The Law Tribune previews interesting or important cases most weeks when the state Appellate Court or the state Supreme Court are in session.
Case: State v. Sheila Davalloo
Court: Appellate Court
Date: Tuesday, May 27
Time: 2 p.m.
Attorneys: Timothy Sugrue; Mark Rademacher
Summary: A woman convicted of murder is appealing on grounds that the testimony of her now ex-husband was protected marital communications and should not have been used against her at her criminal trial.
Background: Sheila Davalloo’s twisted love triangle began in the early 2000s. She lived in Pleasantville, N.Y., with her husband, Paul Christos. She worked at the Stamford pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma.
There, she became obsessed with a co-worker, Nelson Sessler, and had an affair with him. She explained away the time she was spending with her lover by telling her husband she was staying with her sick brother.
At the same time, Sessler became involved with another Purdue Pharma co-worker, Anna Lisa Raymundo. By the summer of 2002, the two of them moved in together. Sessler broke off his sexual relationship with Davalloo.
By this time, Raymundo had left Purdue Pharma for a job with a New Jersey pharmaceutical company. However, she kept her place in Stamford and either commuted to Jersey or worked from home.
According to prosecutors, during this entire period Davalloo would tell her husband about a love triangle involving co-workers “Jack,” “Anna Lisa” and “Melissa.” She asked her husband why Jack would get involved with both women. She told him how it made Melissa upset when Jack seemed more interested in Anna Lisa. She told how Melissa would spy on Jack. Prosecutors now believe “Melissa” was really Davalloo.
On Nov. 8, 2002, Stamford police received a 911 call from a female who reported that a neighbor had been assaulted by a man. The call was traced to a pay phone near Raymundo’s condo complex. Officers discovered Raymundo’s body in her condo. An autopsy revealed she died of multiple stab wounds. There were signs of a bloody struggle; DNA evidence was collected.
In the next few weeks, Davalloo told her husband that “Melissa” was back with “Jack.” Davalloo also had a noticeable cut on her hand. Prosecutors say she began asking general questions about DNA evidence.
Police, meanwhile, had no idea of Davalloo’s possible involvement because Sessler wasn’t forthcoming about that relationship. After the killing, Davalloo and Sessler became involved again. As Davalloo’s so-called visits to her brother’s place increased, her husband became annoyed.
One night, Davalloo enticed her husband to play a “guessing game.” He was blindfolded and handcuffed. When his wife climbed on top of him, the husband said it felt “like a dumbbell was dropped” on his chest twice. The wife told him she accidentally injured him with a candle. When he looked in a mirror, he noticed wounds in his side.
Davalloo had stabbed her husband twice with a 4-inch kitchen knife. But he didn’t know that yet. He begged his wife to drive him to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y. After parking, she stabbed him several more times. As they struggled, Davalloo told him he was interfering with her relationship with her brother.
At the hospital Christos, then 37, was saved by open-heart surgery to repair a cardiac artery. Davalloo, now 44, was convicted of attempted murder in New York in 2004 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
In 2007, Stamford investigators finally amassed enough evidence to charge Davalloo with Raymundo’s murder. Following a 2012 trial, at which Davalloo represented herself, she was convicted and sentenced to 50 more years in prison. During the trial, the prosecution used statements made by Davalloo’s husband to police about the conversations involving “Melissa.”
Davalloo’s appellate lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Mark Rademacher, is challenging Davalloo’s murder conviction, with one argument being that her conversations with her husband were privileged marital communications that the state should not have been allowed to use as evidence.
The trial judge defended the admission of the testimony. The court felt “it would be bizarre to classify [Davalloo's statements] as in furtherance of the sanctity of the marital relationship,” when they were made to further her pursuit of another man, to plan the murder of her rival and ultimately, to end her own marriage.
Rademacher argues that when a marriage is on the ropes, marital privilege becomes even more important.
“The intent of the privilege is to promote future marital harmony regardless of the present state of the marriage,” writes Rademacher in his brief. “Indeed, spouses in a marriage that is breaking up are more likely to need to feel free to communicate their deepest feelings to each other without fear of later exposure than those in a smoothly functioning marriage. The trial court’s ruling is unworkable and unfair; there is no ‘marital health’ requirement behind the privilege.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue says the husband’s testimony was rightly admitted into evidence.
“The communications relating to the saga of ‘Melissa’, and those concerning the defendant’s brother, were not protected confidential marital communications because they embodied essential falsehoods that deceived Christos regarding the defendant’s true aim, which was to take up with another man. As such, they manifestly were not induced by the affection, confidence, loyalty and integrity of the marital relationship,” write Sugrue. “On the contrary, these communications tricked the gullible Christos into unwittingly providing the defendant with advice, information, and assistance in her quest to impair their marital union by rekindling her romance with Sessler.”•