Paul Kamienski's Case
Paul Kamienski, 61, formerly of Garfield, New Jersey, was convicted as an accomplice to two counts of first degree and felony murder for helping to dispose of two shooting victims' bodies (his acquaintances Henry "Nick" and Barbara DeTournay) in 1983 by helping to stuff one victim and a hand-towel in a sleeping bag and wrapping both victims in separate blankets, tying them to cinderblocks with clothesline and tossing them into Barnegat Bay.
Kamienski has always maintained his innocence of the murder charges, according to Timothy J. McInnis, Esq, New York City attorney and former Assistant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, who has represented Kamienski in his federal habeas corpus petition since 2003.
At trial, the prosecution conceded that Kamienski did not participate in planning for or carrying out the murders. His crime, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, was helping to conceal the bodies afterwards. The State could have charged Kamienski with being an accessory after the fact, known as hindrance in the NJ criminal code, but chose not to.
Joseph Marzeno, a one-time resident of Island Heights, New Jersey was convicted of shooting the victims. He died of natural causes in NJ State Prison in 1991. Marzeno had been in federal prison serving a sentence on unrelated charges at the time he was indicted in this case.
A third defendant, Anthony Alongi, now 78, was convicted in the same trial and, like Kamienski, is serving two life sentences. Alongi was convicted of being an accomplice for luring the victims to his Baron Street, Toms River, New Jersey, home where the prosecution believed the shootings occurred, and later taking the bodies out in the bay in his brother-in-law's motorboat.
According to a March 1999 article in the Asbury Park Press, Alongi nicknamed himself "Hitman," and was part of the Emmy-winning "Scared Straight" television documentary filmed in the 1970s at the former Rahway State Prison, now East Jersey State Prison.
The State's theory at trial was that the DeTournays (a husband and wife from Florida) were trying to break into the drug distribution business in New Jersey and had contacted Kamienski, whom they had known socially and used drugs with, to see if he knew anyone who could help them unload large quantities of cocaine on a regular basis. According to testimony at trial, Kamienski introduced the victims to Alongi and Marzeno whom he had met only a few weeks earlier, and with whom he was socializing and using drugs in the Toms River area.
The Day of The Crime
According to the State, the parties gathered at Alongi's house on Monday, Sept. 19, 1983 (which was also occupied at the time by Alongi's fiancée, Jackie Sullivan, and Alongi's 12-year old son) at approximately 6 p.m. to exchange three kilos of cocaine for $150,000. Marzeno pulled out a 9 mm pistol and fired 10 shots killing both victims and then took the cocaine, which he later distributed, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office speculated at trial.
According to the prosecutor's closing argument, Kamienski had no idea there was going to be a robbery or murder until Marzeno pulled out the gun. There was no evidence where Kamienski was at the moment of the shooting or, what if anything, he said or did while it was occurring. Apparently, from the evidence produced by the State, no one in the Baron Street neighborhood heard shots or saw anything suspicious that day, and no forensic evidence was ever unearthed at the Alongi residence. At trial, on cross-examination, a forensic expert for the State stated that a silencer was not used in the killings.
The prosecution further believed that after the shootings the bodies were placed into Alongi's brother-in-law's open motorboat docked in a small channel behind the Alongi home, taken out into the bay and tossed overboard. There was no eyewitness or forensic testimony to the actual dumping of the bodies but Kamienski's ex-girlfriend testified that she thought she saw what could have been the bodies in the motorboat while walking around Alongi's property on the night of the murders and that Kamienski later confided in her a very general description of the shootings, saying, in effect, "Nick went first. Barbara didn‘t suffer. There was nothing I could do about it." Kamienski has always denied being present at the time of the killings.
The victims' bodies surfaced within a few days after being dumped in the bay but it took four years for an indictment to be returned against Kamienski and his co-defendants. That happened only after Kamienski and his girlfriend split up and she agreed to become a witness for the State. As there were no witnesses to the shootings or the concealment and disposal of the bodies and no forensic evidence at all, the case against Kamienski was largely testimonial and entirely circumstantial, according to McInnis. The ex-girlfriend provided the only testimony linking Kamienski to disposal of the bodies and her testimony on key points was uncorroborated, according to Kamienski's briefs.
The case is unusual because the jury acquitted Kamienski of conspiring to commit the murders yet convicted him of being an accomplice to the killings. The jury also found Kamienski guilty of drug charges for being involved in the cocaine conspiracy between his co-defendants and the victims, even though the State's witnesses testified that Kamienski had no financial stake in the drug deal. Kamienski was said to have simply brought the two sides together.
After the jury returned its guilty verdict, trial Judge Stephen P. Perskie threw out the murder convictions against Kamienski altogether because of insufficient evidence but did let the drug conviction stand. The State then appealed Perskie's decision (a type of ruling known as a JNOV) and the Appellate Division of Superior Court reinstated the murder charge more than three years later as Kamienski was serving a 10-year sentence on the drug charge he had sought unsuccessfully to overturn on appeal.
The Appellate Division based its decision against Kamienski as an accomplice to the murders almost entirely on his ex-girlfriend's testimony at trial. It said that her testimony connecting Kamienski to the blankets wrapped around the victims, the towel stuffed into one of the blankets, the type of knot on the clothesline around of one of the victims and her five-year-old recollection of being separated from Kamienski on the day of the murders permitted the "inference" that Kamienski had "lent assistance" to concealing and disposing of the bodies. (See State v. Kamienski, 254 N.J. Super 75 (1992)). The appellate court accepted the truth and accuracy of the ex-girlfriend's testimony even though during cross-examination she admitted she had been in a drug- and alcohol-affected state of mind during much of the time when the events occurred.
FBI Lab Notes Uncovered
Uncovered FBI laboratory notes on hair evidence, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request, prove that blankets identified at trial by Kamienski's ex-girlfriend as coming from Kamienski's yacht did not come from the craft, McInnis said. A former supervisor from the same FBI lab now says that the blankets most probably came from the victims' own car, according to court documents filed by Kamienski. The victims' car had been parked in Alongi's driveway around the time of the shootings, according to the prosecution at trial, and was full of towels, bedding and clothing, according to crime scene photos.
Between 1983 and 1988, during the investigation of the homicides, the blankets, towel and other evidence were sent to the FBI's forensic laboratory in Washington, D.C. for analysis. The prosecutor's office received some test results that were produced to the defense but not the FBI forensic hair reports on the blankets, McInnis said.
The centerpiece of Kamienski's habeas petition to the U.S. District Court was that the FBI hair notes and data were never turned over by the prosecutor to Kamienski before trial. In a filing, opposing Kamienski's effort to have the court review this evidence because it was discovered too late, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office acknowledged that it had not turned over the notes but said in its defense, that it never got them from the FBI before trial.
This admission raised as many questions as it answered, McInnis said, because the prosecution had requested hair and fiber tests on the two victims' blankets (as well as two other blankets that Kamienski voluntarily surrendered to investigators from the Prosecutor's Office during a consent search of his boat) more than five years before the trial.
The government always wants to be as thorough as possible in a murder investigation and this was a case covered by the media, McInnis noted. The blankets loomed large in the Kamienski investigation and conviction. Why, McInnis asks, has the prosecution stated, in documents filed in connection with Kamienski's habeas corpus petition, that it never sought the results of the forensic tests on the blankets, particularly when they had listed the author of the notes on their witness list but for some reason never called him at trial?
Trial transcripts show that instead of using forensic evidence to compare Kamienski's blankets with those found around the victims the prosecution relied exclusively on the ex-girlfriend's testimony that both sets of blankets were "earth tone," had "satin borders" and "looked similar," to suggest that they all came from Kamienski's boat. Why did the prosecution rely solely on the ex-girlfriend's blanket testimony, ignoring or disregarding FBI laboratory evidence? Or was this potential source of evidence simply overlooked or forgotten?
Under the U.S. Constitution prosecutors have an obligation to turn over, before trial, all evidence favorable to defendants. The failure to do so is called a "Brady" violation, after the Supreme Court's 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83. According to cases cited by McInnis in his U.S. District Court brief, a Brady violation occurs even when the prosecution did not know of or receive exculpatory evidence from an investigative file, because the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a prosecutor has a duty to seek out such evidence, particularly when it requested the test in the first place. Whether the Ocean County Prosecutor knew or didn't know about the hair test results back in 1988 is irrelevant to the Brady claim. They had a constitutional duty to look and now they say they didn't, according to McInnis.
FBI forensic laboratory test results on the towel found with the bodies were produced before trial and they showed that it did not have any petroleum byproducts on it, which was inconsistent with the ex-girlfriend's claim that it had been used to polish Kamienski's yacht, according to papers filed by Kamienski.
The ex-girlfriend also testified by looking at a crime-scene photograph that a knot on the clothesline around one of the victims looked like knots she had seen Kamienski tie on his boat. The appellate court said these knots were "peculiar" to Kamienski and could be used to "infer" that Kamienski tied them. But the ex-girlfriend admitted under cross-examination that the knots were not distinctive to Kamienski.
A nationally recognized forensic knot expert has filed an affidavit on behalf of Kamienski's petition stating that the knots were commonplace and, more importantly, that there is no way the ex-girlfriend or anyone else could have given reliable testimony about who tied them simply by looking at a photo.
Department Store Receipt Unearthed
After his trial Kamienski also unearthed a Bamberger's (now Macy's) Department Store credit card receipt that shows the ex-girlfriend made a purchase there six days before the murders. Yet when she testified at trial she said the purchase took place on the night of the murders, according to records included in Kamienski's most recent brief.
The ex-girlfriend's testimony has always been challenged by the defense because she was awaiting sentencing on drug charges in a case being handled by E. David Millard, lead prosecutor in the Kamienski case who later became Ocean County Prosecutor and now is a state court judge. After Kamienski's conviction Millard's office agreed to dismiss the drug charges against the ex-girlfriend after she spent one year in a probationary program called Pretrial Intervention ("PTI"). Kamienski's petition continues to raise questions about whether the ex-girlfriend had an unannounced deal with the prosecution to get into PTI. Millard filed an affidavit during Kamienski's state court appeals saying there was no such deal and that the decision to put the ex-girlfriend into PTI came after Kamienski's trial, not before or during.
Another interesting twist in the case is that Kamienski's original trial attorney represented the ex-girlfriend at the time of her plea to the drug charge. The prosecution used this connection to get that attorney thrown off the case approximately three weeks before the start of Kamienski's trial. A last-minute change in counsel can affect a defendant's right to well-prepared and effective assistance of counsel, McInnis noted.
Charts Show Five Reasons
In court filings prior to the April 16 oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Kamienski's attorneys cited five reasons why he should be released, highlighting them in charts that show "cut and paste" portions of the Ocean County Prosecutor's briefs, their appearance in two appeals courts' decisions and the true testimony in the trial -- which is at stark variance with the first two.
The six filed charts demonstrate these contradictions with:
- So-called "signature knots" used to bind the victim's bodies
- Alleged threats Kamienski supposedly made to his girlfriend
- Reference to "defendants" when Kamienski was not involved
- Reference to Kamienski's "murderous" premeditation
- Reference to Kamienski's alleged presence at a drug deal meeting
Businesses in New Jersey and Florida
Kamienski owned a family-run funeral business in north Jersey and a Stuart, Florida auto dealership. He had appealed his conviction in state courts before filing a federal suit in June 2002 citing four grounds for a new trial. McInnis took over Kamienski's defense/appeal and filed a supplemental habeas corpus petition in October 2003. McInnis' amended petition added two additional grounds, including the Brady violations, and elaborated on the four original grounds.
"To put this case in perspective," McInnis said, "Paul made a huge mistake by using drugs and associating with people who used and sold them back in 1983. There was never any evidence he stood to gain financially from any cocaine deals between the victims and his killers or that Paul played any part in their murders.
"He is paying an enormous price for errors in judgment he made 26 years ago.
"Now the last possible federal court to which he can appeal is evaluating whether his conviction must be vacated," McInnis said.
The vicinage for the Kamienski case and its filed documents is U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey, Case Number: 3:02 CV 03091 (SRC), Kamienski v. Hendricks, Administrator NJ State Prison. The federal appellate Case Number: 06-4536.