N.Y. officer to plead guilty in brutality case

Officer Justin Volpe to enter plea in trial for assault on immigrant

May 25, 1999|By NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- In a dramatic development that would confirm one of New York's most horrific allegations of police brutality, Officer Justin Volpe is to plead guilty today to crimes stemming from the brutal assault on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

With Volpe's defense in tatters, his attorney, Marvyn Kornberg, asked to speak with U.S. District Judge Eugene Nickerson about 3: 45 p.m. yesterday, during a break in Volpe's trial with four other officers.

"With respect to the defendant Volpe, your honor we would like to enter a plea" today, Kornberg said, according to a transcript of the conversation, which occurred outside the jury's hearing.

The plea was to be entered before Nickerson at U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Volpe, looking downcast and defeated, sat slumped in his chair. He stared into the audience where his brother sat and then returned his gaze before staring downward at the defense table through the rest of the court proceeding.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad, who has headed the prosecution team, refused to comment. But transcripts of the hearing show that Vinegrad agreed Volpe could be held under "house arrest" with his family in Staten Island for the night.

Volpe's father, Robert, a decorated detective known as the "Art Cop" for his investigations recovering stolen art works, was not in court and later declined to comment.

Attorneys for the remaining four defendants said Volpe's plea would not affect their cases.

Volpe had been the focus of the prosecution case, in which a fellow police officer testified that Volpe admitted sodomizing Louima with a stick in the bathroom of a Brooklyn police station on Aug. 9, 1997.

While it could not be learned what crimes Volpe will plead guilty to at today's session, lawyers familiar with the case said that for Volpe to receive any kind of leniency from Nickerson at this stage of the trial, he would probably have to plead guilty to all the crimes and throw himself upon the mercy of the court.

It was not clear yesterday if Volpe would testify against his co-defendants.

In the most serious of seven counts against Volpe, he is charged with depriving Louima of his civil rights through the bathroom assault, a charge that carries a maximum term of life in prison without parole.

Lawyers said that if Volpe "accepts responsibility," it could shave several years off his term. Even with favorable rulings from Nickerson, the judge could impose a sentence of at least 25 years if Volpe is convicted of all the charges, attorneys said.

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