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Lurid detail may spare teen charge of murder

Defense attorneys, law-enforcement officials and legal experts all agree on one point in the case against the Black Rock teenager accused of killing an Amherst dentist two weeks ago:

It will be tough to get a second-degree murder conviction against the teen.

Patrick Farrell is 17. In his statement to Amherst police, he claimed he was fondled twice by Dr. Joseph D. Matteliano, a 64-year-old dentist, before stabbing Matteliano at least four times in his home Feb. 2.

"Do I think this will be resolved as a murder?" one top local defense attorney asked. "No."

The attorney, who agreed to be quoted on the condition he not be named, quickly added, "It's going to be a fascinating case, with a lot of interesting [possible] defenses."

Gary J. Wojtan, an attorney who defended one of the suspects in Amherst's last homicide case, echoed the remarks of other defense attorneys when asked to speculate how this case could turn out.

"I strongly suspect, as a defense attorney, that they would consider giving him a plea to manslaughter in the first degree," he said. "I don't think the district attorney would go for less than that."

First-degree manslaughter -- which can apply when a person intends to cause serious physical injury but instead causes the person's death -- carries a prison sentence of anywhere from five to 25 years.

That was the charge prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on for Norris E. Wells, following the May 2004 stabbing death of his wife in their Clarence home. Wells was sentenced to six years in prison.

A third prominent local defense attorney, who also wouldn't comment using his name, believes strongly that a plea deal could be hammered out in this case.

"These cases scream out for compromise," he said. "It's a great case to have as a defense lawyer, but the risks are enormous."

For example, jurors might want to ask why Farrell was hanging out at a Niagara Street bookstore where Matteliano reportedly picked him up. Why did he willingly go to the man's Amherst home four times, as the younger man has claimed? And why did he willingly go back to the Amherst home following the first fondling incident?

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark wouldn't comment on his possible strategy in the Farrell-Matteliano case.

"I'm not going to write a game plan for the other side," he said.

Clark also wouldn't comment on whether he believes a second-degree murder charge could be sustained in this case.

Self-defense is one possible defense for Farrell, who claimed that he was chased around the house by Matteliano after threatening to call the police on the morning of Feb. 2. However, Matteliano was not armed, and several sources questioned the self-defense argument if Farrell wasn't being threatened with deadly physical force.

Another possible defense would be a claim of "extreme emotional disturbance," following the sexual incident that morning. That could lead to a manslaughter finding.

"The question is the mental state of the youth," Wojtan said. "Was he stabbing the guy out of self-defense . . . ? Or did this whole sexual incident put him under extreme emotional disturbance?"

If the case does go to trial, those are questions that a jury may need to answer.


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