Saturday, January 26, 2008

Seeking a new trial

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — Just weeks before the FBI raided police headquarters and revealed corruption in the narcotics squad, testimony from two of its detectives helped convict an alleged drug dealer. Now that man wants a new trial.
An attorney for Solomon Barnes, 30, filed the petition in Superior Court this month, claiming newly discovered evidence warrants the jury's guilty verdict be vacated.
That new evidence, Barnes claims, is the arrests and guilty pleas of former city detectives Justen Kasperzyk and Jose Silva for framing a suspect in a November 2006 drug raid. Both testified at Barnes' 2007 trial that left him serving 10 years in jail on drug and gun convictions.
While jurors relied on the testimony as credible, New Haven attorney John R. Williams argues that subsequent events revealed "that they (the officers) are utterly without credibility as to their work as narcotics detectives" and therefore Barnes deserves a new trial.
New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington this week confirmed his office had received the petition.
"He filed it. We're reviewing it," he said.
The petition is one of a two-pronged effort by the persistent felon to have these latest convictions overturned. Williams also filed paperwork in state appellate court asking that the verdicts be thrown out because of fatal flaws at the trial. He maintained that, despite the jury's verdict, the state failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that the two criminal files against Barnes should have been tried separately and not together, and that the trial judge erred in jury instructions.
On the surface, the new trial petition based on the detectives' corruption convictionsappears to be an uphill battle, since the mere involvement of Kasperzyk and Silva probably won't be enough to overturn the verdict.
Indeed, two convicted murderers who claim they were framed by a rogue New Haven detective in the 1990s failed to get new trials despite the existence of an FBI report that suggested they might be innocent. Scott Lewis, 42, and Stefon Morant, 39, are continuing to fight to overturn their convictions in the double murder.
Since the more recent FBI probe became public in March 2007, Dearington said his office has flagged eight criminal files associated with the "questionable officers," reviewed them and determined that there was enough corroborative evidence from other sources that "there were not questions" about the verdicts.
The conviction of Norval Falconer, the man Kasperzyk and Silva framed, however, ultimately was vacated.
In March 2006, Barnes was arrested in the Hill after police, working with an informant, set up a drug deal and busted him when he arrived. Detectives testified that he saw a small sandwich-style bag of suspected crack cocaine fall from Barnes pants leg.
Then, in May 2006, police executed a search and seizure warrant at 173 Thompson St. in Newhallville and seized two guns, Barnes' Yale-New Haven work badge, some drugs and a closed-circuit wireless surveillance system, among other items. While Barnes was not present at the time, he was charged with gun and drug offenses.
At trial, Crystal Hinton, who lived at 173 Thompson, testified that she had a non-exclusive relationship with Barnes, that he hadn't stayed at her apartment in a month and that the guns and some of the drugs were hers. Williams argues that, based on the evidence at trial, the jury should have had reasonable doubt.
Silva testified on Feb. 28, 2007. Kasperzyk testified on March 2 and Barnes was convicted a few days later. The FBI raided police headquarters on March 13, arresting Kasperzyk and then police Lt. William "Billy" White. Silva was charged in October.
Kasperzyk is awaiting sentencing on felony civil rights and theft charges. Silva received a 90-day sentence and is scheduled to report to prison next month.

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