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The widow of a New Jersey police officer slain 45 years ago is going after the man once accused of killing him in a civil wrongful death and survivorship action. Elizabeth Bernoskie, 72, is suing Robert Zarinsky, the man accused of murdering Rahway, N.J., police officer Charles Bernoskie, and his accomplice, Theodore Schiffer, for damages in excess of $1 million. Bernoskie v. Zarinsky, No. UNN L-1111-00 (Sup. Ct. Union City, 2003). The lawsuit went to trial last Monday, and was still before the jury at press time. In another twist to a strange case, Zarinsky, 62, was acquitted in 2001 for the 1958 murder. State v. Zarinsky, No. 00-03-00285, (Sup. Ct. Union City, 2001). Kenneth Javerbaum of Springfield, N.J.’s Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks & Zarin, who is representing Elizabeth Bernoskie, noted that Zarinsky inherited $250,000, from his mother, which he had invested in the stock market behind bars. Since 1975, Zarinsky has been serving a 98-year prison term for the murder of a 17-year old New Jersey girl. In 1999, shortly after the civil action was filed, Zarinsky, who is representing himself, moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it is barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. The trial court’s denial of Zarinsky’s motion was affirmed by the appellate court in 2001. The appellate court stated that the normal two-year statutes of limitations period for filing a wrongful death and survivorship action-which would have precluded the widow’s suit-did not apply, because the plaintiff had not known who the shooter was until 1999, when new evidence revealing Zarinsky’s involvement came to light. Bernoskie v. Zarinsky, A-1469-00T1 (Sup. Ct. of NJ, App. Div., 2001). Schiffer, 64, did not file a motion to dismiss the complaint. James Donnelly, an assistant prosecutor in Union County who tried Zarinsky, would not comment on the civil case. A 1958 shooting On Nov. 28, 1958, Zarinsky and Schiffer allegedly broke into Miller Pontiac/Cadillac car dealership in Rahway. The pair were allegedly robbing the business when Bernoskie surprised them. Bernoskie was shot three times in the head and chest and died shortly thereafter. The case remained the oldest unsolved murder in Union County until 1999, when Zarinsky accused his brother-in-law of stealing money from his bank account while he was in prison. During the embezzlement investigation, Zarinsky’s sister, Judith, told police that she had witnessed Zarinsky admit to their mother that he had shot a police officer. Schiffer pleaded guilty to felony murder in 2001 and served 15 years in prison in exchange for a “blow by blow” account of what happened that night, which corroborated Sapsa’s testimony. Despite the evidence, Zarinsky was acquitted by the 12-person jury. Donnelly blamed the jury verdict on what he called the “CSI syndrome,” referring to the popular criminal scene investigation television show. “Sometimes people discount eyewitnesses or statement-type eyewitnesses and would rather hang their hats on something scientific,” he said. “We thought we had done that with the bullet fragments in Zarinsky’s back, but the jury wasn’t satisfied.” The biggest draw to trying the case in civil court is the benefit of the lower burden of proof that must be met for the plaintiff to win, said Javerbaum. According to Donnelly, the criminal standard of proof was that a juror had to be “firmly convinced” of the defendant’s guilt. If not, the jurors were instructed to “give [Zarinsky] the benefit of the doubt,” he said. This time, the burden of proof is “in my favor,” said Javerbaum. “To quantify it, I just have to prove [Zarinsky's guilt] by 50.1%,” whereas “beyond a reasonable doubt is close to 95%,” he added. To date, Zarinsky has maintained his innocence. Song’s e-mail is [email protected].

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