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Rape on Bear Mountain

After a night out at a tavern in Peekskill, a young woman dropped her friend off at home and headed to her own home west on the Bear Mountain Parkway. It was a dark road and she noticed a car moving up fast from behind her. The car started to flash its lights on and off. The young woman pulled her car to the side to allow the other car to pass. Rather than passing, as it pulled alongside her car, the driver ran his car into the side of the woman’s car. The two drivers exchanged angry words and pulled off of the roadway. As the young woman got out of her car to look at the damage, she was grabbed from behind by the male driver of the other car. He shined a flashlight into her eyes and covered her mouth with his hand. He pushed her onto the front seat of her car. The woman fought her attacker with anything she could grab in the car. She hit him with a window scraper and bit him on the hand. The attacker still managed to unbutton her coat and jeans and pull her jeans and panties down to her knees. He put his hand between her legs and began to fondle her in a sexual manner. The frightened girl told him that she had a venereal disease hoping to scare him off. It worked. He removed his hand, got up and told her that he was sorry. He drove off at a high rate of speed. The terrified girl re-dressed and drove home. Upon arriving at her home, she told her mother about the attack and reported the assault to the local police. She was able to give a detailed report of the incident, a description of her attacker, and a description of the car that he had driven.

The police began their investigation by showing the victim several photographs of suspects. She was unable to identify anyone in any of the photographs as the man who had attacked her. The Detective in charge of the case, Officer Joseph Valenchis received a telephone call from an Officer Culhane from the Somers Police Barracks who told him that they were investigating a similar crime which had occurred in their jurisdiction. In that case, a young woman was driving home late at night when a car approached her from behind flashing its lights. When she pulled her car to the side to let him pass, he struck her car. When she did not pull over, he attempted to run her vehicle off of the roadway. She still would not pull over and she did not lose control of her vehicle. She did get his license plate number from the back bumper of his car and reported the incident to the local police. That license tag showed that the car belonged to a man named Edward Dziedzic.

Recognizing that this was an uncanny resemblance to the case that he was working on, Officer Valenchis got more information from the other officer. The officer from the Somers Police Barracks told Officer Valenchis that he had also heard that the state police had an ongoing investigation being handled by Investigator Johnson into an incident which had occurred the summer before. Incidentally, one of the suspects in that case was also one Edward Dziedzic.

Armed with this information, Officer Valenchis obtained a photograph of Mr. Dziedzic and showed it to the victim. She identified Mr. Dziedzic as her attacker. Officer Valenchis called Mr. Dziedzic on February 6, 1976 and asked him to go to the Annsville State Police Barracks to speak with him about an incident involving his car. Mr. Dziedzic arrived at the police barracks and was summarily arrested.

During the trial, Officer Valenchis was called to testify. The trial prosecutor questioned him about how he came to suspect that Mr. Dziedzic might be responsible for this offense. Officer Valenchis described the phone call that he had received. He described the information that was provided to him and the steps that he had taken to determine if Mr. Dziedzic was connected to the crime that he was investigating.

The defense objected and moved for a mistrial on the grounds that this information constituted testimony in reference to additional crimes other than the one that he was being tried for. Additionally, since he had not been previously convicted of these crimes, it was prejudicial to the jury for them to hear about these sex crimes in connection with Mr. Dziedzic. The prosecution held that this line of questioning was critical to establishing the chain of events that led to the identity of Mr. Dziedzic as the suspect of interest in this case. A conference was held between the prosecutor, defense, and the Judge outside of the presence of the jury. Although, the mistrial was not granted, the Judge did state that Officer Valenchis was not qualified to testify to details regarding the two other investigations. The prosecutor had failed to call the two other investigators to testify to their own actions, their own conclusions, and whether or not they were going to pursue criminal charges.

The jury was never notified of this information and never instructed to strike the officer’s testimony. They were not advised that they could not use the information of the two other investigations when they weighed the guilt of Mr. Dziedzic. They found him guilty of sexual abuse in the first degree and reckless endangerment in the second degree. A sentence was imposed that is not related in the transcript.

Since the other officers were not produced, the defense was not able to cross examine them to determine the validity of the accusations. Therefore, the defense requested an appeal of the case on the grounds that the defense was not afforded due process to face the accusers. There was no way to verify that Officer Valenchis’ account of what had been told to him . The prosecutor offered to call the female driver who had gotten the tag number to the stand, but without the subsequent vehicle from the state police investigation, it was not enough to show a mode of operation, or a pattern of conduct.

The Justices were split in their decisions of this case. Justices J.P. Hopkins and Cohalan and J.J. Margett affirmed the conviction. While Justice Damiani and Gibbons disagreed and stated that they thought that the conviction should have been reversed and a new trial ordered. It was a critical flaw in this trial that a decision to disregard such an important witnesses’ testimony as the investigating officer of the case was not relayed to the jury. There is little doubt that they used the information regarding the other two investigations to color their decision to find Mr. Dziedzic guilty.

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