An appeals court has granted a new trial to a former Syracuse man who was convicted 18 months ago of murdering his estranged wife in 1985.
Ronald Meadow, 62, was convicted of second-degree murder on Dec. 12, 2014, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Meadow’s lawyer claimed, and the Fourth Department unanimously agreed, that Onondaga County Court Judge Anthony F. Aloi erred by allowing hearsay testimony from multiple prosecution witnesses.
Assistant Onondaga County District Attorney James P. Maxwell said his office will ask the state Court of Appeals to hear the case.
“We would argue that there’s a split of authority amongst the Appellate Division departments. The First and Fourth departments now have different views,” he said.
He said the First Department allowed hearsay testimony as “background information” in a similar domestic violence case.
“We’d also be asking to review, if it is error, whether it was harmless,” he said.
Meadow’s lawyer, Andrew J. Frisch, in Manhattan, said he was “elated” by the Fourth Department’s ruling.
“The Fourth Department plainly got this right. The trial judge incorrectly admitted evidence that was unreliable and could not be cross examined or tested, period,” Frisch said.
“We’re confident that if the Court of Appeals decides it wants to hear this case that it will affirm the Fourth Department,” Frisch said.
Background of case
On March 6, 1985, the victim, Colleen Meadow was found strangled to death in her Syracuse apartment.
Her friends and relatives claimed Ronald Meadow had beaten her in the past and threatened to kill her.
After the investigation stalled, Ronald Meadow moved to Georgia. But after DNA material was found under Colleen Meadow’s fingernails that could link him to the crime, he was arrested nearly 30 years later.
Even before the trial started, Meadow’s lawyer moved to preclude the hearsay testimony.
The prosecution argued that the evidence should be allowed because it would “provide the jury with background information regarding the strife-ridden relationship between defendant and the victim,” the Fourth Department wrote in the decision.
Aloi held a hearing on a defense motion to keep out the testimony, but it was denied.
Colleen Meadow’s aunt testified that she told her in 1979 that Ronald Meadow handcuffed her to a chair and left her there for a little while because he didn’t want her to go or do something.
Colleen Meadow’s sister testified that she also heard Colleen say that Ronald Meadow had handcuffed her. She also said Colleen Meadow told her that Ronald Meadow had beaten her and threatened to kill her if she didn’t come back to him.
And a friend of Colleen Meadow testified that Ronald Meadow told her that Ronald Meadow had threatened to kill her.
The defense repeatedly objected to the testimony on hearsay grounds, and others, but the court overruled the objections.
Each time he overruled the objections, Aloi told the jury the “evidence was not offered and it is not allowed by this Court and must not be considered for the purpose of proving that the defendant, Ron Meadow, had the propensity or predisposition to commit the crimes charged in this case.”
The defense counsel asked Aloi to instruct the jury that the statements should not be considered for the truth, but the prosecution opposed the request, and the court denied it.
The prosecution did not claim an exception to the hearsay rule applied. Instead, prosecutors claimed the statements are not hearsay because they were not offered for the truth.
“We reject that contention. In our view, the statements were offered to establish that defendant had, in fact, physically abused the victim and threatened to kill her,” the Fourth Department said in the decision.
Also, during his opening and closing statements, the prosecutor used the statements for the truth of the matters asserted.
The Fourth Department also pointed out that Aloi said in his instructions to the jury, that there was “evidence in this case that the defendant made certain alleged threats to kill his wife during the marriage and that he had restrained her by tying her or handcuffing her, and there has been other testimony as well regarding and describing the nature of the relationship during the marriage.”