Mickey Cass, accused killer, tells court his attorney is ineffective
In moving testimony, the mother of Victor Dombrova Neto took the stand in the trial of Mickey Cass, Dombrova Neto’s alleged killer, to identify a picture of her son.
“That’s my son, Victor Dombrova Neto” said Maria Ribeiro Dombrova, speaking through a translator at the September 28 proceeding, when Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, the Brooklyn prosecutor on the case, showed her the photo.
As Dombrova took the stand she was visibly upset by another photo that had been shown to the jury of her son lying dead in a closet in his Brooklyn apartment. When she was sworn in she seemed to regain her composure and said loudly that she would tell “the whole truth, nothing, but the truth before God.”
A poignant moment came when she was asked the names and ages of her three children. Dombrova discussed her two living children and then said “Victor would be 28 today.”
Cass, 26, is charged with two counts of murder in the second degree in the September 25, 2003 killing of Dombrova Neto, a gay man. He faces a prison term of 25-years-to-life if convicted.
Through three days of testimony from ten prosecution witnesses, the district attorney established that on September 25, 2003 Cass and Dombrova Neto argued in the Brooklyn apartment they shared. The police arrived and took a report at the insistence of Dombrova Neto who said he would use it later to obtain a restraining order against Cass.
Cass was seen re-entering the apartment by the fire escape later that morning and Dombrova Neto was seen at a window trying to get out. Cass was then observed pulling the victim back into the apartment “in a choke hold.”
Moments later Cass was seen on the fire escape, with white socks on his hands, wiping down the window and fire escape.
A women who lived in the building, and knew both men, testified that as she sat on the front steps of the building Cass jumped from a window, landed on the sidewalk while holding a belt in his hands, and fled.
On September 29, a pathologist from the city medical examiner’s office testified that the cause of Dombrova Neto’s death was strangulation, most likely by hand, but a belt may have been used.
Also on September 29, three statements—oral, written and videotaped—that Cass gave to police, in which he admits to killing Dombrova Neto, were introduced. In his first statement, Cass said he choked Dombrova Neto until he stopped breathing and used his belt to “finish him off.” He recanted the last part and said he wrapped the belt around the Brazilian man’s neck to drag his body to the closet. Cass said he became enraged when Dombrova Neto said “you’re not even sleeping with me” and “grabbed my dick.”
The defense elicited testimony that Dombrova Neto had been up for three days and was upset over the death of a friend. The forensic pathologist said that tests showed that Dombrova Neto had a “middle level of intoxication” from crystal math. The defense may argue this caused his distress that morning and that Dombrova Neto was the actual aggressor. The defense established that Cass’ fingerprints were found on three beer bottles in the apartment and that may be used to argue that he was impaired.
With the Cass confessions, the jury will decide if he had the legally required state of mind when he committed the murder to convict him of second-degree murder. How to mount the defense case has been a point of dispute between Cass and his attorney, John B. Stella.
On September 27, Stella told Gay City News that Cass wanted to pursue an insanity defense which, if believed by the jury, would excuse Cass for the crime. Two psychologists have interviewed Cass and neither produced evidence that supports an insanity defense, according to Stella.
Stella wanted to offer an “extreme emotional disturbance” which, if the jury agrees, would reduce the charge against Cass to manslaughter with a possible sentence of 5-to-25-years in prison.
Under “extreme emotional disturbance,” Stella would argue that when Cass was a child his father sexually abused him. When Dombrova Neto made a sexual advance toward him, Cass flew into this disturbed state, caused by that earlier abuse, and killed Dombrova Neto.
The dispute between Cass and Stella has repeatedly been displayed in court. On September 27, Cass requested that he be allowed to represent himself or get a new attorney saying, “I don’t feel that Mr. Stella has handled my case properly… I don’t trust my lawyer.”
Judge Gusting L. Reichback denied the request saying that a general dissatisfaction with his attorney was not sufficient grounds.
On September 28, Stella told Reichback that Cass has repeatedly asked to speak to the judge, but would not say why. After a warning from Reichback that anything he said could be used against him Cass said, “I’m not being given a fair trial.”
Speaking of his lawyer, Cass said, “He’s getting away from me… He’s hurting me… This man called me a sociopath the other day and he said I was guilty.”
The dispute has had an impact on the defense. Stella did not make an opening statement to the jury fearing that if he mentioned the “extreme emotional disturbance” defense and then Cass did not allow him to use it the “jurors would not react favorably to that,” Stella said. “I’ve tried 70 felony cases and this is the first one without an opening,” Stella said on September 27.
On September 29, Stella told Reichback that Cass had agreed to an “extreme emotional disturbance” defense.
“Under all the circumstances that seems to me the wisest and soundest approach,” Reichback told Cass. “Even your own statements to the police raise the elements of extreme emotional disturbance.”
Cass, who has repeatedly charged that his side is not being told in the courtroom, said that he may testify. Reichback reminded him that he would be subject to cross-examination if he testifies.
“I’m not sure your testimony would further your defense,” Reichback said.