Attorneys preview murder trial in oral arguments

The jury in the Dickie E. Anderson Jr. murder case will be listening to graphic testimony about the strangling deaths of the two women he is accused of killing, but will not be allowed to hear that Anderson has been involved in several other strangling incidents.

The upcoming court case was previewed Friday as Judge Arthur C. Hadden listened to oral arguments on pretrial motions and issued a flurry of rulings in New London Superior Court.

Anderson, 41, will be tried beginning Tuesday for the strangling deaths of Renee Pellegrino in 1997 and Michelle Comeau in 1998. During Friday's arguments, he wore a business suit and sat between his two court-appointed attorneys, John T. Walkley and Chris Duby. According to police, Anderson, who had lived in New London and Norwich, knew both of the victims, both of whom had struggled with crack cocaine addictions and had worked as prostitutes.

The judge ruled that the jury would be allowed to hear testimony from a state medical examiner who says that the two homicides appear to have been committed in a similar manner, and that the 2002 murder of a third woman, Hope Becker, was committed in a dissimilar manner. The defense is expected to attempt to implicate Becker's convicted killer, Clifford Gilliland, in the Pellegrino and Comeau murders.

Pellegrino's body was discovered on June 25, 1997, at the dead-end of Parkway South in Waterford, not far from New London city limits. In May 1998, police found Comeau's body dumped along an access road to the Norwich Industrial Park near the Norwich-Franklin town line.

Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver testified that Pellegrino and Comeau were each found on roadways on their backs with their limbs arranged symmetrically. Both were unclothed. Carver said the women's autopsies indicated that they had been strangled with a ligature, such as a cord, rope or wire. Both women also had marks on their necks that indicated they also had been manually strangled - with hands. Carver said it is relatively rare for both methods of strangulation to be used. Both Pellegrino and Comeau had cocaine in their bloodstreams but no alcohol, Carver testified.

Carver described similarities and differences in Becker's case. Her body was found in Mohegan Park in December 2002, lying on its side in the fetal position. She was wearing only her socks. Carver testified that Becker's killer had tied a ligature around her neck, across her mouth and maybe on her hands. He said Becker appeared to have been "hogtied" with her neck tied to a different part of her body, and that somebody may have used the ropes as a handle to pick up the body.

In ruling that the trial would begin Tuesday, Hadden denied the defense claim that the state had been late in disclosing new information about the case that could potentially benefit Anderson. The information involved a man's Feb. 23, 2012, statement to police that his late father had implicated someone other than Anderson in Pellegrino's murder. The man said the killer was the father of Pellegrino's unborn child, and that Pellegrino had been trying to blackmail him.

The defense had sought a delay to investigate the claim, while the state argued that it had disclosed information about the father of Pellegrino's unborn child in several documents. The man had been interviewed and cleared by police after providing an alibi. The judge said the information had been turned over to the defense some time ago and that, in any case, it relays "totem pole hearsay," where one person relays information to another person, who tells it to somebody else.

Hadden also ruled that it was legal for the state to have obtained a recorded conversation between Anderson and a jailhouse informant who had been placed in Anderson's prison cell while he was being held at Osborn Correctional Intitution for an unrelated crime in 2009. Over the defense's objection that the secret recording had violated Anderson's Miranda rights, the judge ruled the taping admissible.

In his first ruling for the defense, Hadden said the state would not be allowed to introduce information about Anderson's prior misconduct, which includes three incidents in which Anderson allegedly strangled women. Prosecutor David J. Smith said he had been prepared to call witnesses to testify about an incident involving a prostitute that Anderson picked up in 2002, a domestic incident in 2008 with one woman, and an altercation in 2000 or 2001 in which Anderson allegedly strangled his longtime girlfriend until she lost consciousness. The judge ruled that introducing the incidents would be unduly prejudicial.

When the trial begins Tuesday, Smith and prosecutor Stephen M. Carney are expected to set the scene for the jury by calling to the witness stand police officers who responded to the Pellegrino and Comeau crime scenes.

k.florin@theday.com

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