One Police Plaza

Death penalty arguments

October 6, 1997

Police Officer Anthony Sanchez was shot to death last May by the troubled son of a wealthy businessman, who'd just robbed his father at gunpoint in his Chelsea penthouse. Responding to a 911 call, Sanchez, in uniform, confronted the son in a stairwell and died in an exchange of gunfire.

Sanchez' parents have been calling the newspapers, seeking the death penalty for their son's killer. Unfortunately for them, Sanchez was killed in Manhattan, whose district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, opposes it. Unlike most of his outer borough compatriots who say they oppose it but are fulfillng their responsibilities by seeking it in some cases, Morgenthau has never sought the death penalty for anyone.

The Sanchez family has met with him and with Gov. George Pataki, who signed New York State's death penalty bill after two decades of vetoes by his Democratic predecessors. Last year Pataki removed a cop-killing case from the Bronx after District Attorney Robert Johnson had announced he categorically refused to seek the death penalty.

The Sanchezes said the governor didn't sound optimistic about influencing Morgenthau, perhaps the nation's foremost prosecutor. "He said that Morgenthau has had a career," said Sanchez' mother, Loretta, "that he is not a young person, that no one will persuade him to do something for political reasons. He said if it goes down to the last day there's nothing he can do about it." District attorneys have 120 days from a suspect's arraignment to decide whether they will seek the death penalty.

Jim McGuire, a Pataki aide at the meeting, declined to comment publicly on what he termed "a private conversation."

Morgenthau, who three decades ago ran unsuccessfully for governor, is now 78 years old. He's been district attorney since 1976 and is running again for re-election. Contrast him to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who before he began seeing himself as governor, opposed the death penalty as fervently as Morgenthau does. Hynes is now expected to be the state's first prosecutor to try a death penalty case. "What, governor?" he said last week.

Scott Schneiderman, 33, the suspect in the Sanchez case, has no criminal record, which could mitigate against the death penalty. Like Sanchez, he is the father of a young child. His father attended Sanchez' funeral. "He looked like a hippie," said Loretta Sanchez. "We thought he was a biker. He was with his girlfriend. In a way it was disrespectful. We didn't know who he was. Later, when we asked to meet with him, he refused."

She said that Morgenthau told her and her husband, "Wouldn't you rather be guaranteed that your son's killer receives life in jail rather than take a chance he gets only 25 years to life?"

Morgenthau said of the conversation: "I pointed out the pros and cons of seeking the death penalty. There is a provision in the statute that says that if a jury is not unanimous on the death penalty, if there is one juror who says, I will never vote for the death penalty,' then the maximum a judge can give is 25 years to life. This is something I want them to understand."

Decision day is Thursday.

The meeting that never was (cont'd). The Rev. Al Sharpton called to rebut the explanations of both ex-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and former Chief of Department David Scott over Sharpton's non-meeting with Bratton at One Police Plaza in January, 1994. The non-meeting followed a confrontation at a Harlem mosque that led to a planned meeting with the mosque's minister Conrad Mohammad that Bratton says Sharpton tried to crash but that Sharpton says Mayor Rudolph Giuliani vetoed.

"I came into the case at Conrad's request," says Sharpton. "When Bratton and Scott say we were uninvited, they mean maybe by them. We faxed them we were coming in two vehicles, one mine, because Bratton had arranged for us to park under the building in his private spot. We parked there. They filmed us coming in, down the ramp. Then, the police brought us upstairs.

"If they didn't know I was coming, how did my vehicle come in to their private parking spot? How did I get in an elevator with their cop to the commissioner's floor? I can't say I heard a call from City Hall but I can say it is strange I got all the way up there before they turned us around."

Approved: A tax-free, line-of-duty pension for Patrolmen's Benevolent Association trustee Richie O'Neil for an injury sustained while on "release time."

"Release time" refers to the jobs of top police union officials who are released from police duties for union business. O'Neil, who became a cop in 1961 and has been a trustee for more than a decade, was injured a few months ago supposedly while driving between precincts on a union matter.

©1997 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.