Anthony Oddone, the Farmingville man convicted in 2010 of first-degree manslaughter for causing the death of Hampton Bays resident Andrew Reister by holding him in a headlock at Southampton Publick House, is getting a new trial.
In a 7-0 ruling issued on Thursday, the New York State Court of Appeals tossed Oddone's conviction and subsequent 17-year sentence, and ordered a new trial date be set.
The court found that evidentiary rulings then-Suffolk County County Justice C. Randall Hinrichs made not to permit the defense to refresh a witness's recollection with a statement the witness had previously given about how long the headlock lasted was improper.
"In this, the trial court erred," Judge Robert Smith said, writing for the court. Hinrichs is now a state Supreme Court justice.
Oddone, now 31, was dancing on a bar with a woman at the Southampton Village brew pub in August 2008 when Reister, a 40-year-old off-duty Suffolk County Corrections Officer who was working as a bouncer, asked them to get down. Oddone refused and Reister reportedly pushed him off. A fight ensued.
"In short order, defendant got behind Reister and put his arms around his neck; one of defendant's hands was grasping the other," the ruling said. They fell to the floor and Reister went unconscious, while onlookers screamed for Oddone to stop, which he eventually did. Resiter was declared brain dead two days later.
Oddone was indicted on a murder charge, and claimed self-defense. The jury acquitted him of murder, but convicted him of first-degree manslaughter, as a lesser offense.
In 2011, the State Appellate Division, which affirmed the conviction, reduced Oddone's sentence from 22 years to 17 and issued five years of post-release supervision instead. He is in custody at Green Haven Correctional Facility.
During trial, there was an emphasis on how long Oddone had Reister in a headlock. "The estimates varied, but most put the total time, beginning when defendant's arms first went around Reister's neck and ending when he released him, at somewhere near three minutes," the ruling said.
In his appeal, Oddone raised issue with what his witness were not allowed to say about the duration of the headlock. One witness, Megan Flynn, a waitress, testified that the duration of the incident "could have been a minute or so," and defense counsel was not allowed to refresh her recollection with a prior statement she made to an insurance investigator that it lasted "maybe 6 to 10 seconds."
"When a witness, describing an incident more than a year in the past, says that it 'could have' lasted 'a minute or so,' and adds 'I don't know,' the inference that her recollection could benefit from being refreshed is a compelling one," Smith wrote. "Though Flynn was certainly not the central witness in the case, we conclude that the error in limiting counsel's examination of her was important enough to justify reversal."
The ruling does reject, however, Oddone's appeal of testimony from James Wilson, a deputy medical examiner who performed the autopsy. He testified that he believed Reister's neck was compressed for "something in the range of 2, 3, 4 minutes."
Steven Penrod, an expert in eyewitness observation, was not allowed to testify that eyewitnesses routinely overestimate the duration of brief events. The court did not make a ruling about the exclusion of Penrod's testimony, but offered some guidance to the trial court.
"The decisive issue in the case is not the duration of the headlock, but whether defendant caused Reister's death while intending to cause him serious physical injury," Smith wrote.