ALBANY—For a second time, William S. Demagall has had his second degree murder conviction reversed on appeal.
In a January 9 decision, the State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department concluded “that various errors once again deprived [Mr. Demagall] of a fair trial and, as a result, we reverse.”
Mr. Demagall was first tried and convicted in December 2006 of the February 11, 2006 stabbing and bludgeoning murder of retired school teacher George Mancini, 56, in his Hillsdale home.
Mr. Demagall, who was 22 at the time of the crime and a resident of Stockbridge, MA, was represented in his first trial by then attorney Richard Mott and the case was heard in Columbia County Court by then Judge Paul Czajka. Though a plea deal was reached between the prosecution and the defense in which Mr. Demagall agreed to plead not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect, Judge Czajka rejected the plea, the case went to trial and a jury found Mr. Demagall guilty. But appellate judges cited “various errors” on the part of Judge Czajka, reversed the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial for Mr. Demagall before a different judge.
Columbia County Judge Jonathan Nichols presided over the second trial which resulted in another guilty verdict rendered by a jury in November 2010.
In reversing a second time, the appellate court noted that the defendant’s history of mental illness and the events surrounding his murder of the victim are undisputed. Mr. Demagall was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. He made alternating claims that he was Merlin, King Arthur, the “Bear King” or Jesus. He got a tattoo on his forehead, which he said was Merlin’s marking, fasted for 40 days, stopped sleeping, planned to live in a cave in the woods and talked frequently about the end of the world, according to the appeals court document, which also detailed Mr. Demagall’s written confession to the crime.
The appellate court wrote that a determination by Judge Nichols to allow prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney David Costanzo, to use hospital records and out-of-court statements made by a doctor who examined Mr. Demagall but was not called to testify “impacted and infected the elicitation of all the evidence bearing upon defendant’s affirmative defense of insanity.”
The hospital records and statements by the doctor, who did not testify at the trial “gave the People an unfair advantage which could very well have led the jury to accept their expert’s position,” the appellate court wrote.
The appellate court ordered a new trial in Columbia County Court, but did not call for that trial to be heard by a different judge, meaning the case will again come before Judge Nichols.
Reached by telephone this week, attorney Paul J. Connolly of Delmar, who handled the appeal for Mr. Demagall, said he did not know if he would be representing Mr. Demagall in the next trial or when that trial might be.
Mr. Demagall’s former attorney, Mr. Mott, is now a state Supreme Court judge.
Mr. Demagall is now 30 and has been serving a 25-year-to-life sentence in state prison.
Michael Cozzolino, a former Assistant District Attorney with DA Beth Cozzolino’s Office, now in private practice, prosecuted the first trial, was appointed by Judge Nichols to handle the second appeal. Mr. Cozzolino said by phone this week that no conferences have so far been scheduled about the new trial by Judge Nichols.
Mr. Cozzolino said as far as he knows he is still the special prosecutor until he is told he is not.
The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office, now run by Mr. Czajka, is disqualified from prosecuting the case.
To contact Diane Valden email .