Death penalty prosecution planned for former police officer

By JIM MUSTIAN Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a former suburban New York police officer charged in the kidnapping and killing of four men in 2016.

The decision, announced in court this week, marks the second capital prosecution announced by the Southern District of New York in the past six months and comes as federal prosecutors around the country are seeking the death penalty more frequently.

The former Briarcliff Manor police officer, Nicholas Tartaglione, is charged in what authorities described as the “gangland-style” killings of four men from Middletown, New York, who disappeared during a cocaine-related dispute at a bar in nearby Chester.

Prosecutors say their bodies were found buried on an Otisville property linked to Tartaglione. Authorities have said that one of the men appeared to be involved in a drug conspiracy but that some of the victims “were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Prosecutors are expected to outline their reasons for seeking capital punishment against Tartaglione in a court filing in the coming days. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office confirmed the decision, which had been several months in the making.

Tartaglione’s defense attorney, Bruce Barket, said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” in the government’s decision. The capital case, he said, could cost taxpayers “millions and millions of dollars” and is not appropriate, given the uncertainty of the evidence.

“In the best light for the government, it’s unclear who did what to whom,” Barket told The Associated Press, adding his client maintains his innocence. “You run the real possibility of executing somebody here for crimes that other people committed.”

New York state no longer has the death penalty, but Tartaglione is eligible for the punishment because he was charged with the killings in federal court.

The U.S. Justice Department has sought the death penalty in more and more cases under President Donald Trump, an avid supporter of capital punishment, after a near moratorium on such prosecutions in President Barack Obama’s last term.

In September, federal prosecutors in New York announced they would seek the death penalty against a man charged with using a truck to kill eight people on a New York City bike path.