Tartaglione makes bid for no death penalty in quadruple homicide case

The disappearance of video footage of financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s first suicide attempt should mean that his cellmate, ex-Westchester cop Nicholas Tartaglione, doesn’t face the death penalty in a drug-related quadruple homicide, Tartaglione’s lawyers argue in new court documents.

They contend that proof Tartaglione tried to help Epstein would have been powerful mitigation in the penalty phase if he was found guilty of any death-eligible charges.

“This video existed, the defense requested its preservation and the government failed to preserve it, impacting Tartaglione’s ability to present mitigation in ways that are far-reaching and difficult to trace,” defense lawyers Bruce Barket, Aida Leisenring, Edward Rymsza, Karl Schwartz and Oliver Loewy wrote last week.

“The Government can only guess at what impact the video would have on the jury if presented and guesswork is impermissible in a capital case such as this.”

The motion is among six by the defense for why the death penalty should be off the table when Tartaglione faces trial, likely in April 2023.

U.S. District Court, White Plains
U.S. District Court, White Plains

Most of the 292-page document focuses on the death penalty generally and not specifically how it pertains to Tartaglione’s case. One 23-page section that presumably does is completely redacted.

In addition to longstanding challenges related to the arbitrariness, unreliability and cruelty of capital punishment, Tartaglione’s lawyers also argue that his New York-based right not to be executed would be violated as this state does not have capital punishment.

Capital punishment: Tartaglione still urging US to drop death penalty

Cell video:No video available from Epstein suicide attempt

They also argue that the Federal Death Penalty Act violates the anti-commandeering clause of the 10th Amendment by delegating state resources in the federal process. The act allows U.S. Marshals to utilize state facilities for executions, even though for more than five decades federal death row inmates have been housed and executed at a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.

If U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas does not strike the death penalty, Tartaglione’s lawyers want him to curtail the aggravating factors that jurors would consider if they find him guilty of death-eligible charges.

Among those they want stricken are that Tartaglione was a law enforcement officer; that one of the killings was "heinous, cruel or depraved;" and that the killings followed "substantial planning and premeditation."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting Tartaglione, declined to comment. Prosecutors have until Aug. 26 to reply to the defense motions.

Tartaglione, 54, spent most of his career as a Briarcliff Manor police officer, retiring in 2008, but also was a cop in Mount Vernon and Pawling.

He is accused in a drug conspiracy that included the 2016 killings of four men whose bodies were discovered on property he rented in Orange County.

The men went missing April 11, 2016, after Martin Luna was lured to a bar run by Tartaglione’s brother in Chester because he owed money for a drug deal. Luna brought along his nephew, Miguel Luna, his niece’s fiancé, Urbano Santiago, and a family friend, Hector Gutierrez, none of whom had been involved in the deal.

According to prosecutors, Tartaglione strangled Martin Luna with a zip tie and brought his body to the property. The other men were then brought there by co-conspirators, where each was shot, including one by Tartaglione, prosecutors said.

The bodies were discovered buried there eight months later around the time Tartaglione was arrested.

The defense has separately asked Karas to suppress statements Tartaglione made to New York State Police investigators when they took him into custody.

In the summer of 2019, Tartaglione shared a cell with Epstein at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal holding facility in lower Manhattan, following Epstein’s arrest.

On July 23, Epstein was found unconscious in the cell with marks on his neck.

He was placed on suicide watch, but was taken off of it, possibly because he claimed Tartaglione had assaulted him and was looking for a second opportunity to kill himself. The two were not sharing a cell when Epstein then hanged himself on Aug. 14.

The status of any video was unclear for several months. That December, prosecutors initially said the video was not preserved but a day later said that it was. But the following month, they reported that the video that was preserved was from a different tier and no footage remained from Epstein and Tartaglione's cellblock.

Prosecutors at the time argued that the damage to Tartaglione's case was not insurmountable, in part because other evidence of his efforts existed and also because there would have been no audio on any footage.

They also suggested they had no intention of arguing for the death penalty on the grounds that Tartaglione posed a future danger in prison.

His lawyers say that is irrelevant, as he cannot be barred from presenting evidence of good behavior while in custody.

The defense acknowledges that the loss of the video would only be a due-process violation if "comparable evidence" was not available. But they argue none exists, including statements prosecutors have provided from some of the staff members who responded to Tartaglione’s pleas for help.

"These statements are partial and lack the gravity and inherent truth video footage provides," the defense wrote.

Reach Jonathan Bandler at jbandler@lohud.com

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Tartaglione asks judge for no death penalty in quadruple homicide case

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