|Posted by [email protected] on January 12, 2014 at 12:45 PM|
Written By Tim Richards. (Thank you Tim for all your hard work and for taking the time to read the entire case and for taking the time to write this . We appreciate you so much. What Tim has written is the tip of the iceberg. Tim summarised the case to make it easier for people to understand. We appreciate this so much. There is so much more in this case, which would take so much time to explain. Please if you have any questions just ask us. To find out more read the exhibits and documents.)
The death of Patty Wlasiuk over a decade ago should be a relatively simple story of a tragic accident but it has become more than that as it became the story of a miscarriage of justice which does not reflect well on the American criminal justice system. Peter Wlasiuk her husband has been tried three times for killing her and remains in prison today, convicted of the murder that never was.
Patty, an alcoholic who had been caught driving while intoxicated 4 times, lived in Guilford, Chenango County in New York state and worked as a nurse in a local hospital. On April 2nd 2002, Peter drove their 3 daughters to stay with their babysitter, Joyce Worden, while Patty borrowed her car to go to work for her afternoon to evening shift. Peter then drove his truck to work at the Angel Inn, a bar he owned nearby, but as it was a Tuesday night business there was slow, so he went home early at 10.30pm to relax while waiting for Patty to pick up the children and bring them home at 11.30pm. When Joyce Worden rang him at 11.40pm to ask where Patty was Peter said that maybe she had got caught up in work and to wait a while longer, which she did. But when Patty had still not turned up by 12.15am Joyce phoned again and Peter suggested that she gives her a few more minutes. About 5 minutes later Worden had a phone call from Peter saying that Patty had just come in and as the kids weren’t with her they would come right over to pick up the children. When questioned about the call later she said that she could hear the couple arguing about her not picking up the children.
Patty then heads out the door to go to pick up the children and Peter gets in the passenger seat for the trip. On the way the argument intensifies and Patty rolls down the window as she is smoking. But when she flicks ash out of the window some hot ash blows into the back seat area of the truck so Patty pulls over and stops then leans over to put it out. At that point Peter smells alcohol on her breath and the argument gets worse with him shouting at her to turn round and go home as they are not going to pick up the children when she has been drinking. At that point she stops, turns left into a drive to turn round but as Patty has become really mad instead of backing up she hits the gas and sends the truck hurtling down an embankment , hitting a clothes line post before shooting into the lake in front. Peter tries to get out of the passenger door but without success so seeing the driver’s side window open and Patty frozen behind the wheel he climbs over her and gets out trying to pull Patty with him but, overcome by the force of the water he loses his grip on her as he struggle to the surface and swims to the shore and shouts Patty’s name several times before rushing round the houses to get help. When he does find someone he asks them to phone 9-1-1 to tell them and then goes back to the lake with two men from the house to look for Patty.
The truck is visible by its lights below the surface 60ft away and the two men enter the lake to try to find Patty but without success. By this time the first police cars arrive and Peter, who is described by witnesses as soaking wet, cold and incoherent, is placed in the back of one of the patrol cars and the heat is turned up full blast until ambulances arrive. Patty was declared dead at 1.20am but Peter was not told that until 2.20am when the hospital asked him to sign off her organs for donation.
Meanwhile, the police evidence team are at the scene taking photos and measurements while Peter’s truck is taken out of the lake, all of this in the dark, and towed to a local garage where the Deputies conduct an incomplete inventory, taking no photographs of it. In fact, the police investigation from this point on is a strange tale of what first looks like incompetence but then becomes something so full of inconsistencies that it is seriously suspicious. You don’t have to be an expert to ask a lot of questions about what the police say they did.
Later that night, one of the Troopers, Jamie Bell, dives down to the truck and finds a flashlight and places it in the bed of the truck and then finds Patty’s coat but apparently drops it where it was instead of putting it with the flashlight in the truck. This is particularly strange when you realise that the police intend to winch the truck out over it. If you find THAT a bit strange then you will begin to ask some serious questions when you discover that the police claim that they did not go back and get the coat until 4 days later.
Later that morning ,Dr. James Terzian carries out an autopsy and concludes that Patty died from drowning but takes no sample of the water in her lungs, something else which becomes of importance later when the police carry out a search warrant of Patty and Peter’s property and take a sample of the water in the kiddie’s paddling pool though they take no sample of the water in the lake where Patty drowned. You might well wonder why they concentrated on that water in their search warrant but there are a couple strange points about this search warrant. The original warrant was for the “real property” at the house but later there was a hand-written amendment changing it to the “Outside refuse disposal area”. This is odd too, as until the police went there to carry out the search, how were they to know this area existed unless, of course someone had already been there.
In fact, the police appear to have been remarkably prescient about a number of issues in the investigation as when they went to look for a place where Patty could have bought alcohol despite the fact that there several nearby they actually went straight to the specific local convenience store where she had bought it.
They did not officially search Joyce’s car until 2 days after Patty’s death which is unlikely as by then Peter and Joyce’s son had taken Joyce’s car back to her house before that happened.
Of course, there is an explanation of all these strange oversights by experienced police officers - that they did not actually happen.
Let us take Patty’s coat. The police story about this coat is riddled with contradictions. Firstly, we are supposed to believe that it was found but not retrieved at the start of the investigation, when Trooper Bell leaves it behind in the water. When the diver, Urnaitis, retrieves the coat 4 days later he says that the only thing he finds in the pockets is Patty’s driving licence, which he photographs. Unfortunately he finds it 7ft away from the truck where Bell found it originally and when the jacket is sent to the New York State Police Laboratory 3 months later, hey presto, they find over 50 other items in the jacket. When, in the second trial, Lloyd is asked why he had not found all these items, he claimed that they don’t make a habit of going through people’s pockets, a statement which is described by the trial judge as the most bizarre statement he had ever heard.
So what is going on here? The police have obviously got an agenda in this investigation that they believed Peter had killed Patty at their home before driving the truck to the lake where he backed it up a drive across the road before letting the handbrake off and letting it run down into the lake to make it look like she was drowned in an accident. Their problem was that the evidence did not support that theory. It was rather a convoluted theory too as they decided to argue that Peter had killed her in a struggle outside the house and that he had smothered her by a burdock bush near the pool and dragged her body to the truck and put in the back before driving to the lake. Not only was there no signs of any struggle there, no mud or grass stains on her clothing and no marks on the ground where she had supposedly been dragged which was also strange as the ground was soggy.
The key to their story was that her jacket had loads of burdocks both inside and out and that there were none at the lakeside, so she must have been killed by being smothered at their home. To make out this story they got a biologist, Dr.Julian Shepherd, to testify that he had searched the shoreline for 100yds but had not found a burdock bush but since he had not actually examined any foliage it has to be wondered how useful this testimony was. In the last trial he was shown a photograph of the lake shore, taken the day before he went there, which clearly shows broken branches but he said he not recall seeing them there. In fact, a search by the defense investigators of the lake shore a few years later revealed that there were burdock bushes growing in the area where the truck went in to the lake. But, Det. Sgt. James Lloyd had previously testified that he had walked the entire perimeter of the lake and observed no burdock bushes. Actually Lloyd’s behaviour is strange throughout. As the lead investigator in Chenango police it is strange that he does not turn up at the lakeside when the accident is first reported as he was bound to have been called straight away at 1.00am. Lloyd, it has to be said, was a man with an agenda of his own – to prove that Peter had killed Patty. Why? Because he had clashed with Peter in the past, suspecting him of being involved in stealing money from a man he had done a business deal with, but was unable to arrest Peter for it and had threatened to get him some day.
So when he gets a call in the middle of the night about Peter and Patty’s accident would he have just left it until the morning? This is highly unlikely and the suspicion is that instead of going to the lakeside he took the opportunity to go to their residence and look around. It would certainly explain some rather strange events, such as knowing which convenience store to go to as he would have been able to look in Joyce Worden’s car and find a receipt for the alcohol. This would also explain why the search of the car did not officially take place until 2 days later and the search warrant was altered to “outside refuse disposal area”.
He would also have been able to look round their house and read Patty’s diaries. Why else would he ask Peter questions during his interview about whether Patty was suicidal and whether he had been having an affair with Joyce Worden as this was before he had supposedly read Patty’s diaries, well before he had seized them in a search warrant?
The police’s obsession with their burdock bush theory makes strange things happen to the evidence too as the burdock branch, according to police photographs, has 2 hairs on it, but when it is later put into evidence it magically becomes 18 hairs. When Dr. Terzian carries out his second autopsy he is supplied with the hairs from the burdock bush he decides to change his opinion that Patty died from drowning to death by smothering, despite the fact that there is no medical evidence to support this. In fact a more experienced forensic pathologist used by the defense, Dr. Michael Skirica concluded that all the evidence supported the drowning conclusion.
But such was the importance of the burdocks they attached to the burdocks that David Beers, an experienced investigator used by the defense, thinks that the police decided that Patty’s jacket needed an abundance of burdocks. He is an ex-police officer who believes that they destroyed the photos and evidence log that they already had it, filled it with burdocks, put Patty’s drivers licence back in it, took it back to the lake and threw it back in (without taking sufficient care that it would be found where it should have been) so that the diver Urnaitis could find it again. He is convinced that in this case the strange changes in the evidence that occurred can only be explained by police misconduct and became so convinced of it that he wrote a letter to the NY State Attorney General’s office in 2011 and was interviewed by two investigators from there. He provided them with information, documentation and photographs and compiled more information and sent it to them afterwards but has heard nothing from them since.
Given the distorted evidence presented to the juries it is understandable that Peter Wlasiuk was convicted but he has been let down by more than just the police and authorities. In the first trial he had a clearly incompetent attorney Frederick Neroni who, amongst other things, failed to call Dr.Skirica to testify that Patty drowned. He has since been disbarred. So bad were the failings of both the prosecution and defense that a retrial was ordered in 2008. But, the second trial was held in the same court so that the jury know that Peter has been found guilty. Despite the obvious need for a change in venue the judge denied the application without even bothering to explain why. This is quite simply a disgrace. A judge making such a blatantly poor decision without giving a reason is sloppy and does not reflect well on the American justice system.
Once again, Peter’s defense attorney failed to do his job properly and, not surprisingly, the jury decided again that Peter was guilty but after an appeal he was granted another retrial and despite the fact that he had been tried twice and found guilty in the same court the application for a change of venue in the third trail was again denied without any reason being given by the judge. Decisions like this reduced the trial to a farce, or tragedy. Despite this the jury were seriously disturbed by problems in the prosecution case and were close to a not guilty verdict until they made a mistake in interpreting evidence that showed that the court had not done its job properly in allowing them to see a document about Patty’s diaries which was very misleading, so they were swayed by something that the court should not have allowed them to misinterpret.
Peter was convicted in the third trial based on a totally circumstantial case without one single piece of evidence linking him directly to Patty’s death. The saga of Peter’s trials reveals that the justice system that tried him is not up to the job. Only a completely new retrial, with a competent defense, in a court well away from Chenango County, and a jury that is able to look at the evidence afresh can come up with the right verdict - that Peter is not guilty of a murder that never actually happened.