From the January 2008 Idaho Observer:
Framed man doing 24 years w/o parole
If you lost your house and everything you owned to a fire, would you be in the best state of mind? That’s what happened to me, and right afterwards a series of events occurred that put me where I am today. I found myself in jail without charges and I didn’t know what to do or what was going on. I was at wits end, had lost everything and just wanted to get home to my dogs, so I signed a paper I otherwise never would have signed.
I had loaned the widow of a friend $200 to pay her past due rent. Two and a half months later, I was living with my father and my two dogs in the undamaged section of my burnt out house. We were cleaning it up to ready it for reconstruction, protecting our stuff that was still in the house. We had a 5,000 watt generator for lights and heat.
One day I looked out the window and saw a car in the driveway. I went outside and a guy came out of the basement with a folder in his hand. I thought he was there about the house fire. He didn’t show any ID or give his name, just leaned against the generator and asked if I was Robert. I told him I was.
He said he needed to talk to me at his office and wondered if my aunt mentioned that he’d been by. She had said someone had checked to see if we were okay. First he told me to follow him in my car. Then after I got my jacket and keys, he suggested in a friendly way that I ride with him. I had my cell phone and my wallet in my jacket. There were two box cutters in my wallet. He wondered if I planned to leave the generator on, and I said yeah, so we’d have lights and heat when my dad or I got back. I went to fill it with gas, but he assured me we’d be right back.
Halfway down the road, I changed my mind, and asked to go back and fill the generator. He said, "What generator?"
Now I didn’t know what to do, where I was going, or what was happening. We pulled into NY State Police Barracks, and I got really scared. He locked me into a room, said he’d be right back, and left. It was 1 p.m.
Thank goodness I had my phone. He never even searched me! I called and left a message with my aunt to tell my father where I was. After three tries there was no answer at the office of Jeremiah Flatherty, my lawyer, so I left a message with my brother to contact him. I tried to open the door, found it locked and began calling to a familiar voice on the other side, "Hey, what’s going on?"
Someone yelled, "Shut up!" So I demanded my lawyer.
In a while the guy with the folder came in with some paperwork and slammed it on the table. Three times I asked for my lawyer. He said, "You don’t need one" and refused me the right to call him. The papers he had were from a prior offense for which I had already done time. He kept asking about it and, rubbing his hand on my leg, he said, "You did this crime I have a complaint on you for."
"No," I told him and asked for my lawyer again. When it happened, I was at a friend’s house, who was sick. "You can call him," I said. He kept writing stuff down, looking at my prior paperwork.
He got up and left the room, slamming and locking the door, again. There was no water or bathroom in this room and he left me there till 9 p.m. Hours passed during which I tried again to phone my family. Finally he came in and told me to sign some papers and he would let me go. I didn’t read them. I just wanted to go home to my dogs. With no lawyer present, he coerced me to sign.
I walked to the door and he and another trooper threw me against the wall and told me I was under arrest. They did not read me my rights, or let me talk to my lawyer. My family called eight times, but kept getting cut off. They did finally let me talk to my father for a moment but yanked the phone from me and hung it up. My father met me at court. I was given no public defender, just the cop. I pled "not guilty," bail was set and I went to jail.
The landlord later told me that my friend’s widow and her new husband Sam Vail had filed a complaint against me for a crime against her son and had me arrested. She waited three days, because the school and her landlord had warned her about her husband. She knew I had been arrested before, so she put the blame on me. The landlord told me she’d called Flatherty three or four times to tell him it wasn’t me, it was Vail, whom she knew well and had seen there, who did the crime. My friend and his neighbor also verified I was at his house when it happened.
Flatherty never used any of this information in my defense. I put my trust in him, but he came to the jail and to court drunk, took my family’s money and did nothing for me. I wanted to go to trial with my witnesses, but the ADA, Van Loan, claimed the BCI had DNA and medical evidence tying me to the crime, which was a lie. They and the DA, Williams, coached the victim as to what to say in his statement and before the jury, and all our motions were turned down, including my request to withdraw the paper plea I had signed under duress.
Although I appealed, I was given ineffective counsel who worked for the court, not me. All they had was my prior, which is double jeopardy and hearsay as evidence against me. I was given 24-Flat and five years post supervision, and Sam Vail is running free, I’m told, still doing the same thing, and nothing is being done.
What kind of justice is this when your lawyer argues your case drunk and the DA and ADA tell the witnesses what to say and then use your case – my life – to make a name for themselves while running for re-election, to get votes? Acting Judge Gruner was also up for election! I have filed complaints to the Bar Association, but nothing is being done.
24-Flat for a crime I did not do!
Robert Kuklinski #04A5665
Shawangunk Corr. Facility
Wallkill, NY 12589