Police Used Secret Cameras, Informant to Arrest Murder Suspects
ALBANY, N.Y. — On the first day of a routine pre-trial hearing in the murder case of Jacquelyn Porreca, county prosecutors revealed that a secret informant and a hidden camera were crucial tools, in arresting the men charged for the killing.
Michael Chmielewski, 23, and Sean Moreland, 32, were both in Albany County Court for suppression hearings, which allow defense attorneys to petition against certain evidence being used in a trial. Both men are facing felony murder charges with potential life sentences in prison and have rejected plea deals offered by the district attorney. The case will presumably go to trial later this year.
Suppression hearings often force prosecutors to lay bare certain evidence, so that a judge can rule on its admissibility. On Thursday, that revealed the surprising and secretive way that police taped the suspects' first confessions to the August 21 murder at Recycled Salon in Colonie. According to Colonie Police sergeant John Santorio, the department's confidential informant first came to police on November 7, claiming he had ridden in a car with Chmielewski and Moreland as the two discussed their role in the murder. Police decided to use the informant's car as a covert recording device, to gain an admission of the crime.
Detectives planted a tiny camera in the informant's key fob and placed microphones throughout the vehicle. The informant then picked up Chmielewski and Moreland over the next few days, and drove with them while discussing the murder. The content of those conversations was not discussed in court Thursday, but whatever was said, police deemed it worthy enough to arrest Chmielewski and Moreland the same day and charge them with the murder.
Prosecutors also claimed to have a signed statements, drawings and letters written by Chmielewski during interrogations, which further implicate him in the murder. Each man also led police to an area of Albany's Washington Park, where they apparently disposed of the murder weapon — though no such weapon was ever found.
"We look forward to bringing this to trial. We believe the place to try this case is in the courtroom," said defense attorney Paul DerOhanessian, representing Sean Moreland in the hearing. DerOhanessian attempted to discredit and chip away at the police work in the case, noting several times that investigators failed to make notes or recordings during their conversations with Moreland. At one point during an interrogation, DerOhanessian says Moreland asked for an attorney, but no attorney was summoned for him.
"You're beginning to see that there are two sides of this case, and two sets of facts," DerOhanessian said after Thursday's hearing. "You're beginning to see that there are many issues in Sean Moreland's favor."
Chmielewski's attorney, Gaspar Castillo, was less active during Thursday's hearing. Castillo focused much of his cross-examination of police detectives on Chmielewski's physical condition during questioning about the murder.
"My client was unfortunately high on drugs that day," Castillo said. "He was displaying the effects of withdrawal, which are very painful to go through."
As a result, Castillo seemed to argue that Chmielewski's statements and writings should be re-examined or even dismissed. Castillo also claimed that Chmielewski asked to see his father or an attorney, and that those requests were not honored during the interrogation.
The hearing will continue on April 26. No trial date has been set.