Thomas Kennedy's murder and sodomy trial began today as authorities searched for a switch-blade knife his attorneys concede he used to stab a 9-year-old Buffalo girl on Squaw Island.
Workers for the Buffalo Sewer Authority are draining a water-retention pond on the island that was ignored when police looked in vain last year for the murder weapon.
Deputy District Attorney Joseph M. Mordino said he requested the renewed search because he recently noticed the pond while reviewing videotapes made by police during the search for the body of murder victim Melody Wilson in August 1987.
Kennedy, 22, who waived a jury trial and is claiming he is innocent by reason of insanity or reduced mental capacity, is charged with stabbing the Wilson girl six times in the chest and slashing her throat at least twice while sodomizing her on the afternoon of Aug. 26, 1987.
Although several other ponds were drained during the initial search, police didn't ask for the draining of the 1 million-gallon water retention pond. It is not directly linked to the sewage operation on the island, Mordino said.
Mordino said he felt the renewed search was justified, even though the trial is under way, because Kennedy has made comments to jailhouse informants indicating police had searched the wrong ponds.
"Maybe it's the right one," Mordino said.
David G. Jay, one of Kennedy's two court-assigned attorneys, denounced the renewed search as another sign of what he called the excess zeal the district attorney's office has shown in prosecuting the defendant. Jay characterized Kennedy as a mentally deficient man who is sexually active but has the mental capacity of a child.
The district attorney's office, Jay told Erie County Judge Joseph P. McCarthy, "has overstepped the bound of decency" in pushing to have Kennedy convicted of murder, rather then having him treated as criminally insane.
McCarthy began listening to testimony from Buffalo police officers today after Kennedy renewed his week-old request for a non-jury trial and the judge had the defendant sign a document acknowledging his decision not to have a jury trial.
Mordino told the judge he will show that Kennedy took the Wilson girl and a half-dozen other young children from the West Avenue area to Squaw Island to play hide-and-seek the day of the murder.
The Wilson girl's two younger sisters were both to testify to having heard their sister screaming in some high bushes where Kennedy had taken her during the game, only to have Kennedy later tell them the murder victim had gone home alone in a huff.
Other children who were along on the Squaw Island trip will testify that Kennedy took the murder victim into high bushes and refused to let other children hide with them moments before the sex attack and slaying, Mordino said.