N.Y. judges rebut county prosecutors' Mateo thesis

Murderer is a serial killer, argues an assistant Monroe district attorney

By Yancey Roy
Democrat and Chronicle

Angel Mateo ALBANY, NY(March 24, 1999) -- Death row inmate Angel Luis Mateo (pictured) is suspected of killing four people, but judges on the state's highest court appeared skeptical Tuesday of prosecutors' claims that he's a serial killer.

The seven-member Court of Appeals poked holes in Monroe County prosecutors' contention that Mateo murdered four people in Rochester in 1995 and 1996 in "a similar fashion."

During oral arguments, the judges repeatedly asked whether prosecutors were using too broad a definition of the state's serial killer provisions, which allow special charges to be filed against someone who intentionally kills two or more people in a similar fashion within 24 months.

If Mateo is deemed to be eligible for prosecution as a serial killer, three pending murder charges could be combined into one case. He has already been convicted and sentenced to die for a fourth murder.

"These (killings) aren't similar," said Judge Richard Wesley, noting that a different type of gun was used in each instance. "The problem is, (`similar fashion') becomes a shifting definition."

Judge Howard Levine said that two of the shootings were "contract shootings," and one was done out of revenge. And Judge Arthur Rosenblatt got Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Wendy Evans Lehmann to concede that the killings lacked a signature style.

Mateo was convicted last year in the lone case to go to trial so far, the 1996 killing of Juan Rodriguez Matos, who knew a friend of Mateo's ex-girlfriend.

Mateo was sentenced to death -- one of only two men statewide since New York reinstituted the death penalty in 1995 and the first in Monroe County in 46 years. He is at Clinton Correctional Facility.

Lehmann said prosecutors were still seeking the serial-killer classification because the first conviction could be reversed on appeal.

However, lower courts have dismissed prosecutors' claim that Mateo killed the four victims in a similar fashion. Monroe County Judge John J. Connell said that although each victim was shot in the head, the races of the victims, the locations of the shootings, the alleged motives and the guns used were different.

"There is nothing so unique" about the cases warranting Mateo being labeled a serial killer, Connell said.

A midlevel appeals court agreed.

Before the high court Tuesday, Lehmann contended that the shootings were similar because each was a "coldblooded, calculated, execution-style killing." But Chief Judge Judith Kaye said any murder is a coldblooded act.

Mateo's defense attorney did not argue that Mateo was blameless in the killings but said prosecutors were asking for a definition of serial killer so broad "that it would include nearly every homicide."

"The dissimilarities in this case overwhelm the similarities," said attorney Joseph Flood.