Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza reserved decision Monday on whether an identification of murder suspect Richard W. Matt by a potential witness will be admissible at his trial.
Matt, 41, formerly of Minerva Street in the City of Tonawanda, is due to be tried Sept. 10 in County Court on charges he killed and dismembered William Rickerson, a 76-year-old North Tonawanda businessman, in December 1997. Parts of Rickerson's corpse were recovered from the Niagara River in the months that followed while Matt headed to Mexico.
Matt was extradited to Niagara County in January after serving a sentence in Mexico for killing a man in a bar fight in Matamoros, shortly after his arrival in that border city.
The hearing Monday focused on whether proper procedures were used Jan. 15, 1998, in showing a photo array, including a mug shot of Matt, to Bruce McNeil, a Buffalo man who had been charged with driving a stolen sport utility vehicle.
Glenn Gardner, retired North Tonawanda Police Department chief of detectives, testified that police thought Matt stole the SUV and gave it to McNeil. The vehicle was reported stolen from Minerva Street by owner James Neudecker, a neighbor and distant relative of Matt.
The SUV is not believed to have been the auto in which Matt and co-defendant Lee E. Bates drove around the area with Rickerson's body before it was disposed of in the river. Bates pleaded guilty to murder nine years ago and is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. He is expected to be the star witness at Matt's trial.
Bates said when he entered his plea that Rickerson was abducted from his home on Harvard Place in North Tonawanda on Dec. 4, 1997, beaten, stuffed into the trunk of a sedan and eventually killed. The alleged motive was robbery.
Rickerson, a food broker, had fired Matt from his business a few weeks before the abduction.
Gardner said he and another detective showed McNeil a group of six photos as they sat in a patrol car outside a home on Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo. He said McNeil chose Matt as the person who had given him the stolen SUV.
Defense attorney A. Joseph Catalano had issues with the identification. Gardner admitted that the photo of Matt that McNeil had been shown was removed from the array and eventually lost. Entered into evidence was another picture of Matt, which Gardner said was made from the same negative.
"The officer who testified has no clear recollection of what happened that day," Catalano argued. "We have a photo array that's missing the key element: the photograph of Mr. Matt."
Catalano also questioned the choice of photos. Two of the other five pictures depicted men far older than Matt, and another had curly hair, while Matt has straight hair.
Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh said courts have found that "slight dissimilarities . . . do not make a photo array constitutionally unsound."