The disposition of the Jacqueline Porreca murder is hard to digest – metaphorically and literally.
First, it’s hard to get your head around how a beautiful young woman is viscously stabbed to death, and then one guy who admitted doing it gets just 22 years to life, and the other guy involved skates by without getting a day in jail. By the time this one ends with the sentencing of Michael Chmielewski and Sean Moreland next month, that scale Lady Justice is so fond of balancing will be decidedly tipped.
And, literally, it kind of makes you nauseous to think about.
But that is our system, and the rules the Colonie police failed to follow are there to protect us all, at all times. If they are ignored for a man like Moreland, they can be ignored for anyone.
The case against Chmielewski was pretty much cut and dry. He confessed to stabbing Porreca in the neck while robbing her as she was closing up The Recycled Salon to get money for heroin. And he didn’t just confess to police, under a harsh light bulb and the threat of losing fingernails, he confessed to anyone and everyone willing to listen.
It’s not surprising, really. Remorse for all sorts of stupid, unsavory and/or illegal things is one of the first things an addict feels after coming off a binge. And the first step in making it right is to come clean.
As venerable as that effort is, it won’t bring Porreca back. And while under the influence is not a defense or an excuse, it is at least a sliver of rationale for an act otherwise beyond comprehension.
Relatively speaking, his sentence amounts to not much considering he killed a person. His young age of 24, his otherwise clean record, the fact he confessed and the fact he didn’t go in there with the intent to kill the woman all probably played a factor.
Moreland, though, is another story.
He drove to the salon on Fuller Road and unless he was just doing his buddy a favor, and planned on waiting outside while Chmielewski got a little taken off the top, it’s not a stretch to think he knew they were there to rob the place. I honestly don’t think too many people jonesing for a heroin fix care much about their coiffure.
And yet, because the Colonie cops didn’t follow the rules while taking Moreland’s confession – and obviously didn’t have any other evidence against him – he will not see one day of time for his role in what transpired on Aug. 21, 2015. Chmielewski, in keeping with the addict’s newfound exemplary code of conduct, albeit one right out of “Goodfellas,” didn’t rat out his friend and said Moreland didn’t know he planned to rob the place.
So, after Moreland serves six to eight years on an unrelated burglary, he walks out of jail without any facing any consequence because Judge Tom Breslin ruled the confession was taken after Moreland asked for an attorney.
Just to put it in perspective, in 2003 a guy in Florida lent his car to a friend who then picked up two other friends and together they went to rob a drug dealer. While robbing the drug dealer the would-be burglars beat the drug dealer’s daughter to death with the butt of a shotgun.
That guy, Ryan Holle, was convicted of being an accessory to murder and is doing life without parole just because he lent out his car.
So, one might ask, how did the Colonie Police screw up so bad and Moreland to get away with scot free.
Cops can do just about anything while interrogating a witness. They can lie, cheat, deceive, intimidate and coerce to a degree and it’s all within the law. Two things they can’t do are continue to question a suspect who has an attorney, or if they ask for one, and they can’t threaten the wellbeing of a family member. In other words, they can’t say “we will throw your mom in jail unless you confess.”
Literally, pretty much everything else is fair game.
And all judges too are reluctant to throw out any evidence. If anything Breslin’s reputation is one of leaning towards prosecutors so the Colonie cops really must have screwed it up.
Or maybe they didn’t. And they had nothing else so rather than just let him walk they took a shot at getting the confession into evidence.
That’s easier to comprehend than thinking the cops are that incompetent. And it also swings the scales back into a semblance of balance, since the judge made sure the rights afforded us all – in this case the right to counsel before talking to police – also apply to someone like Moreland, as nauseating as that is sometimes.
Jim Franco has covered the Capital District for more than 20 years. He can be reached at 878-1000 or [email protected]