David Beers---New Perspective Investigations, 518 Hooper Rd PMB 172 Endwell, NY 13760 607 723-1081 or cell 727-6747
Brief summary of Peter Wlasiuk Case, by David Beers, Private Investigator
Robert Small states Since September 1995 I have made numerous dives in Guilford Lake all of which are logged.
In the course of my diving in Guilford Lake I have observed the commonly recognized spiny spheres referred to as burdocks laying partially exposed on the bottom silt in shallow water. On one occasion as my diving buddy, Tony Mangini, and I exited the water he brought to my attention that he had several burdock spheres stuck to the velcro portion of the pocket flap of his buoyancy control vest. Read the rest of the report for further information.
Dive report and Assessment
This case started in the early morning hours of April 3, 2002 in the small town of Oxford, New York, a rural upstate area in Chenango County.
A 9-1-1 call led first responders to the area of Guilford Lake, along CR 35, where a pickup truck had entered and submerged into the lake. A male occupant, later identified as PETER WLASIUK, claimed that his wife PATTY was driving and swerved to miss a deer and drove into the lake. PETER was able to escape but he was unable to save PATTY. A State Police diver found PATTY on the lake bottom near the truck and pulled her to the surface where EMT’s attempted to resuscitate her. PATTY was transported to a nearby hospital in Sidney, NY and was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
Members of the Chenango County Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation and prematurely decided that this was a homicide and not an accident. They said the evidence at the scene didn’t support PETER’S claim of PATTY swerving to miss a deer. PETER would later admit that he lied about that initially to protect PATTY who had a history of DWI arrests and alcoholism.
An autopsy was performed later that same day by Dr. JAMES TERZIAN, a forensic pathologist at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, NY. His provisional finding was "Probable drowning – pending toxicology".
An early police theory was that PETER had killed his wife by drowning her at another location, transporting her body to Guilford Lake and staging the accident.
A major turning point came that changed their theory. At the autopsy, there were burdocks in PATTY’S hair. There were also burdocks on some of her articles of clothing. There were also burdocks found on PETER’S boots that had washed up on shore. According to police, they claimed to have examined the scene and found no evidence of burdocks in that area. (This is disputed).
Police obtained and executed search warrants at the WLASIUK residence which is only a couple miles from the lake. They found and secured several burdock bushes that were growing in the yard. One of the bushes near the family swimming pool had 2-3 hairs stuck to one of the branches. (When the lab gets this evidence – they count 18 hairs)
Four days after the accident (4/7/02) – police go back to the lake with their own diver to look for evidence and to examine the lake bottom for burdocks. This diver finds PATTY’S coat on the lake bottom and takes a picture of it and brings it out of the water. The coat is turned inside out and has burdocks all over it. Police check the pockets and find only her photo driver’s license and take more photos. Surprisingly, the State Police diver who originally recovered PATTY had seen and touched this same coat that first day but never brought it out of the lake. He also claims to have told a couple of the deputies about it. Also, when the coat gets sent to the lab – numerous additional items are found in the pockets. Furthermore, in addition to the coat, the diver finds a large metal diamond plate tool box (the kind designed and used in pickup trucks) on the lake bottom also. They never look inside and take no pictures of it.
With this newly discovered evidence, police go back to Dr. TERZIAN and tell him there are no burdocks at the lake. Based on that alone, Dr. TERZIAN agrees to change his opinion on manner of death which now becomes "asphyxiation due to suffocation"
Actually, before Dr. TERZIAN changes his opinion, the case is presented to a Grand Jury (4/11/02) and PETER WLASIUK is indicted on a single count of murder 2nd.
The submerged truck was removed from the lake before daylight that first day. It was originally secured in a local tow service garage and later secured at the Chenango County Sheriff’s Department garage. An unqualified accident re-constructionist from the Sheriff’s Department conducted the accident and reconstruction work which included a thorough examination and measurements at the scene and of the truck. The department’s evidence technician/photographer was also present during this process and took photographs. All of this took place in the first few days following the accident.
On 4/22/02, the lead detective, JAMES LLOYD and the District Attorney, JOSEPH McBRIDE, went to Lourdes Hospital to meet with Dr. TERZIAN. Before they left the hospital, Dr. TERZIAN turns over numerous controlled head hair samples he had pulled from PATTY after her body had been to organ donation, a funeral and a second autopsy. See what I mean by complicated? LLOYD returns to Chenango County with this evidence.
On 4/23/02, for a reason that’s still unclear, members of the Onondaga County, NY Sheriff’s Department’s forensic team are summoned to Chenango County to conduct a forensic examination on the truck (keeping in mind the submersion and removal from the lake and everything else that’s already been done to the truck and nearly three weeks has gone by) And, lo and behold, without the use of any special equipment or lighting, and during their cursory examination of the truck, they find a strand of hair in the bed of the truck, stuck to a burr in the liner.
Lab results. The 2-3 hairs on the bush at the residence that became 18 by the time they got to the lab were examined. DNA was found on several that matched PATTY. However, on one of the hairs, (keeping in mind DNA is only found on the bulbous root portion) an odd allele was found that didn’t match PETER. DNA on the hair found in the bed of the truck also matched PATTY
Police also theorized that PETER had killed PATTY at what we dubbed the "murder bush" as the result of a violent struggle. He then dragged her to the truck and placed her in the bed of the truck (not the tool box or the cab) and transported her to the lake and staged the accident.
This was early April – the snow had just melted – the ground was soft and muddy.
There was absolutely no evidence of a struggle at/near the "murder bush" and no evidence of drag marks over to where the truck would have been parked. Additionally, there was no evidence of drag marks on PATTY’S clothing or footwear. PATTY had no defensive wounds and nothing under her fingernails.
Prior to this case going to trial in November of 2002, PETER offered his first sworn testimony about what happened during an insurance deposition while he was incarcerated In summation. On the afternoon of April 2, 2002, PETER drove his wife PATTY and their three daughters to the babysitter (JOYCE WORDEN) in his 1998 white GMC pickup truck. PATTY borrowed WORDEN’S car to drive to work at Sidney Hospital where she was a nurse who worked the 3-11 shift. PETER then went to work at the Angel Inn, a bar he owned. Being a week night, PETER closed the bar early and went home to relax and to wait for PATTY who was supposed to stop and pick up the kids after work and come home. About 11:40PM WORDEN calls PETER and inquires about PATTY since she hasn’t arrived yet to pick up the girls. PETER says, give her a few more minutes, she should be along soon. A few minutes later, PATTY arrives at the residence and PETER says "where are the kids"? An argument ensues over who was supposed to pick up the kids. The argument intensifies. WORDEN calls again – PETER tells her PATTY just got home and that she just grabbed my truck keys and we’re on our way. PATTY jumps in the driver’s side of PETER’S truck (she drove it often). PETER, slips on his boots and follows her and jumps in passenger side. Argument continues. Down the road to CR 35 – turn left towards Guilford. PATTY rolls down window to flick her cigarette – lit ash blows into back seat area. She pulls over on right shoulder and leans over to put it out and PETER detects smell of beer and argument intensifies. PETER demands she pull over immediately and go back home – did not want her driving with the kids. PATTY getting madder and madder pulls to the left into a driveway to make a K-turn to go back home. PETER hears a grinding sound from transmission and yells at PATTY. In anger, PATTY makes a comment in words to the effect, "I should just drive this thing right into the lake". The next thing he knew, the truck was going into the lake. His first thoughts were, "now what am I going to do, how am I going to get this out of here" The next thing he knew, water was coming in and they were sinking. He tried getting out and couldn’t. PATTY was frozen behind wheel. Her window was down – he climbed over her and through the open window. As he did, he grabbed the collar of her coat and tried pulling her out with him. But as he got out, the force of the water caused him lose his grip and he lost her. He surfaced – got oriented to shore and swam to shore (about 60 feet). He got out of the water and started yelling her name repeatedly. He then started knocking on doors of seasonal residences near the scene and got no answer. Someone finally answered and agreed to call 9-1-1. He returned to the scene with the 9-1-1 caller and his friend who continued looking for PATTY before first responders arrived. Shivering and cold he stood on CR 35 and flagged down the first police car. The deputy placed him in the car to warm up. He later was taken by ambulance to Sidney Hospital.
In November of 2002 this case went to trial in Chenango County, NY before the Honorable HOWARD SULLIVAN. Although PETER was initially represented by Attorney PETER McBRIDE, when the case went to trial PETER was represented by an Attorney named FREDERICK NERONI of Delhi, NY (now disbarred). PETER was subsequently convicted and later sentenced to 25-life in state prison.
An appeal was filed on his behalf. A litany of prosecutorial and judicial errors was identified and the case was returned for a re-trial.
Attorney RANDEL SCHARF of Cooperstown, NY was assigned as PETER’S new Attorney.
In November of 2007 I received a call and met with counselor SCHARF who had preliminarily reviewed the case and was requesting my services.
I have been a licensed private investigator since 1996. Previously, I was employed by the NY State Police as an investigator with experience in narcotics, major crimes and the forensics unit. Overall, to date, I have over 34 years of investigative experience.
After a preliminary review of the case with counselor SCHARF, I agreed to adopt a case. I have been involved with the case ever since. I recognized some major issues and concerns with the case right away dealing with the police investigation as well as the physical evidence.
It became readily apparent that PETER’S original Attorney was either never provided all of the discovery information or failed to ask for it. As additional discovery materials were received and reviewed, more and more problems were discovered re the police investigation and physical evidence. If these issues had been addressed and properly dealt with before the first trial, I have no doubt that PETER would have been exonerated. For example, another forensic pathologist identified as Dr. MICHAEL SIKIRICA, was consulted in this case and concluded that this was a drowning but he was never called as a defense witness. Additionally, the unqualified accident reconstruction work was never challenged. And the list goes on. Trying to undo everything that wasn’t done is an uphill battle.
Fast forward now to the second trial held in September of 2008 before acting Chenango County Court Judge, MARTIN SMITH (Broome County Court Judge). Now we’re dealing with a jury that knows PETER has already been convicted previously. Change of venue is warranted and asked for but summarily denied. Defense challenges are brought out in detail during the trial. Dr. SIKIRICA testifies for the defense this time. The people now bolster Dr. TERZIAN by bringing the infamous Dr. MICHAEL BADEN to say what TERZIAN just said. The defense calls a qualified accident re-constructionist. I even testified about finding burdocks growing all around the lake and even in the area where the accident occurred, albeit, I find them growing in 2008. Jurors are split during deliberations. Unfortunately, a small part of a piece of evidence offered by Attorney SCHARF and received into evidence becomes a focal point by jurors during deliberations. Without any limiting instructions from the court, jurors misinterpret the evidence which acts as a turning point in breaking the split and PETER is convicted again. And again sentenced to state prison for 25-life. Another appeal is filed.
Even before the second trial started, I became convinced that one or more of the police investigators involved in this case had engaged in official misconduct and/or evidence tampering. While awaiting the appeal decision, I continued to examine the facts of the case.
On July, 25, 2011, I wrote a letter to the NY State Attorney General’s Office in Binghamton, New York articulating my concerns in this matter. (attached) On September, 1, 2011, I met and interviewed with two investigators from the AG’s office. I provided information, documentation and photographs in support of my findings. After our meeting, I compiled additional information and sent it to them. I have heard nothing since.
In December 2011, the appeals court granted the appeal finding Attorney SCHARF ineffective for offering said evidence and PETER is granted a third trial.
In January 2012, Judge SMITH assigns Binghamton, NY Attorney MARK LOUGHRAN to represent PETER for his third trial. Judge SMITH also recuses himself and assigns Broome County Court Judge JOSEPH CAWLEY to sit as Chenango County Court Judge in PETER’s third trial.
A change of venue is warranted more than before, but again, asked for and denied.
The third trial for PETER commences in June, 2012 in Chenango County Court. Again, the jurors are made fully aware throughout the course of the trial that PETER was twice convicted of murdering his wife PATTY.
Without going into all of the details of this third trial, the bottom line is, PETER was convicted again and sentencing is pending which is likely to be the same.
I’ve been doing criminal defense work now for over 15 years. In my experience, having an innocent client does happen from time to time but is very rare. I believe this is one of those rare cases where an innocent man has been wrongly convicted.
Obviously, there are many aspects of this case that I couldn’t include in this brief summary.