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Appellate court rejects Watertown man’s claims of errors at his murder trial

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A state appellate court has rejected a former Watertown man’s claims that errors were made in his 1991 Jefferson County Court trial for killing his estranged girlfriend.

Richard W. Torturica, 56, is serving a 25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder in the death of Kathleen L. LaMarche, 23. Miss LaMarche died Feb. 6, 1990, of suffocation after her face was pushed into a pillow and three belts were tightened around her neck. Torturica also was convicted of petit larceny for taking $30 from the victim’s nightstand. He is eligible for parole Feb. 2, 2015, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website.

Torturica filed two motions for writs of error coram nobis with the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, contending that his conviction was based on errors made during his trial. Court documents do not specify the errors Torturica claims were made, but in a decision released Friday, the court denied the motion without elaborating on its reasons.

Torturica was convicted March 8, 1991, in County Court on largely circumstantial evidence of killing Miss LaMarche in her Academy Street apartment a year earlier.

He has claimed repeatedly that prosecutors withheld evidence from him and did not fully investigate another suspect’s possible involvement in the killing. During procedures in 1995 seeking a new trial for Torturica, his lawyers also claimed former District Attorney Gary W. Miles allowed two of his witnesses to lie on the stand, misled the grand jury and discriminated during jury selection to ensure an all-female panel. Among other allegations was that Torturica’s trial attorney, the late William J. McClusky, failed to give his client a proper defense. In November 1995, then-County Judge Lee Clary denied his request for a new trial, concluding that prosecutors had properly cleared the second suspect of any wrongdoing and had shared evidence gained from that investigation with defense attorneys.

Torturica made similar claims to the Appellate Division in 2005, while further claiming in part that the Jefferson County district attorney’s office should have been disqualified from the case because Miss LaMarche’s boyfriend at the time of her death had a relative working in the district attorney’s office. The boyfriend, who Torturica’s defense attorneys claimed in 1991 was also a suspect in Miss LaMarche’s death, was the son of a senior stenographer in the district attorney’s office. The five Appellate Division justices unanimously rejected this contention, indicating that Torturica failed to establish that any prejudice arose from the alleged conflict of interest.

The justices also rejected Torturica’s contention that a reversal of the conviction was required because the court did not properly advise the jury of the burden of proof needed for a conviction in a circumstantial evidence case. The justices said that although the court failed to use the words “moral certainty,” it did otherwise properly instruct the jury with regard to circumstantial evidence. Torturica also contended prosecutorial misconduct, while the justices said they believed he received a fair trial, according to court documents.

Torturica was sentenced in March 1991 to 25 years in state prison. He is incarcerated at Gowanda Correctional Facility.

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