(March 28, 1954 – April 13, 2006) was an American serial killer. Shulman,
a postal worker from Hicksville, New York on Long Island, was convicted
of murdering five prostitutes between 1991 and 1996, the year when he
He was sentenced to death in 1999 for the only murder
he committed after New York State reinstated the death penalty in 1995.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his other murders because New
York's death penalty law was not in effect at the time he committed them.
His sentence was reduced to life in prison after the New York State
Court of Appeals invalidated the death penalty in 2004.
He died of natural causes exactly 10 years and one
week after his arrest.
A 42-year-old post office sorter, Robert Shulman
confessed to killing five prostitutes between 1991 and 1996 and dumping
their dismembered bodies in garbage bins around New York. The sensitive
type, Bobby whimpered as he was led to a police car in Patchogue, Long
Island. He said he felt "horrible" and apologized to the families of the
victims. Shulman's brother is also being questioned by police in
connection with the murders. It is unclear how the younger brother is
involved in the killings.
Shulman enjoyed picking up prostitutes and taking them
back to his apartment for sex and drugs. After satiating his senses he
would beat them to death using a hammer, baseball bat or a set of
barbells. Bobbie would then chop-off the dead girls' arms so they
couldn't be identified and dumped their remains in garbage containers
around Long Island. Police tracked down one of the victims from a tattoo
on her body. From there the investigators linked Shulman and his blue
Cadillac to the dead prostitute.
At first police charged him with killing two women.
While in custody he admitted to three other murders. He claimed that he
would smoke tons of crack with his prostitute friends, black out and
wake up to find them dead.
Robert Shulman (3+)
A 42-year-old post office sorter, Bobby whimpered as he was led to a police
car in Patchogue, Long Island. He said he felt "horrible" and
apologized to the families of the victims. Shulman's brother been
charged with helping dump some bodies, but is not believed to have be
involved in the killings.
Shulman enjoyed picking up prostitutes
and taking them back to his apartment for drugs and mayhem. After
satiating his senses he would beat them to death using a hammer,
baseball bat or a set of barbells.
Bobbie would sometimes chop off the
dead girls' arms and/or handsso they couldn't be identified and dumped
their remains in garbage containers in Long Island, Brooklyn and Yonkers.
curiously, he aslo chopped off a leg or two.
Police tracked down one of the victims
from a tattoo on her body. Investigators were then able to link Shulman
and his brother's blue Cadillac to the dead prostitute. First police
charged him with killing two women. While in custody he admitted
involvement in three other murders. Apparently he would smoke tons of
crack with his prostitute friends, black out and wake up to find them
On March 4, 1999, a Suffolk
County Court jury convicted Shulman of first-degree murder in Long
Island's first capital murder case since a new death penalty law has
been enacted. Shulman was found guilty of murdering and dismembering
three prostitutes in 1994 and 1995. He is suspected of at least two more
In court, Shulman wore a plaid shirt
and a blue sweater. When he was arrested, his hair was long and scraggly.
In court, he wore his hair in a buzz cut. It has taken three months of
pre-trial hearings, four months of jury selection, and four months of
testimony and two days of deliberation. The penalty phase of the trial
begins March 15.
To be prosecuted under New York's new
serial killer provision, a defendant must be accused of killing three or
more people within a 24-month period as part of a common scheme or plan
or in a similar fashion.
On May 7, 1999, a jury
recomended the death penalty for Shulman. A jury of Court County of Suffolk need 5 hours
of deliberation. "This defendant
was a killing machine," said. "The jury was right on the mark
in its decision."
Shulman was convicted
of killing Kelly Sue Bunting, 28, of Hollis, Queens, whose body was
found in December 1995 in a trash bin in Melville, Long Island; Lisa Ann
Warner, 18, of Jamaica, Queens, whose body was found in April 1995 at a
Brooklyn trash recycling plant; and an unidentified woman whose
mutilated body was found in December 1994 on a roadside in Medford.
He is also is awaiting
trial in Westchester County for the murders of two other women. He is
accused of killing Lori Vasquez, a 24-year-old Brooklyn woman, in 1991
and dumping her body into a Yonkers trash can. He also allegedly killed
and dismembered another woman whose body was found in a trash bin in
Yonkers in 1992. She was never identified.
Shulman's attorney, Paul Gianelli,
argued that his client's life should be spared because he suffered from
depression and had a weak grasp of reality. As a result, the attorney
said, Shulman was unable to help prepare a defense during the sentencing
phase of the trial.
Defense testimony recounting Shulman's
troubled childhood -- his mother and brother suicide -- failed to sway
the jurors. He will be formally sentenced to death by Suffolk County
Court Judge Arthur Pitts on June 3. Shulman, who faces two more murder
charges in Westchester County, attempted suicide with a razor after his
conviction. He wept as yesterday's death sentence was announced.
Long Island serial killer dies in Albany hospital
Robert Shulman, the former Hicksville postal worker whose spree
of murdering, dismembering and discarding young women horrified
Long Island a decade ago and made him the Island's first death
row inmate in decades, died in an Albany hospital yesterday,
state correction officials said.
Shulman, 52, had been recently resentenced to life without
parole after New York's death penalty was overturned. Shulman's
closest living relatives - brothers Barry and Sheldon, of Long
Beach, did not return calls for comment.
"Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord," said Ruth Brown, of York,
Pa., yesterday in her first words after hearing the man who
killed her daughter, Lisa Ann Warner, had died. "Even though man
took away the death penalty, he deserved it, and he got it. ...
I feel it's the Almighty's justice system.
Serial killer now gets life
November 18, 2005
Serial killer Robert Shulman, who battered and dismembered five women then
cheated the executioner, was resentenced yesterday to life in prison
The 51-year-old former postal worker from Hicksville had originally been
sentenced to death on Long Island for three of the grisly slayings in
the 1990s, but his life was spared when New York's capital murder law
The resentencing brought more than a dozen relatives and friends of those
three victims to Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.
"I was only able to bury the parts of my daughter that the police could
find," said John Bunting, choking back tears as he begged a judge to
send Robert Shulman away for life for killing his youngest daughter,
Kelly Sue, in 1995.
"He cut her up in little pieces, and threw them around the city like they
were pieces of meat."
Shulman, who admitted to killing the three women, was sentenced to death
in 1999 in Suffolk County.
But the state's highest court threw out his sentence last year after
rejecting the state's capital punishment law. In 2000, he also admitted
killing and dismembering two women in Westchester County.
Appearing yesterday in a green prison jumpsuit, the haggard and greasy-haired
Shulman chose to leave the courtroom during Bunting's statement.
Judge Arthur Pitts rejected Shulman's lawyer's request for 25 years to
"All we are asking is that hope not be completely extinguished," said
Bunting bit his fist as the judge quashed that hope. For the grieving
father, the day was bittersweet.
"I will find peace when I get the news that you are no longer breathing,"
Bunting, of Los Angeles, said in a statement read by the prosecutor. "I
hope to God it will be soon."
Kelly Sue Bunting was one of three women beaten to death by Shulman, who
then sawed off their limbs.
He was convicted in 1999 of killing Bunting, 28, of Hollis, Queens. Her
remains were found in a Melville trash bin in 1995. Remains of the other
victims were found in Medford and Brooklyn.
Prosecutors said Shulman drove the women to the room he rented in
Hicksville, had sex with them and then killed them and dismembered their
In a low voice, Shulman muttered some words to Pitts in court, still
maintaining his innocence. Shulman's legal team had argued that his
admissions were coerced by cops.
Shulman taken off death row
October 26, 2005
The first person on Long Island to be sentenced to capital punishment
since New York adopted it 10 years ago is now officially off death row,
after the state's highest court yesterday upheld the conviction of
serial killer Robert Shulman, but vacated his death sentence.
Shulman was convicted in 1999 of bludgeoning three women to death inside
his Hicksville apartment. The bodies of the victims - Kelly Sue Bunting,
28; Lisa Ann Warner, 18; and a woman who was never identified - were
found dismembered in Melville, Brooklyn and Medford.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of the condition that
guy left my poor daughter's body," said Bunting's father, John Bunting
Jr. of suburban Los Angeles. He said he was "happy" the conviction was
upheld, and unfazed by the vacating of Shulman's sentence.
"On death row, he's living a peaceful life," he said. "I really hope
somebody in prison will kill him."
In May 1999, a Suffolk jury sentenced Shulman to death, but his sentence
was invalidated last year when the Court of Appeals nullified the
state's capital punishment law because of a provision that gave jurors
Shulman was the last remaining of Long Island's three death row inmates.
Stephen LaValle, who raped and killed a Medford jogger, and Nicholson
McCoy, who sodomized and killed a female co-worker in a supermarket
bathroom, have both been re-sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"We're pleased the court upheld the prosecutors' case against the
defendant," District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement. "This
sordid chapter of Suffolk history will conclude when Shulman is
That is expected to happen in about two months. Prosecutors will recommend
life without parole.
In their appeal, the Legal Aid attorneys representing Shulman argued that
several errors were made by the court that justified a new trial. Among
them, they argued that police did not have probable cause to arrest
Shulman; that the trial judge, State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts,
abused his discretion in denying defense attorneys' challenges to three
jurors; and that the jury was incorrectly instructed that the murders
were committed in a "similar fashion," when there were significant
differences in each.
The Court of Appeals rejected the arguments, and noted that in all three
cases Shulman brought the women home, beat them to death with "a heavy,
blunt object" and "used such force that he split the victims' skulls
Bunting spoke at Shulman's original sentencing six years ago, calling the
killer's lack of remorse "despicable." When Shulman returns to a
Riverhead courtroom to receive his new punishment, Bunting said he will
speak again, "even if I have to drive there."
"I want to face him and tell him what I think of him, one more time," he
An Inmate On Death Row Pleads Guilty
In More Killings
By John T. McQuiston - The New York
January 5, 2000
A former postal worker who was
sentenced to death last July for killing three women and disposing of
their dismembered bodies on Long Island pleaded guilty yesterday to
murdering two other women whose bodies were found in Yonkers.
The convicted man, Robert Shulman, 45, admitted in
Westchester County Supreme Court that he killed Lori Vasquez, 24, of
Brooklyn, in late August 1991 and dumped her body in a trash bin on
Belknap Avenue in Yonkers. He also pleaded guilty to killing another
woman, whose body was found in another Yonkers trash bin in June 1992,
and who has never been identified.
Mr. Shulman faces a sentence of life in prison for
the Westchester murders. The death penalty cannot be applied because the
murders were committed before capital punishment was reinstated, in
If Mr. Shulman succeeds in his appeal to have his
death sentence in the Suffolk slayings overturned, his Westchester
conviction should assure that he will spend the rest of his life in
prison without the possibility of parole, prosecutors said.
In all five murders, prosecutors said, Mr. Shulman
picked up his victims at places where prostitutes frequently gathered,
took them to his apartment in Hicksville, on Long Island, smoked crack
cocaine with them and bludgeoned them to death.
Mr. Shulman pleaded guilty yesterday at the start of
the second day of his trial before Justice Joseph West of Westchester
County Supreme Court. During opening statements on Monday, the
prosecutor, Robert Neary, an assistant district attorney, described Mr.
Shulman as a recluse who sought excitement through prostitutes and
Mr. Shulman's lawyer, William Keahon, said there were
no witnesses to the dumping of the bodies in Yonkers. He also said that
a long confession Mr. Shulman gave to the police in Suffolk County and
in Yonkers after his arrest on April 6, 1996, had been coerced.
Mr. Shulman was arrested by Suffolk detectives who
were led to his Hicksville home by prostitutes who had seen Mr. Shulman
in his car with one or more of his victims or had been to Mr. Shulman's
Mr. Shulman's brother, Barry Shulman, 40, who pleaded
guilty in Suffolk County Court last month to helping dispose of the
bodies on Long Island, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 21 to up to
two years in prison. He faces similar charges in Westchester, but is not
expected to be sentenced to any further time because of his brother's
guilty plea yesterday.
Paul Gianelli, who with Mr. Keohon was co-counsel to
Robert Shulman, said that their client pleaded guilty because the
prosecution had agreed to spare Barry Shulman any further prison
sentence. ''For Robert Shulman, it was a family decision,'' Mr. Gianelli
N.Y. serial killer sentenced to death
Awaits Trial on Two More Slayings
July 12, 1999
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- A former postal worker today
became the first person to be sentenced to death under the "serial
killer" provision of New York's death penalty law. Robert Shulman,
45, was convicted in March of bludgeoning three women to death. A judge
sentenced him under a provision in the 1995 death penalty law that calls
for the execution of someone who kills three or more people within a two-year
period as part of a common plan or in a similar fashion. Only two other
people have been sentenced to death in New York since the death penalty
was reinstated. Both are appealing their cases. 'I didn't do this'
Shulman, a former postal worker in the Long Island
village of Hicksville, was convicted of killing three women whose bodies
were found in 1994 and 1995. He is awaiting trial in the killings of two
other women. His lawyer argued that Shulman's life should be spared
because he suffers from depression and has a weak grasp of reality.
"God knows I didn't do this," Shulman said in court today.
"That gives me peace of mind."
Serial killer should die, jury says
Former Postal Worker Dismembered Three Women
By Michelle Gotthelf - APBnews.com
May 7, 1999
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. -- A Long Island jury
has recommended a death sentence for a serial killer convicted of
brutally murdering and dismembering three women.
Robert Shulman, 41, a former postal worker in his
hometown of Hicksville, was found guilty two months ago of bludgeoning
three women he had picked up in a popular prostitute hangout in New York
Prosecutors argued at the trial that Shulman smoked
crack with the victims before beating them to death, cutting off their
limbs and dumping two of their bodies in trash bins throughout Suffolk
County. The other he discarded in a shallow grave.
He is also accused of two killings in Westchester
County, north of New York City.
Brother allegedly helped
Shulman's brother, Barry, a fellow postal worker, is
accused of helping dispose of the bodies. He is charged with two counts
of first-degree hindering prosecution and two counts of unlawfully
disposing of a dead body in connection with the murders of two women.
Prosecutors argued that overwhelming DNA evidence
sealed the jury's decision, including forensic testimony that the
women's blood was splattered all over Shulman's bedroom walls. It took
them less than four hours Thursday to choose death by lethal injection
instead of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Suffolk County Criminal Court Judge Arthur G. Pitts
will formally sentence Shulman on June 3. Shulman could be the first
convict executed in New York since the state re-enacted its death
penalty law on Sept. 1, 1995. There are only two others on the state's
Shulman's lawyer told reporters he will file an
Charged in two others killings
In Westchester, Shulman has been indicted on murder
charges for beating and dismembering two women. He pleaded innocent to
the 1991 and 1992 murders of 24-year-old Lori Vasquez and a nameless
woman. Both bodies were found in Yonkers trash bins.
The victims in the Suffolk County case are Kelly Sue
Bunting, 28, of Hollis, Queens; Lisa Ann Warner, 18, of Jamaica, Queens;
and a still unidentified woman whose body was found in a shallow grave
March 2, 1999
A Suffolk County Court jury convicted serial killer Robert Shulman of first-degree murder in Long Island's first capital murder case
since a new death penalty law was enacted. Shulman, a 44-year-old former
postal worker from Hicksville, was found guilty of murdering and
dismembering three prostitutes in 1994 and 1995.
March 1, 1999
Attorneys are making their closing arguments in the case of Long
Island postal worker Robert Shulman. He's accused of the serial murders of
three prostitutes whose body parts were found in dumpsters on Long Island,
Brooklyn and Westchester County. The prosecution says it's a simple case
and that Shulman even confessed when arrested. The defense says Shulman
was coerced and was trying to protect his brother who they say is the real
CoCt No. 130
The People &c., Respondent, v. Robert Shulman, Appellant.
Andrew C. Fine, Arthur H. Hopkirk and Denise Fabiano, for appellant.
Guy Arcidiacono, Glenn Green and Michael J. Miller, for respondent.
Association of the Bar of the City of New York, amicus curiae.
A jury convicted defendant Robert Yale Shulman, a confessed serial
killer, of several offenses, including one count of first-degree murder
for intentionally causing the death of three women in "separate criminal
transactions . . . committed in a similar fashion" (Penal Law
125.27[a][xi]). Because the People filed a notice of intent to seek
the death penalty, a separate sentencing proceeding followed (see CPL
400.27) in which the jury concluded unanimously that defendant should
be executed. As is mandated, defendant appealed directly to this Court (see
CPL 450.70, 470.30; see also NY Const, Art VI, § 3[b]).
The death sentence is no longer at issue in this case.
Defendant contends, and the People do not dispute, that developments
before our decision in People v LaValle (3 NY3d 88 ) require that
the sentence of death be set aside. In Matter of Hynes v Tomei (92 NY2d
613 , cert denied 527 US 1015 ), we struck certain plea
provisions from the CPL, concluding that they created an
unconstitutional two-tiered penalty level for death penalty cases (see
id. at 620). Citing People v Harris (98 NY2d 452 ), where "we set
aside the death sentence of a defendant who went to trial while the plea
provisions were in effect" (People v Mateo, 2 NY3d 383, 399, cert denied
_ US _, 124 S Ct 2929  [Mateo II]), defendant asserts that we are
likewise compelled to set aside his death sentence. We agree.
Accordingly, we have no occasion to consider any of defendant's other,
now academic challenges to imposition of the death penalty in this case
(see id. at 401; see also Harris, 98 NY2d at 496-497).
Defendant also presses numerous grounds for reversing his convictions,
to which we now turn (see CPL 450.70, 470.30; see also People v
LaValle, 3 NY3d at 102-116; Mateo II, 2 NY3d at 401; People v Culhane,
33 NY2d 90, 94 ). For the reasons that follow, we affirm
At about 8:05 A.M. on December 7, 1994, an employee of the
Suffolk County Department of Public Works, while traveling on Long
Island Avenue from the Department's garage in Yaphank to a jobsite in
the Town of Medford, noticed what appeared to be a brand-new blue
Rubbermaid garbage can lying on its side amidst other debris at the
road's edge. Stopping his pickup truck to observe the garbage can more
closely, he thought to himself that "somebody had dumped a bad load of
meat." Upon arriving at the jobsite, he told his supervisor about this
discovery, and suggested that Department personnel clean up the area and
retrieve the garbage can for use to store their tools. On his way back
from the jobsite to the garage later that morning, the supervisor pulled
over to inspect the garbage can. He discovered a woman's remains.
The victim's nude body was partially covered with plastic bags, and a
white towel or bath mat was wrapped around her head. A white powdery
substance, later determined to be baking soda, was visible on her
remains. The victim's left leg was severed midway between the knee and
groin area; both arms had been amputated; she had sustained serious
blunt force trauma to the face, head, eye, nose and mouth. The victim's
left arm displayed a tattoo consisting of a red heart and a banner with
the name "Adrian." Despite extensive efforts by the police to find out
who this woman was in life, to this day she remains identified only as
"Jane Doe Medford."
On April 6, 1995, employees at a recycling plant in Brooklyn, which
processes refuse from New York State and elsewhere, happened upon a
second dismembered nude female body. The corpse was discovered on a
conveyor belt, which was halted just before its contents would have been
deposited into a compactor, tied into a bale and transferred to a
landfill. This victim was missing her legs; her right arm was cut off at
the shoulder, while the left arm, which was severed above the wrist,
displayed what appeared to be a self-administered tattoo depicting two
small crosses. The head and torso were stuffed in a black plastic bag;
the victim's face was badly battered. She was subsequently identified as
Lisa Ann Warner.
On December 11, 1995, an employee of a sheet metal company located on
Old Walt Whitman Road in Melville, New York, stopped for a lottery
ticket on his way into work in the morning.
At about 4:00 P.M., he discovered that he had misplaced
the ticket. Fearing that he might have accidentally thrown it out, the
employee launched a search that ultimately led to a dumpster located in
the company's parking lot. When he and a co-worker began rummaging
through the dumpster to find the ticket, the employee spotted what
looked like a quilt and a brand-new sleeping bag, partially encased in
plastic garbage bags. He nudged the sleeping bag with a piece of wood,
and felt something "hard" inside it, which he assumed was a dead animal.
He then enlisted the help of another co-worker, who coaxed the sleeping
bag's zipper open with the piece of wood. A human foot protruded.
The victim was a female; both of her hands had been cut off just
above the wrist. She had suffered severe head trauma and was nude,
although a blood-soaked white tee shirt was near her head as was a blue
brassiere. Her left breast bore a tattoo with the name "Melani," and
just below it, what appeared to be two flowers with their stems
intertwined. A powdery white substance, later identified as principally
calcium carbonate, was visible on her corpse. Because there was no way
to fingerprint the victim, the police released a physical description
and a photograph of the tattoo to the news media, and requested help
from the public in identifying her.
Acting on an anonymous tip, on December 13, 1995, Suffolk County
Homicide Detective Joseph White went to an address in Hollis, Queens,
where he talked to three women. They identified the victim as Melani, a
fellow prostitute who, like them, worked Jamaica Avenue between 198th
Street and Francis Lewis Boulevard. Detective White eventually took
statements from Camille M. and Maggie D., both of whom last saw Melani
on December 8, 1995. They observed Melani, later identified as Kelly Sue
Bunting, getting into an older model blue Cadillac driven by a white
male. On December 14, 15 and 16, Detective White canvassed a number of
area motels patronized by prostitutes, reasoning that Melani could not
have been killed and dismembered in a motel room without leaving behind
the conspicuous signs of a bloody encounter. He found no information to
assist him in his investigation.
From his conversations with several prostitutes, however, Detective
White learned that a white male who drove a blue Cadillac frequently
solicited them along Jamaica Avenue.
This man took the women not to a motel, but to a residence in Nassau
County. He lived in a room in the rear of the first floor, which was
entered from the back through a screened-in porch. He would ask the
women to strip and "cook" his powdered cocaine into crack, using baking
soda and water. Over time, Detective White obtained consistent
statements from five different women (Dawn V., Kathleen W., Roxanne L.,
Virginia S. and Ann H.) about this man and his habits.
On January 2, 1996 and again on January 3, 1996, first Kathleen W.
and then Dawn V. escorted Detective White to a house in Hicksville,
where a 1983 blue Cadillac was parked in the driveway. From the license
plate number, Detective White established that the car was registered to
an individual who turned out to be defendant's brother.
Detective White had discovered that only Sears sold the brand of
sleeping bag in which Kelly Sue Bunting's corpse was wrapped. Once he
learned the name of the individual to whom the blue Cadillac was
registered, he contacted Sears's loss prevention office in Boston on
January 4, 1996 to confirm that this brand of sleeping bag was indeed
exclusive to Sears (it was) and to inquire whether this individual (defendant's
brother) had "any history with Sears department stores as a customer."
The Sears employee to whom Detective White spoke indicated that Sears
had a record of defendant's brother at the Hicksville address, and that
he was a post office employee and a member of a postal credit union, but
did not have a Sears credit card. She then "asked [the detective] if
[he] was aware there was a Robert Shulman at that address" in Hicksville.
This was how defendant's name first surfaced in the Bunting
investigation. Detective White learned that defendant had obtained a
Sears credit card in July 1995, although it had never been used, and
that, like his brother, he was a post office employee and a member of
the postal credit union.
On January 4, 1996, Detective White also initiated surveillance of
the Hicksville residence, and the police took photographs of a white
male who left the house and of the car in which he drove away. That same
day, Kathleen W. and Dawn V., the two women who had led Detective White
to the house, identified these photographs as depicting the white male
who solicited prostitutes along Jamaica Avenue and the blue Cadillac
that he drove. On January 6, 1996, Roxanne L. likewise identified the
photographs. She further informed Detective White that this man had told
her that he worked the night shift at the post office; that his brother
also lived in the Hicksville residence; and that he was angry at Melani
for "beat[ing] him out of" some coke that she had bought for him. On
January 14, 1996, Camille M., one of the women who saw Kelly Sue Bunting
on December 8, 1995, selected defendant's photograph from a photo array
of ten individuals, and the blue Cadillac registered to his brother from
a photo array of eight vehicles.
On January 16, 1996, Detective White approached postal authorities
for information about the work schedules of both defendant and his
brother. A postal inspector advised him that defendant's brother worked
as a mail handler at the 28th Street post office in Manhattan from 4:00
P.M. to 12:30 A.M., with Tuesdays and Wednesdays
off; and that defendant worked as a mail handler at the post office in
Hicksville from 10:30 P.M. to 7:00 A.M., with Sundays and
Mondays off. Detective White subsequently learned from the postal
inspector that defendant had not worked as scheduled on December 7, 1994
(specifically, he left work at 7:00 A.M. on December 6, 1994,
and returned to work at 6:30 P.M.on December 7, 1994) and
December 8, 1995. Jane Doe Medford's body was discovered on the morning
of December 7, 1994; Kelly Sue Bunting was last seen alive on December
At about 2:28 P.M. on January 20, 1996, Detective White
observed the white male previously identified by Kathleen W., Dawn V.
and Roxanne L. from surveillance photographs drive another white male
from the Hicksville residence to the train station. At this point in the
Bunting investigation, Detective White knew that the automobile was
registered to defendant's brother and, based on the information from
Sears, that both defendant and his brother lived at the Hicksville
address. By correlating the surveilled movements of these two men with
the known work schedules and work locations for defendant and his
brother as well as by observing whether lights were on or off in
different areas of the Hicksville residence, the police were able to
ascertain that the man identified by Kathleen W., Dawn V. and Roxanne L.
was defendant, and that he lived in the rear of the house's first floor.
On January 25, 1996, Detective White showed the photo arrays to
Maggie D., the other woman who had seen Kelly Sue Bunting on December 8,
1995. She selected defendant's photograph as depicting this individual,
and the blue Cadillac registered to his brother as the car that he was
driving at the time. On that same day, Detective White asked Camille M.,
who had selected defendant's photograph from the photo array on January
14, 1996, to look at a photo array including a photograph of defendant's
brother but not defendant. She was unable to make any identification.
On January 26, 1996, Detective White met with Virginia S., who
described a white male who had picked her up in the vicinity of Jamaica
Avenue in a blue Cadillac about four times, and had taken her back to
his place in Nassau County. She recalled having seen a work bench or
table with tools, including a hacksaw and a hammer, in the screened-in
porch off his room, and observed that he "[a]lways had baking soda
around to cook his drugs." She also related that this man had told her
that his name was "Bob," and that she had seen items in his room with
the name "Bob" on them. She selected defendant's photograph and the
photograph of the car registered to defendant's brother from the photo
On February 12, 1996, Ann H. recounted her single encounter with
defendant to Detective White. She identified defendant and the car
registered to his brother from the photo arrays. She described his room
in the rear of the Hicksville residence as "filthy."
At that time, defendant was assigned to work in a small security
booth at the post office in Hicksville. With the assistance of postal
inspectors, on March 21, 1996, Detective White and personnel from the
Suffolk County Crime Laboratory gained access to this padlocked booth
just after defendant completed his shift and left for the day. Crime lab
personnel photographed the booth and also vacuumed and performed tape
Defendant's brother often parked the blue Cadillac on a certain
residential street in Hicksville near the train station before taking
the train into Manhattan to work. On March 22, 1996, Detective White
arranged for an officer in the canine unit to check six cars (including
the blue Cadillac) parked on this street with the officer's "cadaver
dog," a canine certified as having successfully completed various
training exercises to detect body fluids or parts or decaying flesh. The
canine officer did not know in advance which car was the object of
Detective White's suspicions. He walked the dog down the block past the
six cars, and back up the block past five cars.1 He informed
Detective White that his dog had reacted positively to one of the cars
-- the blue Cadillac registered to defendant's brother.
On March 25, 1996, Detective White met with personnel from the crime
lab to discuss their findings with respect to trace evidence recovered
in connection with the bodies of Jane Doe Medford and Kelly Sue Bunting,
and at the security booth where defendant worked. Trace evidence
detected with both bodies included worn and debris-laden light blue
carpet fibers, orange carpet fibers, cat hairs and foam padding. In
addition, jute carpet backing was found on Kelly Sue Bunting's body and
the wrappings in which she was enshrouded. These same five items -- worn
and debris-laden light blue carpet fibers, orange carpet fibers, cat
hairs, foam padding and jute -- turned up in the sweepings and tape
lifts from the security booth where defendant worked. The laboratory
technician told Detective White that there was a "strong associative
connection" among these five items.
The Suffolk County Police arrested defendant near his Hicksville
residence on April 6, 1996. Detective White placed defendant in the back
seat of an unmarked police car for the trip to the police station at
Yaphank, and advised him of his Miranda rights, which he waived. On the
way, Detective White showed defendant a photograph of Kelly Sue Bunting.
Defendant made several incriminating statements while simultaneously
denying responsibility for her death.
Detective White and other detectives interviewed defendant at the
police station. When the detectives asked him to talk about prostitutes,
he replied that they hate and kill people. When they pointed out that he
killed people, too, he responded that he was paying the officers'
salaries, that he was a good citizen who paid taxes while the girls
committed crimes and did not pay taxes, yet no one locked them up. He
subsequently gave four written statements in which he described the
circumstances of the killings of Kelly Sue Bunting, Jane Doe Medford and
Lisa Warner; he agreed to give hair, blood and saliva samples.
Defendant claimed that after having smoked crack with Melani, he
blacked out and later awakened to find her lying face down on the floor
with blood everywhere, including by her head and on both his hands; that
he had used tools stored on the screened-in porch to saw off her hands
"so no one could identify her"; that he wrapped her body in plastic
garbage bags and two sleeping bags and put the body in the trunk of his
brother's car, along with her clothes and a small brown paper bag in
which he had placed her severed hands; that he discarded the paper bag
in a garbage can at a fast-food restaurant and the clothes in a dumpster
at another location; that he threw the body away in a dumpster at a
factory near the Mid-Island post office where he once worked; that there
was a lot of blood to clean up in his room, causing him to dispose of a
blood-stained greenish blue carpet; and that he wished that he had cut
out Melani's tattoo once he read in the newspaper that she had been
identified by it.
In his own handwriting, defendant also inscribed three photographs
from the Bunting investigation (two of the dumpster where Kelly Sue
Bunting's remains were discovered; one of her body at the morgue) with
statements admitting to his dismemberment and disposal of the body, and
signed his name.
Defendant admitted that he had killed Jane Doe Medford in his room,
and again claimed that he had blacked out after smoking crack with her,
only to awaken and find her unaccountably dead and bleeding from the
face and head. So that she would not be identified, he used an axe and a
hacksaw to dismember her body; he threw the axe and hacksaw away in the
trash afterwards; he disposed of her body parts "all over the place,"
and similarly discarded her belongings in various dumpsters. Because he
could not dispose of her remains immediately, he sprayed her remains
with an air freshener and sprinkled them with baking soda to mask the
odor of decomposition.
Defendant acknowledged, inscribed and signed photographs related to
the killing of Lisa Ann Warner. He admitted that he killed all the
victims in his room at the Hicksville residence. According to defendant,
he picked up Lisa Ann Warner along Jamaica Avenue; returned to his room
and smoked crack with her; blacked out and awakened to find her dead
from head wounds (but he also admitted to hitting her with a hammer);
dismembered her body and disposed of her body parts and clothes in
When one of the detectives suggested to defendant that he should "[g]et
away from the lie about blacking out, [which was] just not believable,"
he agreed, stating that he had not blacked out but instead had "just
lost control" and sometimes felt anger and rage. He recounted that he
had killed Jane Doe Medford with a baseball bat; Kelly Sue Bunting with
a dumbbell; and Lisa Ann Warner with a hammer. Defendant threw out these
makeshift weapons immediately afterwards because he would always think
that "it's not going to happen again." He reiterated that he cut off his
victim's limbs in his room and discarded their body parts in multiple
locations in order to foil identification.
Based upon information from these post-arrest confessions, on April 7
and April 8, 1996 the police executed a search warrant for defendant's
room, which was photographed, partially disassembled and transported to
various divisions of the crime lab. There they discovered evidence of
drug use, baking soda, calcium carbonate, air fresheners, carpet
cleaners, and hundreds of apparent bloodstains on the walls, ceilings
and surfaces of practically every freestanding item. Through DNA
analyses, various stains were determined to be consistent with the DNA
profiles of Jane Doe Medford, Lisa Ann Warner or Kelly Sue Bunting.
Defendant contends, among other things, that the police lacked
probable cause to arrest him; and that the trial court erred by
rejecting his for cause challenges to certain prospective jurors, and
abused its discretion by denying his request to question the seated
jurors as to whether they had read a particular newspaper headline.
Defendant also maintains that the trial court improperly instructed the
jury as to the meaning of first-degree "similar fashion" murder.
A. Probable Cause
Defendant claims that the evidence offered by the People at the
suppression hearing fell short of demonstrating prima facie that it was
more probable than not that he committed the offenses being investigated.
Probable cause "does not require proof sufficient to warrant a
conviction beyond a reasonable doubt but merely information sufficient
to support a reasonable belief that an offense has been . . . committed"
by the person arrested (People v Bigelow, 66 NY2d 417, 423 ). When
determining whether the police had probable cause to arrest, the "inquiry
is not as to defendant's guilt but as to the sufficiency for arrest
purposes of the grounds for the arresting officer's belief that [the
defendant] was guilty" (People v Coffey, 12 NY2d 443, 452 ; see
CPL § 140.10[b]). Further, while defendant invites us to look at each
fact or circumstance considered by the police as though standing alone,
"[t]he legal conclusion [as to whether probable cause existed] is to be
made after considering all of the facts and circumstances together" (Bigelow,
66 NY2d at 423 [emphasis added]). A synoptic evaluation is essential
because "[v]iewed singly, these may not be persuasive, yet when viewed
together the puzzle may fit and probable cause found" (id.). Detective
White testified at the suppression hearing about what the police had
discovered over the course of a painstaking four-month investigation:
that Kelly Sue Bunting was last seen alive in defendant's company; that
Kelly Sue Bunting and Jane Doe Medford were both killed by being
severely beaten about the face and head and were disposed of as trash,
minus hands or limbs, suggesting a common killer; that the trace
evidence associated with the bodies of Kelly Sue Bunting and Jane Doe
Medford (worn and debris-laden light blue carpet fibers, orange carpet
fibers, cat hairs, jute and foam padding) was also present in the
security booth where defendant worked; that defendant did not work as
scheduled on December 7, 1994, the day Jane Doe Medford's body was
discovered, or December 8, 1995, the day Kelly Sue Bunting was last seen
alive; that defendant was known to entertain prostitutes, including
Kelly Sue Bunting, in his room, a relatively secluded spot entered
through a screened-in porch where another prostitute had seen a work
bench or table with tools, including a hacksaw and a hammer; and that
several prostitutes reported that defendant always had baking soda on
hand in his room, and that the bodies of Kelly Sue Bunting and Jane Doe
Medford were sprinkled with a white powdery substance.2 These
multiple points of correspondence between defendant and the killings of
Kelly Sue Bunting and Jane Doe Medford were evidence that it was more
probable than not that defendant was the perpetrator. Accordingly, the
police had a sufficient basis to arrest defendant.
B. Jury Selection
We focus upon four of defendant's jury selection claims.
In three of these four claims, defendant argues that the trial court
erred by rejecting his for cause challenges under CPL 270.20(1)(b) to
prospective jurors who, he asserts, possessed "a state of mind that [was]
likely to preclude [them] from rendering an impartial verdict based upon
the evidence adduced at the trial"; in the remaining claim, defendant
contests the trial court's rejection of his for cause challenge under
CPL 270.20(1)(c). Noting that he exhausted his peremptory challenges,
defendant argues that he is entitled to a new trial if the trial court
committed any errors (see CPL 270.20). We find no error.
1. Prospective Juror S.C.
S.C. worked as a Corrections Officer on Rikers Island.
In response to a question on the written juror questionnaire asking
what life without parole meant to him, he wrote "3 hots and a cot, free
medical, $50[,]000 a year wasted." When asked about this answer during
voir dire, S.C. said that he "was just being sarcastic," and that "3
hots and a cot" was "a saying" he had picked up at Rikers Island, which
made him "feel pretty foolish now that [defense counsel] read it back to
[him]." He repeatedly assured the trial court and the parties that he
could be fair and impartial.
Defendant assigns error to the trial court's rejection of his for
cause challenge to S.C., arguing that S.C.'s representations of fairness
and impartiality "lacked candor," and that his "cavalier manner"
rendered him unfit to serve. By denying defendant's challenge, however,
the trial court found S.C. to be truthful. As we observed long ago, "it
was for the [trial] court to say, from the whole examination of the
juror, including his appearance and demeanor, whether he was fit and
competent to perform fairly and impartially" (People v Carolin, 115 NY
658, 659 ; see also People v Johnson, 94 NY2d 600, 613  [determination
of whether prospective juror is qualified is "committed largely to
judgment of the Trial Judge with his peculiar opportunities to make a
fair evaluation" (quotation marks and citation omitted)]). Here, the
trial court took "into consideration all the answers that [the juror]
provided to the court and his willingness to put aside whatever his
personal opinions might be and take the law as the court gave it to him,"
and denied the challenge. The trial court acted within its discretion in
making this determination.
2. Prospective Juror S.R.
According to defendant, S.R. voiced doubt about whether she could put
a preexisting opinion regarding defendant's guilt, premised on media
accounts, out of her mind. To support his claim, defendant points to
isolated passages of voir dire where S.R. responded to his questions
probing her ability to put her opinion aside by stating that "I think I
can" or that she would "try."
Those responses, standing alone, did not render S.R. unfit to serve.
As we have noted, words like "think or "try" are "not . . . talismanic
word[s] that automatically make a statement equivocal" (People v
Chambers, 97 NY2d 417, 419 ). S.R.'s other answers dispelled any
doubt about her ability to deliberate impartially (see People v Johnson,
94 NY2d at 615 ["in considering whether a challenge for cause should
have been granted, we must look not to characterizations or snippets of
the voir dire but to the full record of what the challenged jurors --
sworn to speak truthfully -- actually said"]).
The court concluded the voir dire by asking S.R. if she would want a
juror with her "state of mind" to sit on a case in which either she or a
loved one was on trial (compare People v Chambers, 97 NY2d at 419 [noting
that "an additional question or two at voir dire would easily dispel any
doubt as to equivocation, assure an impartial jury, and avoid the delay,
and risk, of appeals"]). S.R. unhesitatingly answered "Yes." In light of
that response as well as her many other assurances of impartiality, the
trial court had ample basis for rejecting defendant's for cause
challenge to S.R. (compare People v Torpey, 63 NY2d 361, 367  [trial
court erred by denying the defendant's for cause challenge to a
prospective juror who stated, among other things, "that it would 'probably
not' be fair to the defendant to have somebody with her state of mind on
3. Prospective Juror T.V.
Defendant claims that the trial court should have granted his for
cause challenge to T.V., which was based on this prospective juror's
acknowledgment during voir dire that he had read a newspaper article
about jury selection in the case. When prospective jurors filled out
written questionnaires two months before voir dire, the trial court
instructed them not to read media accounts of the case. Defendant now
argues that T.V.'s supposed disregard of this instruction showed that he
would not have been able to comply with future instructions, thereby
rendering him unfit for service.
T.V. did nothing warranting exclusion under CPL 270.20(1)(b). T.V.'s
forthright acknowledgment that he had read the article displayed not a
wanton disregard of a court order, but rather an honest misunderstanding
of what the trial court had instructed. The record shows that T.V.
incorrectly believed that only articles detailing the underlying facts
of the crimes charged were off-limits. Nor does the rest of the voir
dire show that the juror was unwilling to follow the trial court's
T.V. gave every indication that he could be impartial. When
instructed further on the scope of the trial court's direction not to
read media accounts of the case, T.V. stated that he would comply.
4. Prospective Juror J.C.
Defendant claims that J.C. should have been excluded under CPL
270.20(1)(c), which provides a for cause challenge when a prospective
juror "is related within the sixth degree by consanguinity or affinity
to" certain enumerated persons, including "counsel for the people." We
Prior to the commencement of trial, J.C.'s brother-in- law (the
brother of J.C.'s wife) had been employed as a prosecutor by the Suffolk
County District Attorney's Office. While there, he had worked in the
Homicide Bureau and had attended a single meeting regarding the
investigation of defendant, which occurred prior to defendant's arrest.
At no point did the brother-in-law make any court appearances in
defendant's case. In fact, the brother-in-law resigned from the Office
and moved to Nevada shortly after defendant's arrest and months before
the start of jury selection. We decline to define "counsel for the
people" as encompassing the tangential relationship presented here.
C. Mid-Trial Publicity
The trial court repeatedly cautioned the seated jurors that, while
they were permitted to read newspapers during the trial, if they saw a
headline mentioning the case they were not to read the associated
article. The trial court also committed to save all trial-related
articles as court exhibits so that the jurors might read them once the
trial was over if they so chose.
At the beginning of a Monday court session, the trial court thus
created as a court exhibit an article about the trial appearing in
Newsday the previous week-end. The headline on the article read "Link to
Two More Victims." The article appeared following the Friday testimony
of the People's forensic serologist, in which blood matches to Kelly Sue
Bunting, Jane Doe Medford and Lisa Ann Warner were discussed. Thus, a
reader seeing only the headline might have thought that it referred to
testimony that the jury had heard. Anyone reading the article, however,
would have learned otherwise. The article discussed facts that were not
before the jury, reporting that defendant faced charges in Westchester
County for two murders in addition to the three of which the jury was
aware, and that blood evidence found in his room matched that of two
missing women, one of whom was last seen with defendant in Manhattan.
After some housekeeping measures were taken care of, defense counsel
asked to be heard with regard to this court exhibit. Stating that he was
"not sure exactly what the headline said," counsel asked the trial court
to read it aloud. After being handed the exhibit, the trial court stated
that "[t]he headline reads, Link to Two More Victims." Upon hearing the
headline, defense counsel made the following application:
"Your Honor, I would ask the Court to inquire of the jurors and
make sure that none of them have read the headline inadvertently or [that]
anyone discussed with them what appeared in the newspaper with respect
to the [Newsday] article . . .. "I think it was very, very prejudicial
and potentially very damaging to defendant if the jurors by some way
indirectly or directly found out about the information that's
contained not in the article but just the headline, which is an
extremely provocative headline, and I would ask the Court to make some
inquiry of the jury with regard to this exhibit"
In response, the prosecutor expressed a misgiving that, by querying
the jurors about the headline, "all it really is doing is calling
attention to the article." As the prosecutor put it:
"there's been articles written about the case since the hearings
began and not with respect to any particular article would we
specifically ask the jurors if they read a particular article and read
a particular headline, and I just think all it does is really
highlight the article and . . . peak [sic] their curiosity."
After this exchange, the trial court noted that the "subheadline on
the article reads, Prosecutor: Blood in Shulman's Home Matches Women";
and that "[a]lthough I suppose that someone can read it and speculate
that there was some additional victims, it, nevertheless, is somewhat
neutral." As previously noted, the article appeared during the
examination of the People's forensic serologist, who had given testimony
regarding blood matches to the three victims. The trial court therefore
"I am inclined to go along with the prosecutor's view, that if I
were to inquire of the jurors about this, that I would simply be
highlighting it for them and might, in fact, invite them to inquire
from other people who may have read the paper or even to go back and
look at the paper themselves, so I'm inclined to deny defendant's
request at this time."
Defendant now argues that the trial court erred by not asking the
jurors if they had read the headline or heard about the article's
contents from other people.3 In particular, defendant contends
that the trial court was required to survey the jurors on these points,
following a three-part test devised by United States Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit for a federal trial court to apply when faced
with jurors' exposure to potentially prejudicial mid-trial publicity.
The Second Circuit most recently discussed this three- part test in
United States v McDonough (56 F3d 381 [2d Cir 1995]). As articulated by
the Court, the inquiry is:
"'first, to determine whether the coverage has a potential for
unfair prejudice, second, to canvass the jury to find out if they have
learned of the potentially prejudicial publicity and, third, to
examine individually exposed jurors -- outside the presence of the
other jurors -- to ascertain how much they know of the distracting
publicity and what effect, if any, it has had on that juror's ability
to decide the case fairly'"
(id. at 386, quoting United States v Gaggi, 811 F2d 47, 51 [2d Cir],
cert denied 482 US 929 ).
In McDonough, an article highly critical of the defendant and
skeptical about his prospects on the witness stand appeared in a local
newspaper the day before he was scheduled to testify. Describing the
article as "poisonous" (56 F3d at 385), the District Court embarked upon
the three-part test at the defendant's behest. The defendant disputed
whether the court had taken sufficient measures to ascertain whether
exposed jurors remained able to decide the case fairly, as required by
the third prong of the three-part test. Reviewing the lower court's
decision for abuse of discretion and affording it deference, the Second
Circuit concluded that the District Court had acted reasonably in
evaluating juror impartiality, and affirmed the conviction.
We need not consider whether we would adopt the three- part test of
McDonough in a similar case because this case is different. The trial
court correctly described the ambiguous headline as "somewhat neutral";
it certainly was not "poisonous."
We have afforded trial courts wide flexibility in determining what,
if any, steps are required to assure a defendant's right to a fair trial
in light of the particular mid-trial publicity and circumstances
encountered, subject to appellate review for an abuse of discretion (see
People v Moore, 42 NY2d 421, 433-434, cert denied 434 US 987  [trial
court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to take corrective
measures requested by defendant to guard against potential prejudice
from media reports appearing during jury selection]). Of course, in
every case "the facts must be examined to determine the nature of the
material placed before the jury and the likelihood that prejudice would
be engendered" (People v Brown, 48 NY2d 388, 394 ).
Here, the trial prosecutor identified a very significant
consideration militating against the mid-trial voir dire requested by
defendant, which the trial court found to be persuasive; namely, that
inquiring about the headline would inevitably focus the jurors'
attention on something that there was no indication any of them had seen,
and might well foster infelicitous speculation. This was especially so
because the trial court had not asked the jurors about any of the many
past headlines or news accounts relating to the trial. In short, we
conclude that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion when he
declined to survey the jury as requested by defendant.
D. First-Degree "Similar Fashion"
Murder Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a)(xi)
"[a] person is guilty of murder in the first degree when . . . [w]ith
intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of
such person or of a third person; and . . . the defendant
intentionally caused the death of two or more additional persons
within the state in separate criminal transactions within a period of
twenty-four months when committed in a similar fashion or pursuant to
a common scheme or plan."
Defendant argues that the trial court erred by rejecting his request
to instruct the jurors to disregard his postmortem conduct (specifically,
the mode of dismembering and discarding of his victims' bodies) when
determining whether he committed first- degree "similar fashion" murder.4
The gist of defendant's claim is that "similar fashion" relates
solely to the killing acts underlying the first-degree murder charge,
not to the entirety of each "separate transaction."
As defendant put it at trial, the element of "similar fashion" can be
established only by reference to the "nature and type of injuries"
inflicted and the "instrumentality that was used or not used" when
committing the crime. He asserts that plain language compels this
construction of the statute, as does the Legislature's avowed goal of
creating a death-eligible crime sufficiently narrow to pass
constitutional muster. We disagree.
Defendant's proposed construction -- to have "caused the death of two
or more additional persons . . . when committed in a similar fashion" --
is linguistically awkward. "[C]ommitted in a similar fashion" more
naturally relates back to "separate criminal transactions," the
immediately preceding phrase. "Relative or qualifying words or clauses .
. . ordinarily are to be applied to the words or phrases immediately
preceding, and are not to be construed as extending to others more
remote, unless the intent of the statute clearly indicates otherwise" (McKinney's
Cons Laws of NY, Book I, Statutes § 254). Legislative history further
supports this reading of the statute. The Assembly Codes Committee Bill
Memorandum explains that subparagraph (xi) of Penal Law § 125.27(1)(a),
the death penalty statute's serial murder provision, "makes an
intentional killing first degree murder when the defendant has committed
two or more additional intentional killings within a 24 month period in
separate criminal transactions that were committed in a similar fashion
or pursuant to a common scheme or plan" (Mem of Assembly Codes Comm,
Bill Jacket, L 1995, ch 1 [emphasis added]).
From a commonsense perspective, there is no reason to hold that
similarity must be shown by the killing act alone.
Indeed, in People v Mateo (93 NY2d 327, 333  [Mateo I]),5we
declined to adopt a comprehensive definition of similarity, because "[t]o
do so . . . would ignore the relative nature and contextual
considerations inherent in any analysis and application of the 'similarity'
element" (id.). Thus, we anticipated that "similar fashion" could,
depending upon the circumstances of an individual case, encompass more
than just the actual killing acts.
Further, we specifically pointed out that, although Mateo shot all
his victims, his various killings were not undertaken in a "similar
"the murder victims were of different ethnic and racial backgrounds
and ranged in age from 16 to 20. A .45 caliber handgun, a .38 caliber
handgun, a .25 caliber handgun, and a sawed-off shotgun were the
varied weapons used to commit these murders. The motives for each
shooting differed, as did the wounds inflicted by defendant upon his
victims. Moreover, the locations of these multiple killings were
(id.). The factors that we enumerated go well beyond the "nature
and type of injuries" inflicted and the "instrumentality that was used
or not used" when committing the crime, which defendant asserts should
delimit similarity. Postmortem conduct may well be relevant.6
What counts is the similarity of the conduct, not whether it occurred
before or after the victim's death.
In all three murders underlying this case, defendant brought the
women to the room where he lived and killed them by repeatedly beating
them about the face and head with a heavy, blunt object, variously, a
baseball bat (Jane Doe Medford), a dumbbell (Kelly Sue Bunting) and a
hammer (Lisa Ann Warner). Defendant used such force that he split the
victims' skulls open.
Afterward, defendant hacked off the victim's hands or limbs and
disposed of the bodies in garbage receptacles. To inhibit identification
of his victims, one of whom remained unidentified at trial, defendant
threw away their severed hands or limbs, again as trash, in locations
away from the spots where he disposed of their bodies. There was, in
short, sufficient evidence for the jury to convict defendant of first-degree
We have considered defendant's remaining challenges to his conviction,
and conclude that they also lack merit.
Accordingly, the judgment of County Court should be modified by
vacating the sentence of death imposed upon conviction of murder in the
first degree, and remitting to County Court for resentencing in
accordance with CPL 470.30(5)(c) and Penal Law §§ 60.06 and 70.00(5) and,
as so modified, affirmed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Judgment modified by vacating the sentence imposed upon the
conviction of murder in the first degree and remitting to County Court,
Suffolk County, for resentencing in accordance with CPL 470.30(5)(c) and
Penal Law §§ 60.06 and 70.00(5) and, as so modified, affirmed. Opinion
by Judge Read. Chief Judge Kaye and Judges G.B. Smith, Ciparick,
Rosenblatt, Graffeo and R.S. Smith concur.
Decided October 25, 2005
Someone had entered and driven one of the cars away in the
Defendant contends that a Frye hearing was required to show
the reliability of the dog-scent evidence presented at the suppression
hearing. Because there were sufficient facts and circumstances to
establish probable cause without this evidence, we need not address
Defendant's application at trial focused solely on the
headline. Moreover, defendant has never expressed any concern that the
jurors, in disobedience of the trial court's instructions, might have
read the article.
As for the actual charge, the trial court informed the jurors
that, to convict for first-degree murder, they had to find eight
elements, including that the three murders were committed in a similar
fashion. As to that discrete determination, the trial court instructed
the jurors that:
"[b]y way of guidance, I offer you the following legal definitions
to aid you in your determination on this element. When a series of
crimes are committed in a similar fashion, they have a similar modus
operandi. "Modus operandi refers to the method used in the commission
of the crime. "When crimes have a similar modus operandi, their method
of commission is said to follow a repetitive pattern. A pattern is a
reliable sample of traits, acts or other observable features. "Similar
means merely corresponding. Resembling in many respects, somewhat like,
having a general likeness, although allowing for some degree of
We handed down our opinion in Mateo I after defendant's
conviction; however, the parties and trial court considered the lower
court opinions, which we subsequently affirmed, although with somewhat
An extensive literature addresses the phenomenon of serial murder (see
e.g. Steven A. Egger, Serial Murder: An Elusive Phenomenon [Praeger
1990]; Donald J. Sears, To Kill Again: the Motivation and Development of
Serial Murder [Scholarly Resources Inc. 1991]; and Ronald M. Holmes and
Stephen T. Holmes, Serial Murder [Sage Publications, Inc., 2d ed.
1998]). Although the cases discussed in these books disclose great
variety in homicidal behavior patterns, including methods of murder,
postmortem mutilation of victims often earmarks the serial killer.