New Demagall trial awaiting possible appeal
PITTSFIELD -- Whether William Demagall -- twice convicted of a brutal murder in Hillsdale, N.Y. -- will have a third trial now awaits a possible appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.
The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court on Thursday reversed Demagall's 2010 conviction of second-degree murder, citing "various errors" that deprived the defendant of a fair trial.
Demagall was sentenced in March 2011 in Columbia County Court in Hudson, N.Y., to 25 years to life in the murder of George Mancini in Hillsdale in 2006. In 2009, the Appellate Division had reversed a 2007 conviction on the same charge, prompting the second trial.
Attorney Paul J. Connolly of Claverack, N.Y., who has handled Demagall's appeal since trial attorney Richard L. Mott was elected to the state Supreme Court in November 2012, said Friday it is up to the prosecution to decide on any further appeal. He said he would argue against such a request, which would go first to a single state Appeals Court justice for a ruling.
For Demagall, 30, his status has reverted to facing the original charges and he remains imprisoned at Great Meadows Correctional Facility in Comstock, N.Y., in Washington County, Connolly said.
Demagall has a history of hospitalization at mental health facilities, including at Berkshire Medical Center's psychiatric unit in Pittsfield. He escaped from the BMC unit less than two days before he allegedly killed Mancini in February 2006.
Demagall resided in New Marlborough at the time of the murder.
Mancini, 56, was stabbed more than 30 times, according to testimony, and bludgeoned with a paperweight by Demagall, who then set the victim on fire inside his Breezy Hill Road home, according to police and prosecutors.
After his arrest in Schodack, N.Y., shortly after the murder, Demagall allegedly confessed to the crime.
Defense attorney Mott argued for a verdict of insanity, which was rejected. He said Demagall was delusional -- thinking he was a wizard from the time of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, and that he lacked the mental capacity to know or appreciate the immorality of his crime.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said Friday he had recently spoken with the victim's family who were "justifiably upset" by the news.
"I feel bad for the victim's family," he said.
Because Czajka was the Columbia County judge who sat on Demagall's original trial, he won't be prosecuting the case.
Judge Jonathan Nichols, who presided in the second trial, has assigned Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Michael Cozzolino as a special prosecutor in the case. Cozzolino prosecuted the original case as well and is listed as having represented the state in the recent appeal.
Czajka said there are "interesting legal issues" having to do with the appeal ruling that could warrant an appeal to the state's highest court. But because he was not handling the case, the decision to pursue an appeal wouldn't be up to him.
Having a case come back to trial twice is "unusual, but not unheard of," according to the DA.
"It does happen, he said.
Cozzolino could not be reached Friday for comment.
In its ruling reversing the second conviction, the appellate justices determined that among errors during the second trial, Judge Nichols had incorrectly allowed prosecutors to present hearsay testimony from a psychiatrist -- Alan Tuckman -- who had examined Demagall.
The same court reversed his 2007 conviction, ruling that prohibited medical testimony should have been allowed at trial.
Whether a verdict of not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect would be allowed has figured in both trials. In the first, a plea bargain was reached between the defendant and the prosecution on such a finding but then-Judge Czajka rejected the plea and the case proceeded to trial. The jury also rejected an insanity plea after the trial.
Following the second trial, an attempt by the defendant to enter the same plea was rejected by the jury, and Demagall was convicted of second-degree murder and received the maximum sentence.