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The case had everything inquiring minds want to know: murder in a mansion, sex, jealousy, a millionaire Russian �migr�, and a star prosecution witness called Messiah Justice, who seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth. Small wonder that two young prosecutors assigned to the splashy Staten Island, N.Y., slaying of Borys Kiejliches had difficulty with the Richmond County district attorney’s strict rule on juicy business: When besieged by crime reporters, keep your mouth shut. It is human nature, after all, to gab about one’s work with friends and family. But when the shoptalk gets as racy as the Kiejliches case (pronounced Kuh-LEECH-ess) just how are trial attorneys to conduct themselves? How do they remain focused on lawyering when the media employs, so to speak, a full-court press? And which side benefits more from colluding with reporters — prosecution or defense? For assistant district attorneys Wanda DeOliveira and Mark A. Palladino, the Kiejliches trial was as much a lesson in media savvy as it was a prosecution victory. The late Mr. Kiejliches’ widow, Elena, 36, was convicted of second-degree murder in June, largely on the say-so of Justice, a former lover whom city tabloids have described as an “aspiring rap artist.” Jurors deliberated merely three hours, asking for no testimony read-backs or document reviews, before finding Mrs. Kiejliches guilty. Defense counsel filed a motion to appeal. According to Monica Brown, spokeswoman for Staten Island District Attorney William L. Murphy, Justice cut a deal: In return for a recommendation of leniency on a guilty plea to evidence tampering and hindering prosecution, he testified about how Mrs. Kiejliches phoned him after shooting her husband in the back of the head; how he rushed to their Todt Hill mansion and helped the widow roll up her husband’s body in carpet; how he hid the body in an abandoned building in Brooklyn, then later retrieved the corpse and dumped it into Jamaica Bay; and finally, how Mrs. Kiejliches took her two children to Disney World the very next day. While Mr. Kiejliches’ body eventually washed ashore in Queens, Justice was a no-show at his sentencing last month in State Supreme Court in St. George. A bench warrant has been issued. With such drama came questions from the press — in this case all the way from Russia, not to mention the scandal-friendly National Enquirer. “You can’t just ignore it,” said DeOliveira. “But if you start obsessing about the newspapers, it will completely cloud your judgment.” When the Enquirer rang up on behalf of its 2.8 million readers, DeOliveira routed the calls to Brown. “I remember saying, ‘Thanks, Monica, but that’s the last thing I need now,’” said DeOliveira, 35, a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law. With reference to the boss’ dictum on official circumspection, Palladino, 35, a graduate of Syracuse University College of Law, said, “This case definitely tested us, especially since the defense spent a lot of time with the media.” Not quite so, countered Mrs. Kiejliches’ counselors, Staten Island criminal defense lawyers Mark J. Fonte and John M. Murphy, Jr. (no relation to the district attorney). During pretrial proceedings before New York Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney, in fact, Fonte said he “went crazy” in objecting to prosecutorial press manipulation. “They said they intended to show that the defendant [Mrs. Kiejliches] was nothing more than a penniless prostitute when she met her husband in Moscow,” said Fonte. “The press was scribbling this down. They knew it would never be allowed in at trial. They attempted to poison our client in the press right at the jury selection.” But DeOliveira strongly suggested that each side, in its own way, plays to the court of public opinion. “These particular defense attorneys were in bed with the press,” she said. “They had a photo shoot [in the Staten Island Advance] where they tried to change her image.” According to court papers, Mrs. Kiejliches allegedly stabbed and bit yet another lover during a spat. Charges of assault and weapons possession were dismissed in Manhattan criminal court because, according to DeOliveira’s brief, the alleged victim “feared for his life” and declined to testify. Murphy, the defense lawyer, acknowledged being cozy with the press during trial because, “We’re basically fresh-air lawyers letting in the light of day, and the prosecution’s witness [the missing Justice] was such a horrendous liar.” Murphy painted Justice as the real killer, and made sure the press knew the aspiring rapper’s police rap sheet: 11 arrests under various aliases on such charges as rape, burglary and robbery. Although her mother collected clippings of the trial and took them to bingo parlor sessions to share with friends, DeOliveira said: “Media can’t be your focus. You have to just go to court and do battle. When friends ask me about a case, I don’t say ‘I can’t talk about it’ because that angers people. I change the subject or shy away from it or say ‘I’ll talk to you about it afterwards.’” “This was my biggest case, in terms of media attention,” said Palladino. “It was hard. But you have to remember, winning the battle in the newspaper is not what it’s about. Face it, the defense can use [the media] more than we can. When we do it, we’re playing with fire. “Plenty gets out from court,” he added. “So let it. Take the high road. Express some outrage. Maybe get your point out between the lines. The reporters are going to be there every day.” GETTING THE STORY OUT Veteran criminal defense lawyer Joseph Tacopina, formerly a prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, said trial attorneys have no choice but to play to the press — especially on behalf of defendants. “In this day and age of the Internet and 24-hour cable television, the story is going to get out,” said Tacopina, 36. “The presumption of innocence will be a fiction unless you’ve defended your client in the press. “I’ve had my share of big [media-intense] cases, and I’ve learned to employ a filter system that fits between my mouth and my brain. I try to think out what I’m going to say before I return a reporter’s call.” Tacopina added, “I’ve seen too many defense lawyers treat the press like they’re garbage. Media relations is something they should give a course on in law school.”

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