PLATTSBURGH — Edward A. Dashnaw is conducting his own defense.
Jurors were about to enter the courtroom Monday when Dashnaw, on retrial for the 2005 murders of David and Lorraine Donivan, held up a hand and asked to address the court. Clinton County Judge Patrick McGill called a meeting in his chambers with Dashnaw and attorneys for both sides.
After more than an hour, the judge announced that he had granted Dashnaw the opportunity to proceed pro se.
The Plattsburgh man would not be allowed to approach witnesses but would ask his questions from his seat. Greg LaDuke would remain as council and present evidence to the witnesses for Dashnaw if necessary.
The retrial continued much as it had much of last week, as law-enforcement officers were asked to identify evidence.
Dashnaw objected a few times, his voice low and manner tentative, but he was overruled by the judge.
Jeanine Fierro was the first witness of the day.
A Stewart’s Shop employee of 21 years, she testified that in early January 2006, she provided a receipt to a New York State Police investigator.
Fierro confirmed for jurors that the store receipt shown to her in court was the original one. It was entered into evidence.
Brendan Moran, now an investigator for the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office, told jurors he was a State Police senior investigator in late December 2005 and early January 2006.
He was supervising a criminal-investigation team at the time.
Moran told jurors that he received the receipt from Fierro on Jan. 3, 2006.
VICTIM LAST SEEN
State Police Investigator Marshall Rocque testified that he was assigned to follow a lead to recover a credit-card receipt from Smithfield Liquor in Plattsburgh in January 2006.
“I had to get the receipt to show when Lorraine Donivan’s credit card was last used,” he said.
Testimony moved quickly as Dennis Bardelcik, owner of Smithfield Liquor, took the stand.
He confirmed the contact with Rocque.
“He asked me about a receipt for a purchase,” he testified.
The receipt is dated Dec. 20, 2005, at 9:56 a.m., and shows Mrs. Donivan’s name, he told the court.
The customer was a dark-haired, short, white woman, he described the person who was in his store that day.
“I recognized (Mrs. Donivan) from ads for her store,” he said.
The Donivans owned the House of Pine and Oak on the property where they lived in Schuyler Falls.
CHAIN OF CUSTODY
Retired Vermont State Police Detective Sergeant Joe Leahy testified that he assisted New York State Police with a homicide investigation on Dec. 30, 2005.
Leahy said he secured a transaction receipt from the Best Buy in Williston, Vt., along with a store video dated Dec. 21, 2005.
“The second transaction I was made aware of was at the Staples,” he told jurors.
He got a receipt from a transaction that took place there on Dec. 21, 2005, he said.
Leahy confirmed a five-page document of the receipt copy that he secured from the South Burlington Staples.
The final testimony of the morning came from Bradley Brown, who was a New York State Police supervisor of forensic services for the Trace Evidence Lab.
He testified about the protocol that is followed when evidence is submitted.
“The evidence technician who takes in evidence enters data about the evidence into our computer system,” Brown told jurors.
He confirmed a 22-page document that contained a chain-of-custody record.
Brown testified that, in 2006, the lab utilized an outside agency — Applied Forensics — to do handwriting analysis. He said a first round of evidence was sent to the agency on Jan. 26, 2006, returned in early February, and another round sent in March of the same year.
HEARING WITHIN A HEARING
Afternoon testimony of the case was scheduled to begin at 1:30, but didn’t resume until an hour later.
Dashnaw entered the courtroom with a stack of files in hand, as the judge and attorneys took their seats.
As jurors entered, McGill told them that Dashnaw and attorneys on both sides would be meeting. The session would involve legal matters, what he called “a hearing with a hearing,” that did not concern the jury.
McGill apologized to the panel for the delays and recessed jurors until Wednesday morning at 9:30 a.m. A day off Tuesday had been on the schedule since last week.
District Attorney Andrew Wylie said later that the meeting with Dashnaw, attorneys and the judge in the closed courtroom occurred to make sure that Dashnaw understood his rights and how to proceed.
Then the court formally approved his request to continue pro se.
In March 2006, Dashnaw was indicted on 11 charges in connection with the murders and was convicted in April 2007 of each charge except second-degree murder. The latter charge had been included for the jury’s consideration as a lesser inclusive charge of first-degree murder, which means he could not have been convicted of both.
After his 2007 conviction, Dashnaw was sentenced to concurrent terms of life without parole for the first-degree murders.
But in June this year, a decision by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court granted Dashnaw a new trial after finding that certain statements he made to police should not have been used in his original trial because a lawyer was not present when he made them.
Dashnaw, now, 42, had been serving time at a downstate prison. He is now held without bail at Clinton County Jail.
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