People v. Singer

Citation405 N.Y.S.2d 17,376 N.E.2d 179,44 N.Y.2d 241
Parties, 376 N.E.2d 179 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Raymond Kenneth SINGER, Appellant.
Decision Date06 April 1978
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
John M. Lockwood, Riverhead, for appellant


The defendant has been convicted of felony murder for causing the death of Eileen Byrne during the course of a rape. The crime was committed on October 22, 1970. The defendant was arrested and charged with the offense on May 9, 1974. He was tried and found guilty by a Suffolk County jury in September, 1975.

After his arrest in 1974 the defendant made a confession. Prior to trial he moved to suppress claiming that the confession was involuntary and had been obtained in violation of his right to counsel. During the hearing evidence was introduced indicating that within two weeks of the girl's death the police had determined that the defendant was responsible; that no additional evidence was obtained after February, 1971, but that the case was kept open and no charge was made until after the defendant had served his sentence on another homicide, also committed in the fall of 1970. At the conclusion of the hearing the defendant moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the delay in the prosecution violated his right to due process of law. The trial court denied both motions and, following defendant's conviction, the Appellate Division affirmed.

On this appeal the defendant claims that the pretrial motions should have been granted. He argues that the indictment should be dismissed, or, in the alternative, that his confession should be suppressed and a new trial granted.

Initially it should be emphasized that the evidence concerning the delay in prosecution, and the reason for the delay, emerged during a suppression hearing. The evidence concerning the delay was of secondary importance in that proceeding and was never as fully developed as it might have been if the motion to dismiss had preceded the hearing. In addition it is noted that, at the hearing, the parties' arguments regarding the need to defer the prosecution for further investigation or questioning were, in most respects, contrary to arguments made on the motion to dismiss and on this appeal.

The defendant's main point at the suppression hearing was that the police had beaten him in order to obtain the confession. He also urged that they had questioned him without the aid of counsel he had initially retained in 1970 to represent him on various homicide charges or investigations, including the Byrne killing. Part of his argument rested on the theory that the police had a motive to obtain a confession at all costs because prior to his arrest in 1974 they did not have sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. The investigating officers, however, took the position that they had no need for the confession because they had sufficient evidence to arrest and charge the defendant with the death of Eileen Byrne long before his arrest in 1974.

The testimony at the hearing shows that on October 22, 1970 the partially clad body of a 17-year-old high school girl, identified as Eileen Byrne, was discovered in an abandoned garage in Suffolk County. The body was found by a patrolman investigating a report that a blue car had been observed in the garage. Investigators at the scene discovered metallic blue paint scrapings on the white woodwork at the entrance of the garage. Samples were sent to the police lab for analysis.

On October 30, 1970 Glen Patton was shot to death in Suffolk County. On November 4, 1970 detectives from the Suffolk County Homicide Squad arrested the defendant and charged him with the Patton killing. At the police station one of the officers noticed that the defendant's car fitted the description of the vehicle sought in connection with the Byrne homicide. A patch on the car appeared to have been recently refinished with spray paint. The detective also noted that the defendant resided on the same street as the Byrne family. The police called the defendant's employer and learned that he had not reported to work on the date of Eileen Byrne's death.

The police then returned to the room where the defendant was being held; confronted him with the crime scene photographs of Eileen Byrne's body and said "Ray we know you killed the girl. You want to tell us about it?" At this point the defendant began to sob and then lapsed into a "trance". A police surgeon was summoned, and diagnosed the defendant's condition as a hysterical reaction. At the hearing the doctor stated this might indicate guilt, but might also be the reaction of an innocent man graphically accused of a "gruesome" crime. The defendant was removed to a hospital, and later to a mental institution where he remained for several days. On the day following his arrest the police went to the institution and asked the defendant how he felt. The defendant responded "I know you know about the guy and the girl", and once again lapsed into a trance. 1

After the defendant's arrest on November 4, 1970, a witness identified the defendant's car as the one he had seen Eileen Byrne enter on October 22. He also recalled part of the license plate number. The police searched the car and submitted certain items for laboratory analysis. Paint chips and tire impressions taken from the car were found to match those at the scene of the crime. Hair and blood, also discovered in the car, were found to match the victim's. A can of spray paint was recovered from the trunk. Loose hairs found on the victim were matched with samples taken from the defendant.

Apparently the laboratory reports were completed before the end of 1970. All four members of the homicide squad who appeared at the hearing testified that the Byrne case was considered "solved" in 1970 after the defendant's arrest for the Patton killing. They felt there was sufficient evidence to arrest and charge the defendant with the girl's death. Two of them had no idea why this was not done. One of them, Detective Halverson, was "vaguely aware that it was decided to leave the investigation opened at the time that Raymond Singer went to jail" on the Patton charge. However, as far as he knew, the investigation was only "opened in the sense that we did not place somebody under arrest."

Detective Diaz, the officer in charge of the Byrne case, testified that "It was felt at that time (Nov. 4, 1970), and after communications between my superiors and the District Attorney's office, that we did have a good circumstantial case and that we might in fact further the case by further investigation, to see if we can uncover any new evidence which might be helpful in the case." At another point he stated that "it was mutually agreed upon, that considering the fact that Raymond Singer was not only suspect in Eileen Byrne, he was also suspect in another double homicide, that a further investigation might be helpful in resolving that one, also." Diaz did not participate in this decision and he could not recall who had made it. The agreement, he stated was simply "to further the investigation", that is, "To look into certain areas, to reinterview certain people, to try to interview Raymond Singer." No decision was made with respect to the defendant's arrest. And although Diaz had never been told that he should not arrest the defendant, he insisted that the decision was out of his hands.

In early 1971 Diaz went back over the case; reinterviewed certain witnesses and finally tried to question the defendant while he was in the Suffolk County jail awaiting disposition of the Patton indictment. The defendant however refused to talk to him. It was stipulated at the hearing that the investigation uncovered no evidence after February, 1971.

Following the defendant's arrest in November, 1970 his family retained an attorney, named Lombardi, to represent him on the Patton indictment and the other crimes he was suspected of, including the Byrne homicide. Lombardi attempted to negotiate a plea which would cover these other crimes, but, as noted, the prosecutor refused the offer. Significantly the prosecutor testified at the hearing that he told Lombardi that he refused the offer because "it would be impossible to dispose of any matters upon which he (the defendant) was not indicted." (Emphasis added.)

In April, 1971 the defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter in satisfaction of the Patton indictment. In May he was sentenced to an indeterminate term with a maximum of 10 years.

The defendant remained in State prison until October 30, 1973 when he was released on parole. During the years of the defendant's imprisonment. Diaz kept a folder on him and "on occasion" he had "done some work on it." He described this as "minor things" and said that "nothing substantial" was developed. In fact he said that the only thing that remained to be done was to arrest the defendant. But he was not arrested because he "was already in prison * * * (and) there appeared to be no rush to arrest him." He said that waiting for the defendant to be released from prison "seemed like a logical thing to do." Diaz realized that he could have filed a detainer warrant or employed "a number of options", but claimed that the decision to wait had been made by his superiors and members of the District Attorney's office whose names he could not recall. Following this advice he did little more than contact the prison periodically to determine when the defendant would be released.

In April, 1974 Diaz learned that the defendant had been on parole for six months. Diaz and several of his superiors then met with Patrick Henry, from the District Attorney's office. Henry testified that he had not previously been involved with the Byrne homicide. But when the police informed him of the evidence against the defendant he advised them that there was sufficient...

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1 books & journal articles
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