the facts and the evidence not to seek lethal injection for Ronald Short,'' Mr. Lyons said. ''As far as I know, Mr. Short has never been convicted of any criminal offense.''

Mr. Lyons, who would not comment on accusations that the defendant abused his wife, said relatives of the family have told him that Mr. Short never harmed his sons in the past.

State law gives prosecutors wide latitude in determining whether to seek the death penalty, allowing them to weigh the crime against mitigating circumstances. Such circumstances can include a lack of past criminal activity by a defendant, or weak evidence that could make a jury hesitant to convict, given the gravity of the punishment.

The Short case contains elements that argue both for and against seeking capital punishment, lawyers involved in previous death penalty cases said.

The grisly nature of the slayings -- an apparent hatchet and crowbar attack on two defenseless children -- could argue for the death penalty, these lawyers said.

But the lawyers also said that Mr. Short's lack of a criminal history could be used as a reason for seeking a lesser sentence.

An initial psychiatric review of Mr. Short that is scheduled to be revealed in court on March 1 could suggest how controversial the case may become.

Mr. Short, who is on a suicide watch in Kings County Hospital Center, took Prozac in the past, law enforcement officials said.

Lawyers involved in other death penalty cases said psychiatric problems could make it easier for Mr. Morgenthau to decline to seek the death penalty.


Police Discover Bodies of 2 Boys Believed to Be Missing Brothers

By David M. Halbfinger - The New York Times

January 24, 1999

The bodies of two young boys were found hidden in the sub-basement of a Manhattan loft building yesterday. The police said that they believed the bodies were those of two children whose father managed the building, and who was being held in connection with their disappearance.

The police last night had not positively identified the bodies as those of Richard Short, 7, and his brother John, 3, who have been missing since Jan. 9. But their mother, whose name was not released, was notified of the discovery, Chief of Detectives William Allee said.

''It's just a horror when you see children like that,'' Chief Allee said minutes after the bodies were carried out, wrapped together in a common stretcher, to a waiting medical examiner's van.

The father of the missing boys, Ronald Short, 49, of Hunters Point, Queens, had been the focus of an exhaustive police investigation since his wife reported the boys missing on Jan. 13. Chief Allee said that the detectives had repeatedly searched five buildings managed by Mr. Short, as well as his apartment in Hunters Point, another apartment in lower Manhattan, a storage room in Manhattan, and a car.

The bodies were found yesterday afternoon as the detectives combed through 36 West 25th Street, near Madison Square Park, for the second time.

Chief Allee said that the detectives crawled through a small door into a room that ''probably at one time was used to store coal, next to the boiler, when these buildings had coal-fired boilers.'' There, among rubble, construction equipment and building-maintenance gear, they found the two small figures, he said.

Chief Allee refused to discuss the cause of the boys' death or the condition of the bodies. He said that an autopsy would be performed by the Medical Examiner's office.

According to the police, Mr. Short and his wife had a dispute on Jan. 9. His wife left their home, in the City Lights apartments at 4-74 48th Avenue in Hunters Point, and returned a short time later to find Mr. Short and their boys gone.

For several days, Chief Allee said, Mr. Short refused to tell his wife where the boys were. ''He was saying they were in good health and with relatives,'' the chief said. She reported the disappearance of the boys to the police on Jan. 13.

Two days later, Chief Allee said, Mr. Short was arrested at the couple's Queens apartment and charged with endangering the welfare of a minor. He was held until last Tuesday, when he posted $10,000 bail, and was scheduled to appear in court on the endangerment charge on Thursday. He failed to appear, and was arrested again at 2 A.M. Friday in Manhattan, the police said.

Mr. Short refused to answer police questions both times he was arrested, the chief said. He retained a lawyer after his second arrest on Friday. Last night, he remained in custody at the 108th Precinct in Queens, Chief Allee said.

Chief Allee said that the police would await the results of the autopsy and would confer with the District Attorney's office before deciding whether to upgrade the charges against Mr. Short.

The police had sought the public's help in locating the boys, circulating a description of the two children as recently as Friday. When last seen, Richard, who spoke Polish and English, was wearing green headgear and a blue scarf. He and his younger brother John, who spoke English only, were wearing green, red and blue-hooded sweatshirts, blue jeans and sneakers, the police said.

Jennifer Falk, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children's Services, said last night that the agency had not received any reports concerning the Short children before they were reported missing.

The police said that a street-level tenant of the 16-story 25th Street building, an antiques dealer, had no connection to the children's disappearance or discovery.

Steve Cowan, an antiques dealer in the building next door, said that it would have been easy for someone to move the bodies to the West 25th Street location without being noticed.

''During the week over here, it's so busy with United Parcel, Fed Ex trucks, all the private carriers -- it's amazing how busy it is,'' he said. ''If you took a box, a bag, or anything into this building, nobody would think twice."



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