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Cold case reward won't be paid out anytime soon

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published November 05. 2012 4:00AM   Updated November 05. 2012 4:29PM
Witnesses must wait for appeals to end in prostitute slaying

Cashing in on the state's $50,000 reward for helping to convict Dickie E. Anderson Jr. of a cold case murder is not proving easy for the mother of his two children or his former cellmate.

Forty-six-year-old Arthur Moore of New Haven, a jailhouse informant, and Toni Wilson, Anderson's longtime companion, testified for the prosecution when Anderson went on trial in March 2012 for the 1990s murders of Renee Pellegrino and Michelle Comeau. The jury convicted Anderson of Pellegrino's murder, and in July, Judge Arthur C. Hadden sentenced him to 60 years in prison.

Moore and Wilson retained attorneys and applied for the reward, which had been authorized by former Gov. John G. Rowland. Hadden ruled that Moore and Wilson will have to wait until Anderson's conviction is upheld on appeal - a process that could take months or years - before they can petition the court.

"Wanted" posters, with a murder victim's picture and the promise of a cash reward for information, help bring hard-to-solve cases into the public eye.

"The goal is to hopefully have people come forward with information on cases where investigations have stalled," said Michael L. Regan, state's attorney for the New London Judicial District.

But officials say the state law governing rewards is vague and that there is little case law to guide the petitioners, attorneys and judges.

The Anderson case has added a new wrinkle. In what observers say could be a first-time occurrence, the state attorney general's office has notified the court that Moore owes $48,000 in unpaid child support and has requested that part of any reward he receives be used to pay that debt.

Regan, who has been the top prosecutor in New London for six years, said he has requested about a half dozen awards or increases to the amount of existing awards. The maximum reward is $50,000, and Regan said the requests have grown more frequent since the formation of the Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit.

"It used to be a rare occurrence, but because of the cold case unit, we are applying to the governor's office for more rewards than we have in the past," Regan said.

Seven rewards in six years

Since 2006, the state has paid out seven rewards, totaling $175,000, according to Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. He said it is not unusual to have a large lag between the crime and the issuance of a reward. One of the six cases he cited was the murder of Martha Moxley, which occurred on Oct. 30, 1975 in Greenwich. Michael Skakel was indicted in 2000 and convicted of the murder in 2002. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and lost his final appeal in January 2006. The reward was paid out in June 2006, according to Doba.

Under state law, the issuance of rewards is at the discretion of the trial judge. At a recent hearing in the Anderson cold case, Hadden, the presiding judge, noted the state law "says absolutely nothing" about whether the reward should be issued following a guilty verdict or after the verdict is upheld on appeal. Anderson, like most who are convicted of murderer, is appealing.

Hadden said he looked to the public policy behind the statute before ruling that the reward cannot be issued until the conviction is confirmed upon appeal. He noted the people seeking the reward might be called upon to testify again.

"It would be contrary to the public policy to issue that reward while the conviction is upon appeal," Hadden said.

Hearing of the judge's ruling, Moore, who is currently out of prison and living in New Haven, shook his head and left the courthouse. Wilson and her attorney, Jason B. Burdick, also left without commenting.

If the judge eventually does authorize the reward, Moore may not collect more than a small sum since the state attorney general's office has notified the court that Moore owes $48,000 in child support. The office sent a letter to the court after Anderson's defense attorney, Christopher Duby, notified it about the potential reward to Moore.

"We are aggressive in going after resources that might be available, particularly when they go to the custodial parent or children," said Susan Kinsing, a spokeswoman for Attorney General George Jepsen. "It's not unusual for us to seek to satisfy judgments, but this area, where there's a reward in a criminal case at stake, might be unusual."

Duby also recommended getting the Department of Administrative Services involved since Moore is a career criminal. The DAS places liens on the assets of former inmates to cover the costs of their incarceration. That suggestion gained no traction, however, since cold case investigators are aggressively seeking help from prison inmates and are circulating playing cards with case information within correctional institutions.

Prosecution neutral
on reward request

The New London state's attorney's office has occasionally petitioned a judge to authorize a reward for somebody who comes forward with information that helps solve a murder. That was true in the murder-for-hire case in which attorney Beth Carpenter arranged to have her brother-in-law, Anson "Buzz" Clinton of Old Lyme, fatally shot in 1999. Prosecutors Kevin T. Kane and Peter A. McShane recommended Catherine White, a girlfriend of co-conspirator Joseph Fremut, for the $10,000 reward that had been authorized. They said White came forward 10 weeks after the murder with key information that allowed the state police to unravel the case.

In the Anderson case, prosecutors Stephen M. Carney and David J. Smith have taken a neutral position. It will be up to Moore and Wilson to convince the judge that they deserve the reward. While neither came forward with information before Anderson was a suspect, both cooperated when approached by investigators. Their attorneys emphasized the value of their efforts and the disruption to their lives during the recent hearing.

"In the case of my client, she's local. She cooperated with police. She continues to cooperate," said Burdick, Wilson's attorney.

DNA pinpointed suspect

The fatal stranglings of Pellegrino and Comeau in 1997 and 1998 went unsolved until 2008, when DNA that had been taken from Anderson for an unrelated conviction matched a vaginal swab taken from Pellegrino.

The police had the DNA, but they needed more. Both of the victims were crack addicts who turned tricks to support their habit. Anderson described himself as a "trick artist" who frequently visited prostitutes in an interview with police, but continued to profess his innocence.

At the request of state police, a Department of Correction official approached Moore, a career criminal who was known to have cooperated in the past, in 2009 when Moore was incarcerated with Anderson at the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers. At the time, Anderson was serving a yearlong prison sentence for the attempted strangulation and unlawful restraint of his then-girlfriend.

Moore reported that Anderson admitted to both murders as they chatted together in their cell. The correctional officials installed a recording device in the cell that captured 12½ hours of conversation between Moore and Anderson but no confession.

Around the same time, police approached Anderson's longtime girlfriend, Wilson, who told them that Anderson had started crying one night in 1998 and had admitted that he had "hooked up" with a prostitute one night and killed her after she had demanded money.

In presenting the case to a jury, the prosecutors called on Anderson and Moore to tell their stories. During his closing argument, Anderson attorney John T. Walkley suggested that both had motive to implicate Anderson, including the reward that was offered to help solve the crimes. The jury convicted Anderson of the Pellegrino murder but was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the case of Comeau.

k.florin@theday.com

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The law

State law governing the issuance of rewards to those who help solve serious crimes:

Connecticut General Statute 54-48 - Reward for arrest of capital offender or felon

When any crime punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year has been committed, the Governor, upon application of the state's attorney for the judicial district in which it has been committed, may offer, publicly, a reward not exceeding fifty thousand dollars, to the person who gives information leading to the arrest and conviction of the guilty person, or, if such guilty person has fled after conviction of a felony in a court of this state, to the person who gives information leading to the arrest and detention of the convicted felon, whether found within the state or elsewhere, which reward shall be paid to the informer by the state, by order of the court before which such conviction is had.

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