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Appellate court rejects motions by convicted murderers

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A state appellate court has rejected claims by two convicted murderers that errors made during their Jefferson County Court trials led to their convictions.

The state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, on Friday denied motions for writ of error coram nobis brought by Edundabira E. Ojo and Michial E. Foster, both of whom are imprisoned for separate slayings. The court did not elaborate on its reasons for denying the motions. Both men had similar claims previously rejected on direct appeal.

Ojo, 38, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole at Attica Correctional Facility for stabbing to death sisters Kelly M. Exford, 22, and Shannon M. St. Croix, 24, at an apartment at 735 Cooper St. on April 1, 2005. He repeatedly has petitioned state and federal courts to overturn the conviction and sentence, arguing, among other things, that errors were made during his February 2006 trial and that he was denied effective counsel.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed a writ of habeas corpus motion brought by Ojo in which he contends that he is being unlawfully detained. The judge ruled that Ojo had not proven that any of his rights have been violated and wrote in his decision that “he has not proffered any evidence that would make a reasonable jury doubt his guilt.” Ojo has since filed a motion to have the decision reconsidered.

Foster, 57, is serving a sentence of 25 years to life at Attica for murdering Alicia C. VanVranken Wasilewski, 30, his former girlfriend, at her South Meadow Street residence in May 1996. Her body was not discovered for more than a decade; it was found Sept. 15, 2007, in a wooded area off Ives Street Road. Foster was charged with the death two days later.

Following a trial in Jefferson County Court in September 2008, Foster was found guilty of the killing. He appealed the decision, claiming that he should have had the benefit of counsel when he made incriminating statements to a confidential informant who had been placed in his state prison cell by the state inspector general’s office. The state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, agreed, reversing his conviction in April 2010 and ordering a new trial. After a second trial in October 2010, Foster again was convicted and he again appealed.

He again claimed in the second appeal that the lower court had mistakenly allowed hearsay evidence to be introduced into the second trial and that a mistrial should have been granted. Shortly before Ms. Wasilewski’s death, she had given birth to a premature son and was going to Samaritan Medical Center several times a day to breast-feed the child. A retired nurse who had cared for the baby testified that Ms. Wasilewski told her that if she failed to show up for a breast-feeding, it was because “she was dead.”

The nurse, who had made the same allegation in the initial trial, had been warned by prosecutors not to repeat it at the second trial. Oswego County Judge Walter W. Hafner, who presided over the trial, instructed jurors to disregard the statement, and the appellate court ruled that the lower court’s “prompt curative instruction” minimized any prejudice that the improper testimony could have created against Foster.

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