Former West Hartford fugitive Adam Zachs, who eluded authorities for 22 years after being convicted in the 1987 killing of a man following a bar fight, will soon get a chance to have his murder conviction overturned.
Zachs’ habeas corpus claim is headed for trial. It was scheduled for next week in Rockville but will be rescheduled. In a petition for a new trial attorney Aaron Romano is claiming that Zachs did not get the lawyer of his choice during his 1988 murder trial and that the trial attorney he ended up with was ineffective because, among other things, he failed to have the murder weapon examined by a firearms expert to back Zachs’ claim that it fired accidentally.
The murder weapon, a Smith & Wesson 9 mm handgun, has since been lost, state officials admit.
Zachs, 52, was convicted of murdering Peter Carone outside the Prospect Street Cafe in March 1987 after a fight inside the bar. The two men ended up outside and Zachs shot him in the back as Carone walked toward the bar.
During Zachs’ trial, his then-attorney Edward Daly argued that Zachs suffered from PTSD and carried a gun for protection because he had been bullied. But the jury convicted Zachs and he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He was free on a bail awaiting his appeal when he fled to Mexico.
Zachs used two aliases, Mitchell Robertson and Ruben Fridman. He polished his Spanish by watching English-language movies in Mexico City that were subtitled in Spanish. He built up a respectable computer repair business called Hospital de Computadoras "Accesa" that generated nearly $400,000 a year.
He had big customers, such as the insurer MetLife, and was close to signing a contract with the local health department when on Feb. 1, 2011, U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials arrested Zachs in Leon, Guanajuato, as he traveled between his home and business. He refused to provide his date of birth, but admitted his true identity and asked to speak to an attorney.
Authorities located him by tracking the movement of money from his father, Frederick Zachs, to employees of the elder Zachs’ company, to Adam Zachs. He was extradited back to Hartford five months later and placed in prison. Frederick Zachs was convicted of helping his son avoid capture and was sentenced to six months in a federal prison.
The habeas petition seeking a new trial was filed in early 2012 and has been pending ever since.
Zachs has claimed that Carone’s death was the result of an accidental discharge of the gun. When Romano wanted to have the gun tested by a firearms expert, state prosecutors acknowledged that it was gone.
The habeas petition argues that Zachs deserves a new trial because of ineffective counsel by Daly, who has since died. Among the claims is that Daly should have sought a mistrial after he realized that two state witnesses who were going to testify against Zachs had been longtime clients of Daly’s.
The judge appointed another attorney to cross-examine the two witnesses but they weren’t cross-examined. That attorney, Brian W. Wice from Texas, was supposed to be Zachs’ attorney but he couldn’t because a judge denied his petition to be admitted to the Connecticut bar.
Romano is also arguing that decision was unjust and that Wice should have been allowed to be Zachs’ attorney instead of Daly, who pursued the defense strategy that Zachs suffered from post traumatic stress.
“The only reasonable defense that could have been raised was that Mr. Zachs was guilty of manslaughter,” Romano said.
In its motions, the state is asking for Zachs’ habeas petition to be dismissed because after nearly 30 years records from his trial are sparse. The judge, prosecutor and defense attorney from the trial have all died. There is no transcript of the hearing in which Wice was denied entrance to the Connecticut bar.
Wice is one of the witnesses expected to testify at the habeas trial. Adam Zachs is also listed as a defense witness. The state lists members of Carone’s family and Kathleen O’Brien, Peter Carone’s former girlfriend who was at the bar that night, among its witnesses.
Assistant State’s Attorney Jo Anne Sulik also argued that Zachs should not be rewarded for fleeing the country, saying the delay in filing the habeas petition is “inexcusable.”
“He could have surrendered at any time and challenged the conviction,” Sulik wrote. “He did not do so. Instead he waited until after he was captured.”