Quartararo v. Mantello

Decision Date19 June 1989
Docket NumberNo. 88 CV 1013 (ERK).,88 CV 1013 (ERK).
Citation715 F. Supp. 449
PartiesPeter QUARTARARO, Petitioner, v. Dominic MANTELLO, Superintendent Wende Correctional Facility, and Robert Abrams, Attorney General of the State of New York, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York



Vivian Shevitz, Georgia J. Hinde, New York City, for petitioner.

Patrick Henry, Dist. Atty., Suffolk County, by Mark D. Cohen, Chief, Appeals Bureau, Michael Miller, Glenn Green, Asst. Dist. Attys., Riverhead, N.Y., for respondents.


KORMAN, District Judge.

On April 20, 1979, John Pius, Jr., a thirteen year old resident of Smithtown, New York, was murdered. Approximately seven months later, petitioner Peter Quartararo and his brother, Michael, were indicted and charged with the murder.1 Petitioner and his brother were jointly tried, and following a six week jury trial in the Suffolk County Court, both defendants were convicted of two counts of murder in the second degree, intentional murder in violation of Penal Law § 125.251 and murder resulting from a depraved indifference to human life in violation of Penal Law § 125.252. Petitioner, who was a few days short of his sixteenth birthday when the offense was committed, was sentenced to two concurrent terms of incarceration of nine years to life. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed petitioner's conviction. People v. Quartararo, 113 A.D.2d 845, 493 N.Y.S.2d 511 (2d Dep't 1985). Chief Judge Wachtler denied leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals on December 18, 1985. People v. Quartararo, 66 N.Y.2d 1042, 499 N.Y.S.2d 1040, 489 N.E.2d 1312 (1985).

On February 9, 1988, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by petitioner's brother, Michael, was granted on the ground that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Quartararo v. Fogg, 679 F.Supp. 212 (E.D.N.Y.), affirmed, 849 F.2d 1467 (2d Cir.1988). Subsequently, petitioner filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition alleges that he was taken into custody on April 28, 1979, eight days after John Pius was murdered, and that the questioning to which he was subjected led to admissions and confessions that were involuntarily made and erroneously admitted into evidence at his trial.

The circumstances surrounding the tragic death of John Pius and the events and proceedings that followed are exhaustively discussed in Quartararo v. Fogg, 679 F.Supp. at 213-23 (hereafter Quartararo I). Because petitioner's challenge to the validity of his conviction turns on the methods used to obtain a series of confessions during an eight hour period of time on April 28, 1979, the discussion here will focus primarily on the testimony at the pretrial hearing as it relates to the voluntariness of the confessions.

"As is almost invariably so in cases involving confessions obtained through unobserved police interrogation, there is a conflict in the testimony as to the events surrounding the interrogations." Davis v. North Carolina, 384 U.S. 737, 741, 86 S.Ct. 1761, 1764, 16 L.Ed.2d 895 (1966). The facts as set forth below are based upon the testimony of Detective Anthony Palumbo, who conducted the interrogation, the testimony of other Suffolk County detectives, or upon the findings of Judge Doyle who presided at the pre-trial hearing on the admissibility of the confessions.

Statement of Facts

On the morning of April 28, 1979, eight days after John Pius was murdered, Detectives Richard Fountain and Richard LaValle were assigned to undertake surveillance of Michael O'Neil who was one of a number of persons suspected of participating in the murder. Detective Sgt. Jensen, who was directing the investigation, testified that the reason for the surveillance of O'Neil was to see "if we could put him together with either Thomas Ryan, Robert Brensic or Peter or Michael Quartararo." T. 416.2 According to Jensen, it was "our feeling at the time that Ryan, Brensic and the Quartararo brothers were covering up for Michael O'Neil in the matter of this investigation." T. 417.

Detectives Fountain and LaValle were unable to locate O'Neil on April 28, 1979. They did, however, see "a yellow Capri which they believed was driven by Tommy Ryan ... and they believed it was heading toward O'Neil, so they followed the vehicle." T. 418. Ryan drove to petitioner's home, picked him up, and then drove to a delicatessen, at which time Fountain and LaValle ended their surveillance.

Subsequently, at about 1 P.M., after apprising Detective Sgt. Jensen of their observations, Fountain and LaValle were directed to relocate Ryan and to detain him for a witness "interview." Detectives Fountain and LaValle then returned to the delicatessen, where they spotted Ryan's car exiting the parking lot and directed Ryan to pull over. Within thirty seconds Detective Sgt. Jensen and Detective Gary Leonard arrived at the scene, stopping their car in front of Ryan's car. T. 419.

Detective LaValle was the first to approach petitioner. LaValle told petitioner "we were from the police. We were working on the Pius investigation. We needed help and we were expecting cooperation." Trial Tr. 1005. Petitioner and Ryan were then asked to accompany the police to the precinct's homicide office for questioning about the Pius murder. T. 420, 481. Ryan requested that he be allowed to drive to the police station. This request was denied, however, and Ryan rode to the station with Fountain and LaValle and petitioner rode with Jensen, while Leonard drove Ryan's car to the station.

Petitioner arrived at the police station at between 1:15 and 1:45 p.m., was taken through a rear entrance of the station and was brought to the juvenile aid room. T. 492. Petitioner's presence at the station was not officially recorded at this time. T. 493. Once placed in the juvenile aid room, petitioner was left alone, with the door open and with police personnel visible in the immediate vicinity of the doorway, for ten to fifteen minutes while Jensen located two homicide detectives, Anthony Palumbo and Gary Leonard, to question petitioner as a possible witness to the Pius murder.

Approximately one and one half hours after he was asked to accompany the police to the precinct house, petitioner's interrogation began. While Detective Reck, who was questioning Thomas Ryan, advised Ryan at the outset of the interrogation "that he was free to leave at anytime," People v. Ryan, 121 A.D.2d 34, 59, 509 N.Y.S.2d 545 (2d Dep't 1986), petitioner was never told he was free to leave, T. 21-22, and he was not given the Miranda warnings until some four hours into the interrogation. Instead, Detective Palumbo, who did most of the questioning, began the interview by informing petitioner that the police "had reason to believe that he may have witnessed" certain incidents involving Pius and three possible suspects, Michael O'Neil, John Sparling and Raymond St. Dennis. T. 11.

Specifically, petitioner was told that these three suspects all placed petitioner and his companions at the Dogwood Elementary School on the evening that John Pius was murdered. T. 11-12.3 Palumbo "appealed" to petitioner not to cover up for anyone and to "tell us exactly if he saw anything or if he knew anything, what exactly it was," that "he's obligated morally to come forward and tell us." T. 12-14.

Petitioner responded that he saw O'Neil, Sparling and St. Dennis on the night of the Pius murder at a beer distributor, where petitioner and his companions purchased some beer from one of the suspects. T. 14-15. Petitioner also recounted his participation in the theft of a minibike on that date. T. 15-16. Palumbo's questioning about these events was interrupted at approximately 3:30 p.m. when Detective Sgt. Jensen, who was questioning Ryan, called Palumbo to inform him of Ryan's statement that John Pius rode by Ryan's car on bicycle while the stolen minibike was being loaded into the trunk of Ryan's car. T. 19, 142.

After receiving this information from Jensen, Palumbo immediately "confronted petitioner with it," T. 20, and continued to plead with him not to cover up for the suspects. Specifically, Palumbo told petitioner that he was "obligated to tell us" what he knew. Palumbo "realized they were friends of his in fact and the cover-up must end right there. He must tell." T. 21. Petitioner then stated that the three suspects Palumbo had in mind "in fact had nothing to do with the death of John Pius," that in fact Brensic and Ryan had killed Pius. T. 21.

Once petitioner implicated Brensic and Ryan in the murder of Pius, Palumbo asked petitioner to describe what occurred on the evening in question. T. 21. Once again petitioner described the theft of the minibike, including a verbal exchange between his brother and Pius. Then, prompted by Palumbo, petitioner expanded on his earlier story, describing how Brensic and Ryan, worried that Pius might report the theft, decided to find him and "talk" to him. T. 24-25. Petitioner said that he and his companions drove to the Dogwood Elementary School, where they "spotted John Pius driving towards the back of the school." T. 25. Ryan then parked his car and along with Brensic pursued Pius behind the school building, while petitioner and his brother remained in the car. T. 25. After a short time, Brensic and Ryan returned to the car "frightened, out of breath, excited," and described to petitioner and his brother the confrontation with Pius and the manner of his death. T. 25-26.

After petitioner completed his statement, Palumbo called Jensen to inform him of its content. T. 27. Jensen directed Palumbo to have petitioner produce a diagram of the school yard and indicate where various events described by him had occurred. T. 29. Palumbo was also directed to prepare a written statement of petitioner's account. T. 29. At approximately 4:30 p.m., after petitioner had been working on the diagram and reviewing it with...

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