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Alleged Bike Path Killer insists he is innocent Attorney May Seek New Venue Issue of fair trial is raised; separate DNA tests sought2

Altemio C. Sanchez insists he is not the Bike Path Killer. At the same time, his attorney all but laid out the defense strategy Tuesday.

Andrew C. LoTempio will consider asking for a change of venue, questioning whether his client can get a fair trial in Erie County.

LoTempio also wants DNA and blood samples from the crimes, so he can have them independently tested.

And he wants to question whether those samples were collected correctly and preserved properly.

"At this point, he has said he's not guilty," LoTempio said after Sanchez's arraignment Tuesday morning. "I believe him, and I will represent him."

Through roughly 10 hours of interviews with investigators Monday, Sanchez insisted he did not commit any of the killings or rapes, even though authorities say they have matching DNA in three homicides and five rapes.

"I don't know how my DNA got on these women," Sanchez repeatedly told his interrogators, according to sources close to the investigation. "He was in a state of denial," a source said. "He gave us the impression that he was going to walk out [of police custody]."

Meanwhile, prosecutors revealed Tuesday that Sanchez will not face first-degree murder charges in the three homicides he is accused of committing, unless new evidence is found. That means he is not eligible for a sentence of life in prison without parole, part of the state's death penalty law.

Multiple killings can lead to first-degree murder charges under the law that took effect Sept. 1, 1995, but two of the three killings occurred before that date.

"The statute is not retroactive, so we do not have multiple homicides after the statute was passed," Clark said.

Clark, though, plans to seek the maximum sentence in each of the three killings, 25 years to life. If those were served consecutively, that could add up to 75 years to life.

In his arraignment before Erie County Senior Judge Michael L. D'Amico on Tuesday morning, Sanchez pleaded not guilty, through LoTempio, to a second-degree murder charge in the 1992 killing of Majane Mazur in Buffalo.

Afterward, LoTempio talked about the difficulty of trying this case in Erie County after all the publicity surrounding the arrest. "It's going to be very difficult to pick a jury," he said.

Asked whether he was planting the seeds for a change-of-venue request, LoTempio said, "Sure we are."

Clark replied that he could not think of a single celebrated case that has led to a change of venue in his 30-plus years as a local prosecutor. He cited other high-profile cases, such as the priest killings and the trials of serial killer Joseph G. Christopher and of police officers in the fatal beating of Richard Long.

"I don't think this case is any more spectacular or inflammatory," the district attorney said.

LoTempio plans to make an issue of the way the DNA samples were collected at the homicide scenes and later tested, to make sure proper procedures were followed and the chain of custody was uncontaminated.

He also reminded reporters -- and the public -- that his client is presumed innocent and would have to be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Just because the police say there's been a DNA match doesn't mean he's guilty and will be convicted," LoTempio said. In front of D'Amico, LoTempio asked that the defense be given its own DNA and blood samples.

"I want our own experts [to test them]," he added.

LoTempio also questioned the certainty of DNA matches.

"I've never heard of a 100 percent [certain] DNA match," he said. "I'd like to see that."

"He's right," Clark replied later. "When I say it's 1 in 100 billion [possibility of error], that's not a certainty. But it's 1 in 100 billion."

Sanchez was supported during the arraignment by his wife, Kathleen, and one of his two sons; the other lives in California. "They demanded to be here," LoTempio said, even though he suggested that it might be difficult for them.

LoTempio said Sanchez's wife is in shock, traumatized and torn apart by his arrest.

"She can't believe it," he said. "Nothing in his life fits [with being an alleged killer and rapist]."

LoTempio also suggested that authorities, according to the family, might have used coercive behavior in searching the family's home Monday. Clark replied that all searches were conducted pursuant to legitimate search warrants.

The district attorney also was asked about questions raised by legal scholars about the propriety of seizing glasses and eating utensils used by Sanchez in an Amherst restaurant Saturday night. Those items yielded Sanchez's DNA.

"In our opinion, he has no expectation of privacy on those items, so we were free to take them without any court order," Clark said.

While Sanchez now faces only the one charge of second-degree murder, in the Mazur killing, Clark expects a similar charge to be filed in the next few days in the homicide of Linda Yalem in 1990.

The Joan Diver killing in Newstead last fall presents a trickier case for prosecutors.

"We do not have sufficient evidence to charge in Joan Diver's homicide at the present time," Clark said. "Right now, we have DNA evidence on the steering wheel of her car. There's no question we can place him in the car. But we have no DNA at the scene or on her body.

"As it exists now, it will be an entirely circumstantial case."


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