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Next steps for Sanchez await word on new grand jury, DNA Comments by officials tainted indictments, defense lawyer says

Altemio C. Sanchez, the alleged Bike Path Killer, will learn by the end of the week whether a special grand jury will reconsider evidence against him after his attorney complained that public comments from police tainted his original murder indictments.

During a court session Monday, attorney Andrew C. LoTempio also consented to a request by prosecutors for another DNA sample from Sanchez for further testing. But he stressed that he will appeal to the state's higher courts should his motion for a special grand jury be denied.

LoTempio pointed to Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard's characterization of Sanchez as "a monster," law enforcement claims of a scientifically impossible "100 percent match" of DNA and other such comments to the media in suggesting that "proper precautions were not taken" before Sanchez's indictment in two murder cases.

State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns agreed that "a proper balance has to be struck" between public information and fair-trial mandates. He said he would rule by the end of the week on LoTempio's motion to empanel a special grand jury to consider the evidence against Sanchez.

Deputy District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III turned over to the judge the complete transcript of grand jury action concerning Sanchez since his Jan. 15 arrest and assured the judge that the presentation of evidence he oversaw was properly conducted.

After Monday's court session, Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark stressed that he and his prosecutors "amply advised" the grand jurors to avoid media coverage and were assured by all members of that panel that they would not be influenced by news reports.

Clark said the comments in question came from law enforcers within days of Sanchez's arrest and are legally "irrelevant," adding that Sanchez is "presumed innocent" under the law.

Sanchez, 49, dressed in a gray business suit and open-collared white shirt, did not speak during the brief court session. The factory machinist is under indictment on second-degree murder charges in both the 1990 slaying of University at Buffalo student Linda Yalem and the 1992 killing of Majane Mazur, a reputed Buffalo prostitute.

Clark said the investigation of Sanchez's possible link to last fall's slaying of jogger Joan Diver on a Newstead bike path is continuing because authorities still have "nothing yet which connects him directly" to that crime.

Clark said the additional DNA is being sought so his office has a "pristine" sample from Sanchez. Prosecutors have said that they have received requests for samples of Sanchez's DNA from law enforcement agencies across the country and that they have only so much to work with. Police got the original sample from a restaurant glass Sanchez reportedly used two days before his arrest.

Clark emphasized that the DNA swab he is seeking is not materially relevant to either of the Sanchez murder indictments already obtained or to the continuing Diver homicide investigation.

The district attorney confirmed that twice in 1990, Sanchez was convicted of patronizing prostitutes, though he was not jailed in either of those cases. Sanchez was fined by one judge and ordered by another to attend a so-called "John school" for those convicted of patronizing prostitutes.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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