The dog ate my reporter's notebook

Attorney Nicholas D’Amato’s potential defense for a man accused of attempting to rob an elderly woman at the casino is unique. He says his client, Winston Riley, may have been sleepwalking when he tried to snatch the woman’s purse in the parking garage at Mohegan Sun.

Judge Patrick J. Clifford described the case as “bizarre,” but he’ll be listening for details during upcoming pretrial discussions. You never know; maybe Riley’s case will be precedent-setting.

When it comes to creative defenses, I always thought “The dog ate my homework” was not as farfetched as it sounded. Puppies will eat just about anything. One dog I knew chowed down an entire tube sock. The owner discovered the smelly snack when it came out the other end of the dog.

 The press and the public can be pretty cynical when it comes to criminal defenses. A common response, when somebody is charged with a serious crime, is “I bet his lawyer is going to say he had a tough childhood.” The comment is meant to be sarcastic, but truth is, courts take mitigating factors seriously.

Just this week, the state Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Eduardo Santiago, who shot Joseph Niwinski in the head in West Hartford 12 years ago after an exchange of a broken snowmobile.

The justices ruled that the court failed to disclose “significant and relevant mitigating information” to the jury about Santiago’s childhood. He had been the subject of “substantial neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse,” according to a psychiatrist who evaluated him. The jury that sent him to death row had heard only part of the story.

The Supreme Court ordered a new penalty phase for Santiago, though the state’s repeal of the death penalty is sure to complicate the case.

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