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Stars Not Aligned For Death Penalty

July 16, 2007

Despite the death on Saturday of rookie police officer Russel Timoshenko, who lingered for a week on life-support after being shot, the prospect of his killers facing the death penalty seems unlikely.

Timoshenko was shot at 2:30 A.M. last Monday, making a car stop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, allegedly by three felons — men with long records.

Yet the stars are not in alignment for his killers to face the death penalty, as they were for Ronell Wilson, who killed police officers Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin in 2003.

In these death penalty cases, politics, ego and emotion are as relevant as the circumstances of the killings.

All three shaped the destiny of Wilson’s prosecution, as it undoubtedly will that of Timoshenko’s killers.

Andrews and Nemorin were killed on Staten Island in June 2003, in an undercover gun buy. Just six months later, the borough had a new District Attorney, Daniel Donovan, a Republican.

Then in June 2004, New York’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional. Had Donovan prosecuted Wilson in state court, the max Wilson could have gotten was 25 years to life, without parole.

Instead, Donovan’s support for the death penalty matched that of Brooklyn federal prosecutor Roz Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and President George Bush.

Instead of proceeding in state court, Donovan gave up the case to Mauskopf. As Donovan’s press release said at the time, “The case is bigger than me and my ego.”

From there it was a hop, skip, and jump for the feds to prove that Wilson was engaged in a racketeering conspiracy, providing them with jurisdiction. It also helped that the NYPD undercovers had been cross-designated as feds because of their work.

In November 2004, Donovan and Mauskopf announced a federal indictment against Wilson and members of his “Stapleton Crew.” In July 2005, Gonzalez authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Wilson was found guilty in federal court earlier this year and now faces the death penalty.

So how are Andrews’s and Nemorin’s murders different from Timoshenko’s? How is Wilson’s situation different from that of the three suspects — Dexter Bostic, Robert Ellis and Lee Woods — arrested for Timoshenko’s murder?

First, Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes says he’s keeping the case. In the past he has not hesitated to give up high-profile cases to the feds — most notably police torture victim Abner Louima and Hasidic Jew Yankel Rosenbaum.

But now, in 2009, having given up dreams for higher office, Hynes faces his sixth election race for D.A., and probably wants to cite a recent cop-killer conviction for his campaign.

Unlike Donovan, Hynes is a veteran D.A. and a Democrat. He’s also been feuding with Mauskopf. He felt the “mafia cops” case — taken over by her office — was big-footed away from him. Since then, he’s been sticking his finger in the feds’ eye by prosecuting ex-FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio as an alleged mob mole.

[Don’t believe the nonsense that Hynes personally opposes the death penalty. When the law was in effect in New York State, he prosecuted more death-penalty cases than anybody else in town.]

Next, let’s turn to the loud and powerful police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. In Nemorin’s and Andrews’s case, the slain cops’ widows blessed the move to federal court and PBA President Pat Lynch was shrill in supporting it.

So far in Timoshenko’s, he has called only for the reinstatement of a New York death penalty state law. In response to this reporter’s question, he said he would support a move to federal court “if legally possible.” [The unofficial PBA line is that legally the case fits more snugly into a the state prosecution than a federal one. Other legal geniuses say it wouldn’t be difficult to make Timoshenko a federal case.]

Mauskopf, meanwhile, is in a different place now. She doesn’t seem to want another high-profile police killing. She is currently on the griddle over her next presumed job, a federal judgeship. Senate Democrat Russell Feingold, who opposes the death penalty and Gonzalez, is blocking her appointment.

Finally, there are Timoshenko’s parents, immigrants from Belarus, who have kept a grieving bedside vigil and whose views on the death penalty remain unknown. What effect their feelings may have on the process is unknown as well.

Edward Kuriansky, the veteran state prosecutor and former Commissioner of Investigation, was buried Friday. With his passing, the public loses another opportunity to understand what his background investigation uncovered about Bernie Kerik’s finances and suspected mob ties before Rudy Giuliani appointed him police commissioner in 2000.

In particular, did Kuriansky convey to Rudy that, in August 2000, the Interstate Industrial Corporation, a firm allegedly linked to the mob, had paid $165,000 to renovate Kerik’s Bronx apartment?

Did Kuriansky convey to Rudy that an Interstate affiliate had hired Kerik’s brother Donald and the best man at Kerik’s wedding, Lawrence Ray?

Did Kuriansky convey to Rudy that Ray had been indicted in a stock fraud scheme with Edward Garafola, a reputed Gambino soldier and the brother-in-law of Salvatore Gravano, a/k/a Sammy the Bull?

Did Kuriansky convey to Rudy that an Interstate affiliate had sought a city license to operate a waste transfer station on Staten Island, purchased from two reputed organized crime figures?

Did Kuriansky convey to Rudy that Kerik hosted a meeting in his office as Corrections Commissioner with Interstate and Raymond Casey, the city official involved in awarding the transfer contract who happened to be Rudy’s cousin?

The true job of the Commissioner of Investigation is to protect the mayor. Kuriansky refused to divulge to reporters what he conveyed to Rudy about Bernie. He took it with him to the grave.

Going Through The Motions.
Say what you will about Giuliani but, if he were mayor now, he would have spent the past week with the parents of slain police officer Russel Timoshenko, not in Sun Valley, Idaho at a mogul conference. Oh, yes, our Mayor Mike Bloomberg upon his return did make a bedside appearance. And yes, oh, yes, Timoshenko’s parents were in the excellent hands of the department professionals and Commissioner Ray Kelly. But somehow Bloomberg seemed like he was going through the motions in his 11th hour visit to Kings County Hospital, following his return from the conference .Was going to Sun Valley and being photographed with his female companion so much more important?

Leonard Levitt will be on vacation for two weeks. His next column will appear on August 5, 2007.
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