U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin today dismissed Robert E. Kleasen's $2.5 million lawsuit against Erie County officials, saying the parolee did not prove that the officials ruined his chance for a new life after prison.
Ruling on the case himself rather than allowing a jury to make the decision, Curtin sided with the county attorneys' motion to dismiss.
Even if all the facts as presented by Kleasen were true, Curtin said, he still could not find reason to accept Kleasen's premise that he was wronged.
Kleasen testified Wednesday he was a victim of "character assassination" and was hounded by false
media publicity linking him to the celebrated Texas Chain Saw Massacre case.
Curtin said Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins and County Executive Gorski had the "right and duty" to question what they considered an improper decision by state parole officials to release Kleasen in Buffalo in May 1988.
"I find nothing here to indicate there was any malicious prosecution or malicious intent by either Gorski or Higgins," the judge said.
Curtin added that the two county officials had the "right and the duty" to protect the county's interests if they thought the parole decision was wrong.
Curtin had indicated Wednesday he was leaning toward dismissal. When the jury was excused late in the day, Curtin urged lawyers to concentrate on whether Gorski and Higgins acted improperly by trying to get Kleasen transferred out of Buffalo.
A disappointed Kleasen today criticized both the decision and the Buffalo news media as he left the federal courthouse. He said Curtin should have allowed the jury to make the decision.
"I was even denied a jury trial," he said. "I was denied my constitutional rights."
Asked if he will be able to put the dispute behind him and go on with his life as a Buffalo resident, Kleasen said: "That all depends on the accuracy of the news media, which hasn't been very accurate to date."
Gorski and Higgins were pleased.
"I think it just indicates what I said at the beginning, that it was ludicrous the action had been brought against me," Gorski said today. "But that's an indication of the litigious society we live in."
The county executive said he still believes that the Division of Parole, in "succumbing to the public outcry" against Kleasen in the Rochester area, made a decision that was unwise and unfair to Erie County and the citizens here.
"I concur with the judge a thousand percent," Higgins said. "I am delighted."
Higgins reiterated that he has no regrets about his actions. He said he didn't object to Kleasen being paroled, but to the fact that after he was paroled to Rochester, and Rochester officials objected, Kleasen was brought to Buffalo.
"The parole board capitulated to the pressure of Rochester, and then sped him up the Thruway to Buffalo, and placed him here." Higgins said.
Asked if he's concerned whether Kleasen posed a potential safety threat in Buffalo, Higgins said:
"He's still on parole, still under observation by the parole office. They do a competent job and I'm sure they'll keep an eye on him. You never know what a person is going to act out. There's always a potential for danger."
Kleasen, 56, testified he has been falsely linked for years with the celebrated Texas Chain Saw Massacre case. Parole officers in Buffalo repeatedly asked him about his involvement and refused to believe him when he said it was a different case.
Kleasen was convicted in Texas of killing a Mormon missionary and using a power woodworking saw to dismember the body. That conviction was overturned in 1977 because of legal technicalities involving a search warrant.
A former Erie County sheriff's deputy, Kleasen has accused Gorski and Higgins of harassment by asking parole officers to keep him out of Buffalo and demanding he be examined by psychiatrists.
After serving a prison sentence because of a shooting case in New York state, Kleasen was released from Auburn Correctional Center and paroled in the Buffalo area. He was immediately "under siege" from public officials and reporters who made it impossible for him to live a normal life, he said.