Justice Denied: Political Influence Taints Two Connecticut Families Forever

 

“Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.” Sam Levenson

More twists and turns than any case one can remember, this 2004 Connecticut criminal case, followed by a civil  case, followed by still another criminal case is jaw dropping in the totality of events. The tale of Neil Esposito and Heather Specyalski could very well rival the events of the Monica Lewinski affair and top any of the offerings on the Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil shows.

What occurs when the people involved are affluent? What happens when they have political influence with a former Governor and had contributed to campaigns and other philanthropic endeavors? What is the price to be paid when medical examiners and world-class pathologists can be bought and state police doubted?

Is it right for state employees to interfere with the judicial process by “picking up the phone and exerting pressure?”  What occurs when the reason for the death involves irresponsible, dangerous and X rated behavior? What is the consequence when the survivor suffers life threatening injuries and is never the same?  

Should the victim be memorialized with taxpayers dollars signed off by the legislature after having contributed to his own death? In a final chapter, what would today’s public say when the defendant is accused of another crime of a relative, which truly ended in a suicide?   

My blog will attempt to hit the highlights and lowlights of this very complex scenario.

Case Background:

The defendant, a girlfriend, model, and divorced mother was 29 years old. Her boyfriend, affluent trash hauler, entrepreneur, Neil Esposito, 42 years old. They had been to a Halloween gala, imbibed too much and used very bad judgement that would be written in Connecticut law journals forever!

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, October  31, 1999, they were cruising at 120 mph down Route 9, driving north, taking the I-91 exit when someone lost control of the car, police said. The car went off the road and into the woods, striking several trees before overturning. Neither driver nor passenger were wearing seatbelts and had been drinking.

The crux of the criminal case rested on who was driving.  Mr. Esposito was the recipient of oral sex as they were traveling down the highway!!

Initially the Connecticut State Police ruled in it’s investigation that Mr. Esposito was driving during “the act.” In the meantime, two lawsuits were underway, charging damages to the Mercedes Benz Corporation by Neil’s father, Raymond. The second suit was brought by Specyalski to Esposito’s estate  in 2000, claiming he was the driver. (She had significant life threatening injuries).

Ms. Specyalski was to stand trial for manslaughter. Two weeks after the estate lawsuit, police reversed their findings regarding who was driving.

The 2004 criminal trial lasted 19 days in which Heather Specyalski was charged  with  manslaughter. The State Police initial investigation ruled that Neil Esposito was driving, due to the position of the body, his clothing and other factors.  In addition, the testimony of an expert witness stated that the gash on the outside of Specyalski’s left thigh could only have been caused by the gear shift on the car’s center console — an injury she could not have gotten if she were in the driver’s seat. The outcome was an hour deliberation and an acquittal, sparing her a 25 year prison sentence.

Father, Raymond Esposito, exerted his influence on a Governor Rowland assistant. A phone call was made to Dr. Henry Lee and (Voila!) the case was magically re-opened due to inconsistencies.

More fall out of the professional kind-First, Arkady Katsnelson, was an associate medical examiner who was proven to have been the recipient of a bribe amounting to $300.00 for advice regarding the civil lawsuit against Heather Specyalski.  Secondly,  while awaiting the civil trial, renowned pathologist Cyril Wecht was supposed to testify that Neil Esposito was in the passenger seat. However,  he was prohibited from testifying due to an 84-count federal indictment issued in Pennsylvania in January 2006, charging him with allegedly using government resources to benefit his practice.

Newspaper accounts state that the defense team for Hether Specyalski claim the oral sex rarely surfaced during the trial, but prosecutors seized on the silacial, as it was an element to create reasonable doubt. Whereas in a civil trial, it’s about the preponderance of evidence presented.

The civil wrongful death lawsuit by Raymond Esposito against Heather Specyalski was abruptly withdrawn and a settlement was reached just minutes before the start of the proceedings in January 2006. The senior Esposito and his wife spent much time and effort trying to protect the assets and endeavors of Neil Esposito. They were crushed with grief.

When the litigation was over, Heather Specyalski said from Waterbury Superior Court, It’s over!” Her father tried to hush her, but she wouldn’t be quieted. Finally, she’d be able to be herself, do as she pleased. She could plan for tomorrow. Her plan was to buy a lot in Ashford, CT  and build a house by the pond for herself and her son.

No, It’s Wasn’t Over!

Heather Specyalski

On March 13, 2013 Specyalski was on  trial on a manslaughter charge and fighting to stay out of prison with a potential maximum sentence of 46 years. These charges  involved  the overdose death of her son, 15-year-old Brandon Specyalski, who died at his mother’s home in August of 2008 from a combination of alcohol and drugs.

She was charged with negligent homicide, tampering with evidence, and three counts of risk of injury to a minor.  Prosecutors said she caused Brandon’s death because she bought him and his friends alcohol the night of Aug. 23 and allowed Brandon to take her prescription drugs. However, she stated she went to the store to purchase snacks, brought him a blanket and pillow as he was sleeping in the back seat of the car and that he took prescription drugs from her purse, unbeknownst to her, thus committing suicide.

Ultimately, Heather was acquitted again!  On March 21, 2013, she looked up at the jury and cried.  She later stated, “Freedom is the most amazing thing until it’s threatened.”

PostScript –

Hartford lawyer Richard R. Brown, a former state prosecutor speaking about the 2004 criminal trial  said he would have terminated the case after both troopers testified. “These were two troopers who sincerely believed what they were saying,” Brown said. “It’s a tie, and a tie always goes to the defense.”

Neil Esposito’s son, Raymond Esposito, 15 at the time of Neil’s death, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 1996. Neil created the Raynbow Foundation and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to find a cure for the disease.  Prior to his death, Neal  was in the process of planning a New Year’s Eve gala for hundreds at the Hartford Armory to raise money for the foundation, which his friends pledged to continue.

Heather’s resulting medical injuries began with a coma, (often a protective state for healing), numerous surgeries including gall bladder, kidney, bladder staph infections, hip problems, with use of a wheelchair as needed. She was able to resume walking  and driving in 2008.

In the year 2000, the Connecticut legislature voted to name one of the hundreds of bridges after Neil Esposito. A small green reflective sign seen by commuters daily on Interstate 91 North in Wethersfield, CT.

Helen Ubinas, former ace reporter for the Hartford Courant, interviewed Ann and Raymond Esposito in the aftermath of their son’s death and their considerable efforts to do what they could to preserve this name, waging many legal battles. In a January 26, 2006 article, Anne told Helen she would visit her son at the cemetery and tell him, “I hope it ended the way he would have wanted,”  Helen then asked  them?  “Did it end the way you and your husband wanted? Are they really satisfied?” Anne looked down and said, ”The lawyers tell us to say we are.”

Conclusion

There was so much damage done to so many family members in this case. What occurred overshadows the good about fallible people. Even James Dean would have to say, fast cars and fast women aren’t worth it in the end. Temptation can be evil, or your entry card to heaven.

References https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/temptation.html

http://articles.courant.com/2004-04-30/news/0404300842_1_quick-verdict-criminal-case-reasonable-doubt

http://articles.courant.com/1999-10-31/news/9910310062_1_greater-hartford-juvenile-diabetes-research-hauler

http://articles.courant.com/2004-04-30/news/0404300842_1_quick-verdict-criminal-case-reasonable-doubt

http://articles.courant.com/2006-01-25/news/0601250701_1_esposito-family-family-s-lawyers-superior-court

http://articles.courant.com/2006-01-26/news/0601260932_1_son-s-death-court-date-neil-esposito

http://starkravingviking.blogspot.com/2006/01/blow-job-governor-and-states-police.html

http://articles.courant.com/2008-12-23/community/hc-specyalski1223.artdec23_1_heather-specyalski-specyalski-home-neil-esposito


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To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

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Things the Media and Public Don’t Know about Crime Victims

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In the very beginning when you suddenly become the victim of a violent crime, it is a bit like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. Nothing fits. It’s foreign and uncomfortable. You don’t know where to turn. You think the police, the detectives, the prosecutor will make your case the highest priority. You are ambivalent about media coverage, for you want everyone to know balanced against your need to maintain privacy. What you don’t know can hurt you. My former blog,  “A New Normal” explains further. 

Although each case is unique in it’s own way, each has commonalities.  There are no “Hints from Heloise” or a 2017 version by Emily Post’s great, great granddaughter “How to Act Around a Crime Victim.” There really should be a guide to be scoffed up by the public with each and every violence act which is becoming part of our new reality- whether crazed and disgruntled or terrorist. We need practical tools!

In the absence of such a guide that fits most criminal acts, some things are obvious, but often blatantly ignored by the media and a public who gleans its information from television.

A short laundry list of do’s and don’ts 

  • Should the media pick up a story on a wire service or social media, due diligence and care should be taken to ensure that law enforcement has made contact with and notified the family prior to releasing information to the public. As we know, particularly with the introduction of social media and our current President’s penchant to Tweet, is it nearly impossible to maintain that “respectable distance, as the lives of a crime victim’s family  are changing forever? I think that effort and respect must be shown, first and foremost!  As a family member who learned of my father’s death via a newspaper article, the horror of learning in this manner was indescribable!   
  • Do not focus your entire story on the violent act and never or barely mention that there are victims, fatalities and those injured.  This is HUGELY IMPORTANT to families who are shocked and offended that their beloved family member gets virtually no coverage whatsoever for the sake of “selling the news.” Although we understand that a victim’s identity cannot be released initially, good journalists do not have to depend upon sensationalism to grab attention;
  • The victim’s frailties, demons, or  mistakes should not define the story and color public perception. Should it be that after a thorough investigation, the victim’s  lifestyle or habits did indeed contribute to the end, so be it. But, it does the surviving family no favors to dwell on that aspect of the person’s life;
  • Do we even need to say, it, Get the facts correct before you publish? Even simple things such as misidentifying a victim by name (as happened with us on local news) can be very disrespectful, If your media  boss is the “get it at any cost,” leave and find another employer with integrity;
  • Don’t spontaneously run up to a distraught victim in a public setting with your phone, microphone or camera and say, “How do you feel? This is a moronic question.  Don’t expect family members to say anything that will adequately convey their feelings. It is intrusive!  Rather, it would be better to quietly seek out an approved family representative who may give an approved statement such that  it does not compromise the investigation.

Family should be counseled to not provide extemporaneous statements to the press just because…

  • Law enforcement attorneys, TV personalities and reporters all engage in this one-No matter where a case is in the span of time, never say that the family is looking for “closure.” Closure implies a finality to homicide. In fact, finality is never truly possible, as lives are irreparably changed and families pass into a different phase of coping.Rather, a more accurate way to describe this process is one of resolution, no matter if the outcome is positive or tragic.
  • Never ask a crime victim, Is it time to move on with your life? Even if a person is stuck in their grief, such a comment implies that their loved one is no longer worthy of public attention!  If family members appear to be passionate in their quest by becoming an advocate for others, recruiting help for their case, doing research on their own, focusing on publicizing the case or holding events to increase awareness, this should not be viewed as “an obsession ” In fact, it can be quite the opposite – Posttraumatic growth (PTG) is positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.
  • If you are a media representative or a concerned family member, do consult with a professional counselor trained in dealing with trauma if you are going to be interacting with victims. In addition, seek out the help of a good support group facilitator for homicide survivors. I highly recommend Connecticut based-Survivors of Homicide.

 

Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”

(Mary) Elizabeth Edwards, former attorney, health care advocate, wife of NC Senator John Edwards, who died from breast cancer in December, 2010.

 

Referenceshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posttraumatic_growth

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/resilience.html

https://donnagore.com/2011/01/01/history-can-only-be-written-by-the-survivors/

https://donnagore.com/2015/03/13/a-new-normal/


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To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

You can find me here, please follow or friend! Facebook,  Shattered Lives,  Twitter, LinkedIn

 

A Brother’s Quest to Find the Real Truth of What Happened to Kitty Genovese

Given human nature, in order to tolerate the intolerable, do we shape our version of life to fit reality, or do we change reality and call it the truth? That is the ultimate question we all face over and over throughout our lives.  

There are many reasons why we play this subconscious game.  We change the truth for ourselves to make it more palatable, to ease the pain.  We create a fictionalized version that the public will accept.  Whether it is a specific individual or society itself, when a drama is created, irrespective of the truth, it speaks to the fact that the person or the public has not developed sufficient resiliency. When we are not resilient, a drama is perpetuated, misinformation becomes the status quo and unearthing the truth for truth and justice’s sake is oh so hard!

Bill Genovese, brother of Kitty Genovese, a disabled Vietnam Veteran took on the quest to right the wrongs since the night of March 13, 1964.  He interviewed all witnesses and even corresponded with the evil perp in preparation for his innovative film, The Witness.  A “devil’s advocate style” 2016  NPR article conveys the ambivalence of it all,  appears to question Bill’s motives, reveals possible reasons for the lack of witnesses coming forward 50 years ago and concludes that the myths will never fade. 

Never mind the fake news of today, it seemed that in 1964, the New York Times rushed to judgment on its facts, the number of neighbors who ignored Kitty’s cries for help and the infamous L – Lesbian word, just made everything all the more shocking, as most women were still closeted. The Stonewall Inn demonstrations did not take place until five years later. 

In April 2016, the New York Times interviewed Kitty’s partner, Mary Ann Zielonko Her account of that night is filled with trepidation, regret, and pain. There was the joy of meeting someone you click with, residing in a safe artsy neighborhood with Holocaust survivors as neighbors. They worked together in a bar and played together. But, to this day, Mary Ann feels she might have saved Kitty, for while Mary Ann returned from bowling and slept, Kitty was being murdered as the evil man returned a second time to stab her yet again!

Another interesting fact was that with the heinousness of Kitty’s murder, came innovation, specifically the introduction of the 911 Emergency System.  According to Biography.com, Kitty’s murder was the impetus for a much-improved way of reporting to the police of emergencies. In 1968 the 911 system was adopted throughout the country. Prior to that time, concerned citizens had to dial “O” for operator or the local police station number which was then relayed to a communications bureau and then passed on to the precinct! What an arduous process, in which many lives hung in the balance. President Lyndon Johnson and AT &T was instrumental in creating this single point of contact for emergencies.  There is no doubt that the implementation of this system has saved countless lives!

Bill Genovese is not a crackpot.  He is a man with a mission who says he’ll know when it’s over. It matters not that Winston Moseley described as a psychopathic serial killer and necrophiliac, was the man who stalked, raped and killed Kitty died in prison in Dannemora, in March 2016 at age 81. He even earned a college degree on taxpayers’ dime! You can read more at my previous blog: https://donnagore.com/2011/06/05/it’s-all-about-social-responsibility-the-case-of-kitty-genovese/

The groundbreaking film,The Witness,” was initially released as a world premiere at the New York Film Festival in October 2015. The trailer is engrossing, chilling!  It is available on several social media platforms.

Watch it as a shameful part of history. Watch it for justice’s sake. Watch it as a legacy to Kitty who was struck down so young and needlessly.. Watch it for Bill Genovese, a Vietnam Vet who lost his legs in the Vietnam War and lost even more in the life of his sister, Kitty. Perhaps his life has come full circle now. I truly hope so!

References-

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/history-of-911-americas-emergency-service-before-and-after-kitty-genovese/

https://www.biography.com/people/kitty-genovese-120415

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/history-of-911-americas-emergency-service-before-and-after-kitty-genovese/

http://www.thewitness-film.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-witness-review-searching-for-the-truth-about-kitty-genovese-1464883925

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/05/nyregion/winston-moseley-81-killer-of-kitty-genovese-dies-in-prison.html


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Multiple Victimizations: Gender Bias, Missing Persons and Fake News

Yellow ribbons for missing persons

Yellow ribbons for missing persons

Back in the day, I thought seriously about a career in journalism, as the passion was stirred at a very early age. However, I now see that I have the best of both worlds in 2017, with other careers and still investing heavily in the written word. I am a better person for having chosen different paths, for when we examine the current journalistic landscape, at times, it is appalling!

I look for the always credible, the sure-footed people in this crazy world of news who can navigate the minefields and come out unscathed, and always ring true. The real question is where do we draw the line? Or, has the line moved so far afield it feels nonexistent? Exactly!

Do we spend our limited energy daily on separating hype from rumor from fact?  No, we often run it through our personal common sense filter and then do further research if it is of real interest. The rest is often just nonsense. However, we do live in an age where the unbelievable with respect to apparent disintegrating moral values makes virtually anything possible.

All that aside, we have to maintain a personal sense of right and wrong, even if it may have shifted a bit in terms of societal standards. Some look for others to blame; the desperate Democrats, the raucous Republicans, the intolerable President, the manipulative media.

I am of the belief it really doesn’t matter where the blame lies as they all feed into each other like sharks looking for their next meal.  Enter fake news. When did the biggies of journalism, politicians, the uninformed and sad individuals seeking attention become so desperate for the status quo that they felt it necessary to make up news in one-upmanship?

What is vital is the aftermath, the collateral damage done to persons who do not have a dog in the fight and are dragged in any way. Victims of violent crime whether it be a homicide, missing persons, rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, etc. are already compromised in terms of coping with their day-to-day existence due to grief, loss, intolerable pain and lack of will to withstand the fight.

The general public sees our society becoming ever violent and does not want to join the victimization club, ever! Those of us who have graduated from victimization and are squarely in the survivor camp can help others to maintain hope, and assist in educating and creating awareness for others.

Another strike against victims are the flagrant biases that the media and some law enforcement and judicial agencies perpetuate.  Children are rightfully seen as the most vulnerable and all important when it comes to crime. However, the unspoken message is that Caucasians still get first class treatment compared to any minority in any context.  Within such classifications, the public often makes value judgments concerning people, and particular lifestyles.

Assumptions are so ingrained that it’s difficult to garner attention to the fact that, for example, young men are not all irresponsible, macho, beer guzzling creatures who walk off into the night, abandoning all responsibilities and family ties. And yet, this is told to us by the police, by people who don’t really know.

As sure as our parents told us that only girls are supposed to play with dolls, this is true. This is the barometer that some people use. Boys to men fend for themselves, always.  They don’t go missing, get kidnapped or are forced to do things against their will because they are males. This is simply an untrue and unfair portrayal at a time when families need all of the credible resources they can gather just to keep their loved one in the forefront of media, competing with all the rest.

When this fallacy about how young males don’t go missing continues, to have fake news intruded upon them is unconscionable. Such was the case with the family of Damien Sharp recently.

A fake news organization article was recently posted on Facebook concerning his case with no direct contact information to law enforcement nor accurate information regarding its content. Imagine the horror when Damien’s family discovered this very hurtful, potentially damaging innuendo. Not only is this family approaching their 15th anniversary of Damien’s disappearance  (May 25, 2002) and potential homicide while operating within the reality of gender bias, they have to deal with a fake news posting as well. This truly is cruel and unusual punishment for a family who needs resolution and peace of mind.

The number of missing persons at any one time in the U.S. (2017) according to Silvia Pettem researcher and author, is 100,000.

We don’t need to venture far to illustrate this point further, for an estimate of the number of missing persons cases posted on the CUE Center for Missing Persons website. The number of young males below 30 or young male children initially posted having reached young adulthood over the years is significant.

We have to do everything in our power to give families with male members equal time in the realm of crime reporting and media attention. We have to resist gender bias and believe the information given by families and not rely on well-worn stereotypes that serve no purpose.  Toward that end, as a crime victim Advocate, I can try to do my part by featuring Damien’s case as one of gender bias in the media on my radio show.

Toward that end, as a crime victim advocate, I can try to do my part by featuring Damien’s case as one of gender bias in the media on my radio show. Stay tuned for this important podcast for Shattered Lives Radio in June!

 And …Stay away from fake news- Trust your head and your heart. LJ


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To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com