By Ryan Thompson and Jonah Bruno
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
and The Associated Press
BROOKLYN — After reviewing the decision of a Brooklyn judge to allow a previous killing into evidence during a local man’s murder trial over seven years ago, New York’s top court has now affirmed the decision and upheld the conviction.
Last week, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the murder conviction of Mickey Cass who had claimed he strangled his Brooklyn roommate under “extreme emotional disturbance” from childhood sex abuse that made him snap when the victim made unexpected sexual advances.
That argument on behalf of 33-year-old Cass could have mitigated his 2003 killing of Victor Dombrova and left him guilty of a lesser manslaughter charge, but the jury rejected it.
The Court of Appeals, where former Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Theodore T. Jones now sits on the bench, said that by claiming emotional disturbance, the defense enabled prosecutors to offer evidence that Cass confessed to killing Kevin Bosinski in Buffalo the year before in similar circumstances and argue he targeted gay men for violence. Judge Jones wrote the opinion, with the other six judges concurring.
While prosecutors are broadly prohibited from introducing prejudicial evidence of defendants’ prior misconduct, the court says this was admissible as direct rebuttal. Kings County Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach presided over the original Brooklyn case in 2004.
At that trial in Kings County Supreme Court, attorneys grappled over what constituted a defense of “extreme emotional disturbance,” for the drifter who had confessed to committing two nearly identical murders in a little more than a year.
Cass, who was 26 at the time of the homicide, admitted killing Dombrova, also 26, in a Ditmas Park apartment the two briefly shared in 2003.
Cass, a heterosexual, admitted strangling Dombrova to death, but claimed he lost control of his emotions and actions when Dombrova, a homosexual, grabbed his crotch, triggering memories of Cass’ childhood sexual abuse at the hands of his father. However, Cass gave police a strikingly similar story explaining the death of Kevin Bozinski, a gay man Cass admitted killing in Buffalo.
Cass’s attorney, John Stella, who later became the Kings County Criminal Bar Association president, had tried to convince jurors to convict his client of first-degree manslaughter, instead of second-degree murder, the top charge against him, which carries a possible life sentence. First-degree manslaughter carries a sentence of five to 25 yeas in prison.
At the trial, Stella referred to the testimony of a psychologist, who said that Cass could not control his emotions and urges, because of his troubled childhood.
“We’re not talking about insanity, where he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” said Stella. Cass was overcome by “uncontrollable rage,” which drove him to put Dombrova in a chokehold until he died, Stell had argued.
Though Dombrova was considerably smaller than Cass, a 5’7’, 175-pound bodybuilder, methamphetamines Dombrova was on at the time of the incident could have made him more aggressive than he normally would have been, according to some of the allegations made at the time.
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi countered that Dombrova had called police and was seen at a window, begging neighbors for help, before he was killed. She said it was unlikely Dombrova made any sexual advances toward someone who had clearly frightened him.
In attempt to discredit the defense’s argument that Cass acted in a blind rage, Nicolazzi repeatedly used the word “calculated” in describing her version of the crime. She called the defendant a “cold-blooded, calculated killer,” who preyed on vulnerable gay men.
She reminded jurors how Cass put socks on his hands and tried to wipe his fingerprints from the apartment, after killing Dombrova, which, she said, made his actions appear clearly thought out.
“What manner of death could be more intentional than strangulation,” said Nicolazzi, adding that it takes nearly four minutes to strangle someone to death.
“Imagine how hard Mr. Dombrova must have tried to escape: fighting for his life, kicking, flailing,” the prosecutor told jurors.
Nicolazzi also pointed out to jurors that the psychologist, hired by the defense to evaluate Cass and to testify, was reluctant to say Cass suffered from an extreme emotional disturbance when he killed Dombrova.
Cass is serving 25 years to life for both of his murder convictions.
Some information in this article was reprinted from a 2004 story written by Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter Jonah Bruno, who is now the deputy director of public information for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.