Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Defense Gets Boost At Katehis Trial, But So Does Prosecution

John Katehis in one of two photos introduced at his murder trial

The defense argument that John Katehis participated in an unwanted sex act with George Weber that led him to kill the 47-year-old gay journalist got some help on October 19 when a criminalist from New York City’s medical examiner’s office said that Weber’s semen was found on his penis.

Sarah Philipps, who has works in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, told a Brooklyn jury that her office tested multiple blood and fluid samples from Weber’s Carroll Gardens apartment, the steps in front of his home, and even a nearby subway station.

Swabs of Weber’s penis showed that he had ejaculated, but there was no semen found on his underwear. When he was found dead, his underwear and pants had been pulled down. That suggests that he engaged in a sex act, perhaps with the now 18-year-old Katehis, prior to his March 2009 death.

Jeffery T. Schwartz, Katehis’ attorney, asked Philipps if that showed that Weber’s pants and underwear were down when he had an orgasm. “It would be more likely, but I cannot say yes or no,” she said.

Schwartz has argued that Weber was a sexual predator and that Katehis, who was 16 when he met Weber, was his victim. In his statements to police and the district attorney, Katehis said Weber gave him a beer and cocaine and tried to get him to participate in a sex act that made him uncomfortable.

In New York, a person who is over 21 who has sex with someone under 17 can be charged with third degree rape, an E felony, the lowest level felony. Schwartz has said that the younger man was defending himself from a sexual assault when he stabbed Weber more than 50 times.

Katehis is charged with second degree murder in the case and could get as much as 25-years-to-life if found guilty.

Schwartz also pressed the attack that police and the district attorney had railroaded his client by noting that the medical examiner had received many biological samples, but had tested only a small number of them. Schwartz said that senior officials from the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, the police department, and the medical examiner’s office met to discuss that testing before it was done. Philipps said that the testing choices were influenced by information from the police.

“The narrative information you get is a police officer’s narrative, is that correct?” Schwartz asked and Philipps agreed.

The Brooklyn district attorney is presenting Katehis as a calculating killer and a liar whose statements are filled with self-serving details. That case got some help on October 19.

While media reports had it that Weber placed the craigslist ad that brought the two men together, in fact, it was Katehis who ran that ad on March 18, 2009.

With the subject line “I blow for cash M4M,” Katehis wrote “I’m bi white uncut, but I’m only into oral play. I will blow a guy of any age, but only for cash.” Katehis sought $60 for the service. Weber responded to the ad less than 30 minutes after it was placed seeking to be smothered. The two men conducted a negotiation via email over what they would do and at what price before meeting two days later.

Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the prosecutor in the case, introduced some content from Katehis’ myspace page in which he wrote “I enjoy...drinking.” That may cast doubt on the younger man’s assertion that a beer impaired his thinking. She earlier asserted that tests on blood taken from Katehis within hours of the killing showed he had no cocaine in his system.

Nicolazzi introduced two pictures from myspace that showed Katehis posing with knives that resemble the weapon used to kill Weber. The actual murder weapon was never found. Katehis had a knife collection and was carrying a knife, which was put in evidence on October 19, when he was arrested.

The October 19 session also showcased the continuing tensions between Schwartz and Neil J. Firetog, the trial judge. On several occasions Schwartz’s questioning of prosecution witnesses drew objections from Nicolazzi that were sustained by Firetog. Schwartz would continue with that questioning. Firetog told Schwartz that he could recall those witnesses if he put on a defense case and put those questions to them then.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Schwartz told Firetog that that instruction was “burden shifting” and suggested to the jurors that Katehis was required to prove something to them. He asked for a curative instruction which Firetog said he would do, but Schwartz never said what that instruction should be. As their argument ended, Schwartz said “It’s good to be the king.” Firetog was exiting the courtroom at that point, but paused and appeared to be considering engaging with Schwartz again, but left.

On October 13, Firetog twice threatened to fine Schwartz and hold him in contempt if he continued certain lines of questioning with witnesses after being told by Firetog to stop. On October 14, Schwartz asked Firetog to recuse himself.

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