National Roundup

New York
DA: OK to test evidence from 1992 ‘Fatal Attraction’ trial

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Prosecutors in New York have consented to DNA testing of evidence from the 1992 trial of so-called “Fatal Attraction” killer Carolyn Warmus, who was paroled two years ago  after serving 27 years in prison for the murder of her lover’s wife.

Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah consented on Monday to the testing of three pieces of evidence used to convict Warmus in the 1989 death of Betty Jeanne Solomon, who was shot nine times in her home in suburban Greenburgh. The new development in the case was first reported in the  Journal News.

Warmus and the victim’s husband, Paul Solomon, began an affair when both were teachers at a school in Scarsdale. Her first trial for the killing of Betty Jeanne Solomon ended in a hung jury in 1991, but she was found guilty of second-degree murder a year later.

Warmus, now 57, has always maintained her innocence and has sought to have three pieces of evidence tested to determine if they can exonerate her by pointing to another suspect.

Most significant is a glove found at the Solomons’ home that was a key piece of evidence in the second trial. Prosecutors said Warmus left the glove there at the time of the killing. Warmus’ lawyers have argued that testing of the glove could prove that someone other than Warmus was present when Solomon was killed.

The other evidence is semen recovered from the victim and blood found in a tote bag belonging to Paul Solomon.

The murder of Betty Jeanne Solomon attracted wide media attention and was dubbed the Fatal Attraction killing after the 1987 movie starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas.

Death penalty overturned for mom who killed 4

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Monday reversed the death penalty for a woman who killed her four young daughters and tried to kill her son by setting their house on fire 23 years ago.

The justices unanimously upheld the first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson convictions of 57-year-old Sandi Dawn Nieves in the deaths of daughters Nikolet Amber Nieves, Rashel Hollie Nieves, Kristl Dawn Folden, and Jaqlene Marie Folden.

But they overturned her death sentence “due to the trial court’s misconduct.”

The judge was frustrated that the defense lawyer kept violating court procedures despite repeated warnings and sanctions, and also openly doubted the credibility of defense witnesses, the justices found.

“Ultimately, the trial judge’s conspicuous disdain for defense counsel and witnesses, and his repeated references to their improper or untrustworthy conduct, lent credence to the prosecution’s argument that defendant was manipulative and deceitful,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

“These were the very characteristics the prosecution highlighted to justify the death penalty.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt killed himself in 2005 after he was questioned by detectives on an unrelated matter.

Nieves was one of 23 women on California’s death row, and is housed at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. There are 682 men on the nation’s largest death row, though California has not executed anyone since 2006 and Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium.

Nieves called firefighters July 1, 1998, to report her house was on fire. The blaze was out by the time they arrived and they found her sitting in the living room with her 14-year-old son, covered in soot.

Her our daughters, ages 12, 11, 7, and 5 were lying on sleeping bags in the kitchen, all dead of smoke inhalation. Gasoline had been poured and ignited in the hallway and bedrooms, and the oven was open with burned items inside.

Nieves was upset over the end of a relationship and had a stormy past with the fathers of her children, according to the court.

Her son and two oldest daughters were from her first marriage, the two younger girls from her second, and a third man had just broken up with her for the second time after learning she was pregnant. She had threatened suicide and had an abortion a week before the fire.

In a note to her second husband postmarked the day of the fire, she wrote “Now you don’t have to support any of us!” She sent a letter to the third man saying that “I can’t live without you in my life.”

Nieves testified that she didn’t remember sending the letters and “thought she dreamed about holding a lighter and seeing flames” until she realized she had scorched hair on the back of her hand.

Defense experts testified that she had taken a combination of drugs that could cause her to act while she was “basically unconscious,” said one, or in delirium, said another. Prosecution witnesses disputed those conclusions.

“Absent the trial judge’s persistent, disparaging remarks, a juror might have viewed these circumstances with greater sympathy and concluded the crime was a tragedy lacking the moral culpability to warrant death,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote.

“A juror might also have given greater weight to defendant’s remorse and evidence she had been a loving mother to conclude that life in prison, confronted each day with what she had done to her children, was a fitting punishment.”

The justices rejected multiple other defense claims of trial error, including that the jury was not properly selected or screened to consider a death penalty case involving the four young children.

Lawyer sentenced for scamming drug traffickers

SHERMAN, Texas (AP) — A Texas lawyer known as the “DWI Dude” has been sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison for falsely promising Colombian drug traffickers he’d get their charges reduced or dismissed in exchange for cash, prosecutors said.

Jamie Balagia, 65, was sentenced Monday to 188 months in federal prison. He was convicted after a two-week trial in 2019 of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice, violation of the Kingpin Act, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

According to federal prosecutors, Balagia conspired with a private investigator in Florida and an attorney in Colombia to scam Colombian drug traffickers into paying “attorney fees” for acting as intermediaries with government officials who they said would accept bribes to dismiss criminal charges or reduce prison sentences.

There were no bribes or government officials involved.

“The evidence in this case demonstrated that Balagia had been shaking down his clients for years by claiming that he was able to purchase favorable deals from prosecutors and judges alike,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas Ganjei said.

Defense attorney Gaylon Riddels had asked for probation for his client, saying that Balagia was “homeless, destitute and broken,” the Dallas Morning News reported.