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A.K.A.: "Valentine's Day killer" - "Ding-Ding"
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: The motive was to avenge Mr. Casellas's bruised honor after his wife had been beaten up last summer in a fight stemming from a long-running feud. Ten days later, a friend of the victims shot and killed Lourdes Casellas
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: February 14, 1993
Date of arrest: 11 days after
Date of birth: 1971
Victims profile: Miguel Rivera, 22, Christopher Hernandez, 15, Edwin Santiago, 17, Julia Santana, 40, Maria Santana, 26, and Annette Medina, 17
Método de matar: Arma de fuego
Location: Bronx County, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 162 years to life in 1994

Massacre suit goes to the jury

Thursday, December 19th 2002

A Bronx jury began deliberating yesterday whether the families of five victims in the 1993 St. Valentine's Day massacre should be compensated for their loss.

The families of Christopher Hernandez, Maria and Julia Santana, Edwin Santiago and Annette Medina have filed a $20 million civil lawsuit against the landlord of a Mott Haven apartment building on Prospect Ave. where six people were murdered execution-style.

Attorneys representing the families argued that the murders could have been prevented had Dearborne Management and Prospect Union Associates provided better security for their property.

Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alan Saks imposed a gag order on attorneys until the verdict is delivered. His action came after a Bronx cable TV news reporter tried to interview one of the jurors.

Witnesses who testified during the two-week trial said the lock at the front door of the building was "weak" and there was no guard on duty the day of the murders, St. Valentine's eve.

Late for work

One convicted killer testified that he and the four other masked men - hunting for Santiago in a drug-related dispute - would not have carried out the executions had the guard been on duty.

But that night, guard Auturo Rosa was two hours late for work. He testified that the front door lock was "weak" and tenants could get in without using a key.

"The landlord had a legal obligation," said attorney Thomas Nolan, representing Maria Flores, Hernandez's mother. "The landlord was required to have a lock to keep intruders out. There was no lock and there was no security guard . . . the killers just walked right in."

Denise Dunleavey, attorney for Olga Santana, who lost her mother, Julia, sister, Maria, and brother, Edwin, said the case is about justice for the families.

"Responsibility doesn't stop with the bad guys in jail," Dunleavey said. "The building is also responsible for these deaths."

New security system

Defense attorneys Frank Randazzo and Devereaux Cannick presented evidence that the building security was found satisfactory during an inspection months before the shooting.

The attorneys said a new $3,000 security system had been installed, but they did not believe the guard could have prevented the murders.

"If Auturo was there, it would have been seven deaths instead of six," Cannick said. "Auturo could not have stopped it; they were going to do these murders come hell or high water."

All five of the St. Valentine's Day massacre killers were convicted. The triggerman, Anthony Casellas, was sentenced to 162 years to life; Luis Ramos, 52 years to life; Eliot Lopez, 30 years to life; Luis Romero, 15 to life, and Edgardo Rosado, 15 to life.

Days after the murders, Casellas' wife, Lourdes, was gunned down on the steps of the Bronx Supreme Court in retribution for the executions.


Bronx Man Is Convicted In Six Deaths

By Matthew Purdy

June 17, 1994 

A Bronx man was convicted yesterday in the murder of six people on Valentine's Day 1993, a killing prosecutors called "a crime of unspeakable horror" meant as revenge against one of the victims for slapping the defendant's wife.

Anthony Casellas, 22, was found guilty of murder and conspiracy in the deaths of three adults and three children whom the police said were lined up on the living room floor of a Mott Haven apartment and each shot through the head. Four other defendants facing charges related to the killings are awaiting trial.


Caught in Tale of Revenge and Death

By David Gonzalez - The New York Times

February 28, 1993

To those who knew him, Elliot Lopez did not seem to be the sort of teen-ager likely to be seduced by the street code of easy money, short tempers and rapid retribution. A star athlete with a ready smile, his goal was college and a way out of a South Bronx neighborhood whose streetcorners were dotted with dozens of other young men who had long ago traded the promise of the future for the grim pickings of the present.

But there were times when it appeared that his perspective on the crazy life was more than that of an outsider.

"He knew some wild people," recalled Kent Wargowsky, his track coach at Morris High School, who remembered him being greeted on the street by swaggering young men with gold chains. "Elliot was such a nice person, yet he knew who the bad people were, but not, like, stay away from them."

One person Mr. Lopez knew was Anthony Casellas -- his sister was a friend of Mr. Casellas's wife, Lourdes. Flanked by his associates, Mr. Casellas strode through the streets near East 161st Street and Tinton Avenue, leading a loosely knit drug gang, neighbors and the police say.

 'Tato' and 'Ding Ding'

At some point -- no one seemed quite sure when -- Elliot joined his crew. They grew close; on the street, Elliot Lopez and Anthony Casellas were known as "Tato" and "Ding-Ding." And last week they were arrested and charged with being the gunmen who lined six people up, face down, in a Mott Haven apartment on St. Valentine's Day and killed them with single shots to the head. The motive, the police say, was to avenge Mr. Casellas's bruised honor after his wife had been beaten up last summer in a fight stemming from a long-running feud.

Last Wednesday, the authorities say, the revenge came full circle at the entrance to the Bronx County Building, when Lourdes Casellas was fatally shot by a friend of one of the Mott Haven victims. To the people who know Mr. Lopez, the disquieting thought is how he could have had anything to do with the violent revenge.

In part, the two contrasted sharply: neatly dressed and respectful, Mr. Lopez avoided running with any one clique. He was even-tempered, puzzled by the violence around him. He had finished high school and had been accepted to Baruch College, although he never enrolled.

But people in the neighborhood weren't even sure if Mr. Casellas had finished junior high school, and they remembered his predilection for the funky, baggy clothes -- the high fashion of the street -- and how his temper was best left unprovoked.

Thomas Rinaldi, Mr. Lopez's 11th grade English teacher, remembered Elliot as one of several students who seemed to be "on the fence."

"They were at that point where they were going to make a decision," he said. "Temptations were presenting themselves."

Friendly to Everyone

He was a gregarious, can-do type who got along with everybody. That was no small accomplishment in a place where the orbits of adolescent cliques curtail easy interaction.

His home life, according to his teachers and a few neighbohrood acquaintances, was mixed: his mother and stepfather were quiet, hardworking people who lived with his siblings in an apartment on the 11th floor of the McKinley Houses, a Bronx project. But his two brothers had had scrapes with the law and jail, his teachers recalled.

A woman who answered the door at the family's apartment said their lawyer had advised them not to comment.

His stepfather, a former professional heavyweight boxer, works in contruction, said the owner of a grocery store across the street.

Mr. Lopez's teachers said he was a jokester. In high school, he started a small business, hiring himself out as a clown for parties and showing up at school events dressed in shorts and a tie that dangled near to the floor.

He was also an athlete who excelled at cross-country running and basketball. His track coach said the young man was almost "like a pacifist," shunning the violence that sometimes erupted within the walls of the school.

A Beloved Son

"He did not run to blood," said Mr. Wargowsky. "If there was a stabbing at the school, he would stand against the wall and say it was stupid."

But he had his passions, especially the son he had with a previous girlfriend. Mr. Wargowsky recalled how the teen-ager would buy clothes for the child. "I know the commitment to his son was hard," he said.

And so was, his teachers thought, his commitment to the future.

"He acted as if he really wanted out of his neighborhood," said Mr. Wargowsky.

But there were glimpses of another life.

During some trips to Manhattan, Mr. Wargowsky recalled how Mr. Lopez would seem to be known to everyone, especially the stone-faced youths on street corners. One day they went to a store to buy a soda after a brisk jog when a man wearing gold chains and flashing a gold-toothed smile greeted Mr. Lopez.

"He'd say, 'That used to be me,' " said Mr. Wargowsky. "It seemed like he was a person who knew what it was about but stayed out. He was not naive."

Along the crowded, littered streets of Mott Haven, where burned-out apartment buildings loom above abandoned cars and wild youth, Mr. Casellas cultivated a tough reputation.

Several residents -- none of whom would give their names for fear of retaiiation -- described him as a smooth-talking man who routinely dressed in the latest style and was often seen outside a bodega near 161st Street, mingling with youths from the neighborhood.

Girls, Cars and Gold

"What they were about was having girls, nice cars and gold," said one man who knew Mr. Casellas and his friends.

In August 1992, he was held on Rikers Island on a drug charge. Three years earlier, he served six months drug charges. Police records show he also has convictions for assault, robbery, theft with a deadly weapon and unlawful imprisonment.

Maria Santana, a neighborhood woman, was drawn to Mr. Casellas -- an attraction that the police say ultimately cost her her life. She was the sister of Edwin Santiago, apparently the focus of the slayings on Feb. 14.

Anthony and Maria began dating about two years ago and soon he virtually lived with her family, spending many nights at their apartment, where Maria's mother, Julia, cooked for him and did his laundry.

And while Maria wanted to marry him, according to one woman, he seemed interested only in the practical advantages of the relationship. "I don't think he wanted to marry her," said the woman, a friend of Maria Sanatana. "I always felt that he was just using her."

Even during one of his prison terms, Maria Santana remained devoted. "She used to send him money so he could buy stuff at the commissary," the friend said. "And he used to phone her collect."

When he was released, Mr. Casellas's romantic interest wandered toward Maria's old friend, Lourdes Serrano. Mr. Casellas and Ms. Serrano, those who knew them say, dated without Maria Santana's knowledge.

When Maria Santana found out about their clandestine romance, she severed her ties to both of them. About a year ago, Mr. Casellas married Ms. Serrano, and she later gave birth to their son.

The animosity between his wife and his former girlfriend grew, eventually erupting in a fight on a Bronx street last summer. During the fight, Maria Santana's brother, Edwin Santiago, came to his sister's defense and slapped the other woman, causing her to drop her baby.

Plotting From Prison

The police say that Mr. Casellas began plotting the killings sometime after August 1992, when Mrs. Casellas visited her husband at Rikers Island and told him about the fight.

At the same time, Mrs. Casellas was growing close to Mr. Lopez and his sister, according to their friends.

The friendship between Mr. Lopez and the Casellases was such that Mr. Lopez planned to bring his clown act to a birthday party for the Casellases' son in March.

"They were tight," said the 18-year-old friend.

The week before the slayings, according to one woman, Mr. Casellas went to the Santiago-Santana home, professing his love for the people he would later be accused of murdering. The police said Mr. Casellas and Mr. Lopez, along with three friends, returned to that apartment to extract their revenge on the youth who had slapped Lourdes Casellas. Five others were killed for reasons the police may never know.

Ten days later, a friend of the victims shot and killed Lourdes Casellas.

At the end of a tale of revenge twice taken, seven people are dead and six have been locked up and charged with murder.

"I don't think there's anybody out there with any further axe to grind," said one investigator. "The main players are in custody. We don't feel there's anybody else there left to shoot."



May 30, 1996


For Respondent: Peter D. Coddington.

For Defendant-Appellant: Kannan Sundaram.

Concur--Milonas, J. P., Wallach and Mazzarelli, JJ.

Judgment, Supreme Court, Bronx County (Steven Lloyd Barrett, J., at hearing and trial), rendered July 7, 1994, convicting defendant, after a jury trial, of twelve counts of murder in the second degree (six counts of intentional murder [Penal Law ? 125.25 (1)] and six counts of felony murder [Penal Law ? 125.25 (3)]), and conspiracy in the second degree, and sentencing him, as a second felony offender, to indeterminate terms of 25 years to life imprisonment for each count of intentional and felony murder, to run concurrently as to each victim, but consecutively with respect to the convictions pertaining to each of the other five victims, and all to run consecutively to an indeterminate term of 12 1/2 to 25 years for the conspiracy conviction, affirmed.

On the morning of February 14, 1993, the police discovered the bodies of six individuals who had been shot to death. Subsequent investigation revealed that four victims, Miguel Rivera, 22, Christopher Hernandez, 15, Edwin Santiago, 17, and Annette Medina, 17, had been shot in the back of the head. Julia Santana, 40, was shot in the eye. Maria Santana, 26, was shot twice in the head, while wearing a coat and holding her keys to the apartment. It was later learned that she had been forced to open up the apartment for the perpetrators of these multiple homicides.

Although some initial leads pointed to defendant as the mastermind behind the Valentine's Day execution-style murders, it was not until some ten days later, after defendant's wife was killed and his friend shot and wounded in the Bronx County Courthouse, that the police interviewed defendant. However, as the hearing court found, and the record amply supports, because shootings inside courthouses are, thankfully, rare, the courthouse incident "was being handled with enormous interest and immediacy" and "the numerous interviews that the defendant underwent at the 44[th] precinct were all related to his status as [a] victim." Indeed, because a court officer had discharged his weapon during this incident, the authorities treated this investigation as they would treat a shooting in which a police officer had used his or her weapon. Consequently, at the police precinct there were numerous senior level police officials and representatives of the District Attorney's office. Defendant, along with every other witness to the shooting incident was carefully interviewed, and none were first given Miranda warnings.

Defendant was later brought to the 40th precinct, and the police continued to interview him about the courthouse shooting. While being interviewed about the courthouse shooting, defendant was informed that his wife had died. After some further discussion with the detective, including a religious appeal that the hearing court found to be the functional equivalent of interrogation, defendant surprised the detective by making a brief one sentence oral admission regarding the killing of Edwin Santiago. The detective interrupted the interview, took a break, and administered the Miranda warnings to defendant. Defendant then acknowledged in writing, inter alia, that he understood and was waiving his constitutional rights against self-incrimination and to counsel, and proceeded to give a two page detailed written confession that minimized his role in the Valentine's Day murders.

Several hours later, an Assistant District Attorney again administered the Miranda warnings, and conducted a brief interview of defendant on videotape. At this point, defendant declined to answer further questions, but reaffirmed the veracity of the contents of his written statement. Based on defendant's statements, the police recovered certain physical evidence linking him to the six Valentine's Day murders, including a silencer and ammunition, found hidden in a television set in a room where defendant had been staying. The hearing court denied defendant's motion to suppress all three statements and the physical evidence as the tainted fruits of unwarned custodial interrogation.

On this appeal the principal question presented for review is whether the hearing court erred in finding that defendant was not in custody for Miranda purposes when he made the first brief oral admission about the murder of Edwin Santiago to the detective who was interviewing him about the courthouse shooting. The hearing court, which had an opportunity to hear, see and otherwise evaluate the witnesses and their credibility, found that a reasonable person in defendant's position would have felt free to leave before making his oral admission, and that therefore defendant was not in custody. In its decision, the hearing court found that this was particularly true given that within the realm of homicide and shooting investigations, a courthouse shootout was unusual, and thus the sheer length and frequency of the interviews of defendant was not indicative of custody. The hearing court also noted that the change in venue from one precinct stationhouse to another as the site of the interview would not in and of itself have necessarily signaled to a reasonable innocent person in defendant's situation that the police no longer wished to inquire of him about the murder of his wife and the shooting of his companion. The new locale did not, in other words, transform what was otherwise permissible non-custodial interrogation into custodial interrogation requiring the administration of Miranda warnings. The hearing court also noted that defendant was never handcuffed or physically restrained, and was left unattended in an unlocked interview room while the detectives conferred. At no point was defendant ever told that he could not leave the precinct at the conclusion of the interview about his wife's murder. In short, after reviewing a totality of several factors, and without placing undue emphasis on any one single factor, the court found that while there had been interrogation within the Fifth Amendment meaning of the term, the defendant had not been in custody and Miranda warnings need not have been read to defendant before he made the single sentence admission inculpating himself in the murder of Edwin Santiago.

In reviewing the record, it is clear that the hearing court articulated the proper legal standard for determining whether defendant was in custody for Fifth Amendment purposes and properly considered the full panoply of factors which must be examined when applying this standard to the particular circumstances of this case ( People v Yukl, 25 N.Y.2d 585, cert denied 400 US 851). The hearing court resolved what really is, at its core, a factual question (see, People v Centano, 76 N.Y.2d 837, affg 153 A.D.2d 494) and found that defendant was not in custody. Such an inherently factually driven decision is entitled to considerable deference on appeal when, as here, it has a foundation rooted in the record (see, People v Wright, 71 A.D.2d 585).

While not directly relevant to consideration of the propriety of the suppression ruling, we note in passing that the issue of the voluntariness of defendant's statements, including whether defendant was in custody at the time he made his initial admission, was also submitted to the jury. The court's instructions on this issue, spread on sixteen pages in the record, are not challenged on this appeal. The jury's verdict implies that the jurors, as did the suppression court, found the defendant's statements to have been voluntarily made.

In short, examination of the record reveals that the factual findings on the issue of custody reached by both the hearing court at the conclusion of the suppression hearing and again by the jury, after trial, each with its unique capacities to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, were proper and should not be disturbed on appeal.

Even if it could be said that the court below erred as a matter of law on the issue of custody as pertains to the first statement, the hearing court's finding that the latter two statements were attenuated and free of any taint is supported by the record. Any consideration of the prejudice caused by admission of the initial admission cannot overlook the fact that it was the defense, not the prosecution, that placed this statement before the jury, when it elicited it during cross-examination of the detective. Defendant should not be permitted to be the knowing architect of reversible error ( People v Rosario, 214 A.D.2d 345, 346, lv denied 86 N.Y.2d 801). In any event, given the overwhelming evidence of defendant's guilt, the admission of the first statement was harmless error, if error at all.

Concur--Milonas, J. P., Wallach and Mazzarelli, JJ.

Ross, J., Concurs in the result only.



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