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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Katehis Trial to Start in Brooklyn; Defense Will Put Victim on Trial

George Weber in an undated photo

With the trial of John Katehis, the accused killer of George Weber, slated to start on October 18, it appears that the defense will try to make Katehis the victim in the 2009 homicide and Weber a sexual predator who brought his death upon himself.

“Do you think the person who gets the worst of a situation is automatically the victim?” Jeffery T. Schwartz, Katehis’ attorney, asked prospective jurors on October 14 in Brooklyn Supreme Court. He had posited a circumstance in which a person initiates a fight and ends up losing badly.

In his statements to police and the Brooklyn district attorney, Katehis, who was 16 at the time of the killing, said he responded to an internet ad placed by Weber seeking sexual services for pay in March of 2009. Once at Weber’s Carroll Gardens apartment, Katehis, now 18, said the 47-year-old gay journalist gave him cocaine and beer and asked Katehis to smother him. Katehis bound Weber’s feet with duct tape. When Weber showed him a knife, he panicked and the two men struggled over the knife. Katehis said he recalled only a single cut to Weber’s throat that was made when both men were holding the knife. Weber was stabbed nearly 50 times. The defense has argued that Weber asked Katehis to participate in an activity that made him uncomfortable.

Schwartz asked jurors if they thought that alcohol and drugs could explain the behavior of a 16-year-old and would the fact that the 16-year-old was given alcohol and drugs by “an elder person” influence their thinking.

“Would you agree with me that a child might react differently if he was frightened or startled?” Schwartz asked. “Would you agree with me that people behave differently when they have alcohol in their system?”

Schwartz has consistently represented his client as the victim of an older man who was trying to force a younger man to have an unwanted sexual encounter. During October 12 and 13 pre-trial hearings, however, new facts emerged that may present problems for the defense at trial.

On October 12, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the prosecutor in the case, disclosed that it was Katehis who placed the internet ad and that the two men negotiated what they would do, when they would do it, and what it would cost via email over a period of several days. Nicolazzi has referred to witnesses being flown in from California. They may be from craigslist, the site where the ad ran. Additionally, Nicolazzi said blood drawn from Katehis hours after the killing did not test positive for drugs. In his statements, Katehis said he had a single beer.

In her juror questioning, Nicolazzi asked jurors if the age difference between the two men and the smothering would keep them from following the law or being fair.

“There’s a sexual component, whether there was any sex or not, just by the nature of fetishes,” she told jurors. Katehis gave his age in his internet ad.

“Is it fair to say that when you hear that you say yuck?” Nicolazzi asked prospective jurors. She also prepared jurors to hear Katehis’ statements and signaled that she would be asking them to believe parts and disregard others.

“Ever been in a situation where someone tells you something and part of it is true, part of it’s not maybe to help themselves?” she asked jurors.

Also on October 14, Schwartz asked Neil J. Firetog, the judge in the case, to recuse himself saying the judge had a longstanding bias against him and that it was damaging to his client. Observers said the exchange grew heated at points. Firetog refused to quit the case.

On October 13, Firetog twice warned Schwartz that he would hold him in contempt and fine him if he did not abide by the judge’s rulings when questioning witnesses during the trial.