An Erie County grand jury will be asked today to indict Altemio C. Sanchez on murder charges in two bike path killings, amid indications the case will go to trial with little chance of any plea deal.
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said prosecutors won't be offering any deal to Sanchez.
"There's no room for negotiation," Clark said Thursday. "We're offering nothing. Since we're offering nothing, he's risking nothing by going to trial. For that and other reasons, I fully expect the matter to go to trial."
Andrew C. LoTempio, Sanchez's attorney, didn't dispute that point. "At this point in time, my client is completely denying [any involvement in the crimes]," he said.
Clark said the grand jury heard evidence Thursday in both the killing of Linda Yalem in 1990 and the slaying of Majane Mazur in 1992. He expects the grand jury to vote on those cases sometime today.
The district attorney's office is not asking the grand jury to hand up an indictment in Joan Diver's killing last fall. Not yet, anyway.
"Right now, the investigation in the Diver case continues," Clark said. "In my opinion, we don't have ample evidence to present to the grand jury."
Because no DNA evidence was found on Diver's body or at the crime scene, Clark has said that will be a circumstantial case. The only DNA found in that case came from sweat that dripped on the steering wheel of her car, other authorities have said.
While several issues could affect the timetable, Clark suggested that it would be reasonable for a trial to be held in six to eight months. Meanwhile, the two sides in the case continued sparring about several issues -- including a photo that shows Sanchez smiling broadly during a party held just hours after Diver's disappearance last September.
Clark cited the possible Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde aspect of the case.
"If you assume that what we allege against [Sanchez] is true, what kind of person could be relaxed and enjoying himself at a cocktail party after committing such a horrendous crime eight hours earlier?" the district attorney asked. "If that is true, what kind of monster do we have here?"
LoTempio came up with the opposite conclusion.
"I think it shows a guy who didn't know anything about a woman being murdered that day in Clarence, instead of a savage who killed somebody earlier in the day," he said.
The defense attorney and district attorney also gave their views on some of the issues expected to be debated before and during any trial:
The admissibility of the DNA evidence collected at the homicide scenes.
"As far as the actual trial on the murders, the accuracy of the DNA evidence is probably going to be the main issue," LoTempio said.
When the DNA was taken, though, may be an issue.
"In many of these cases, the collection, preservation and testing of DNA were done when DNA was in its infant stages," Clark said. "I have no doubt that [LoTempio] will attack the admissibility and reliability of the DNA evidence."
Whether evidence can be introduced at trial about the bike path rapes that can't be prosecuted. Long before Sanchez's arrest Monday, authorities had linked three homicides and seven other rapes to the Bike Path Killer; five of those seven rapes are linked by DNA.
The statute of limitations prevents the prosecution of any of the seven rapes.
"We are looking at all the rapes where we have DNA evidence," Clark said. "It would be our hope to introduce evidence of those unprosecutable rapes as similar-crimes evidence."
LoTempio said that a judge's decision to allow evidence on those rape cases could be grounds for a later appeal.
"That, I think, is going to be the biggest challenge for the judge in the case," he said. "You're causing the defendant to defend himself against charges he can't be tried on. It's highly inflammatory, unproven evidence."
The number of trials.
Clark would like to try the two or three murder cases together. The defense would seek separate trials.
"It's always my position that the fairest way to proceed is to try each case on its own merits," LoTempio said, citing his fear that evidence from one case could overlap into the others.