More than 30 years ago, a 16-year-old boy killed a retired editor of Reader’s Digest and beat her helpless, disabled husband nearly to death in their suburban Westchester home.
With the killer, Terry Losicco, now coming up for parole, a Manhattan corporate lawyer has taken on a campaign to ensure the inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility remains in prison.
Scott Saks of Paul Hastings not only lives in the still-angry community where 67-year-old Eleanor Prouty was allegedly sodomized and strangled and where her husband, Norman, also 67, was bludgeoned in 1980; he and his wife, attorney Victoria Rosman Saks who has a practice in Katonah, and their young children live in the house where the crime occurred.
Scott Saks, left, and Brooks Prouty, grandson of Eleanor Prouty Photo: Victoria Rosman Saks
"In New York State, if you ask [whether a crime occurred in a house for sale], they have to tell you," said Saks, who bought the home in Somers from a subsequent owner, not the Prouty family.
Oddly, his previous home in Chappaqua also had been the site of a murder, apparently an early 1900s mob hit, he said.
"The question we asked was: ‘Is this house haunted?’ And the answer was ‘no.’ We didn’t think to ask the next question, whether there was any reason for the house to be haunted," Saks said.
Saks, who concentrates on securities, capital markets, and corporate transactional law in Manhattan, said that even if he had known in advance of the gruesome crime that occurred in the northeastern Westchester house he would have bought it anyway.
But he said his daily exposure to the crime scene sparked his curiosity about the victims, and the more he learned about them the more he was repulsed by what Losicco did and the more he became convinced the killer should never return to society.
"If someone has been in prison since they were 16 and are now 50 the chances of him being rehabilitated are zero," Saks said. "He has spent two-thirds of his life doing hard time."
Eleanor Prouty—known as "Ellie"—was one of the first women to ever hold a senior editing position at what was then the largest circulation magazine in the world, according to her grandson, Brooks Prouty of Manhattan.
Ms. Prouty was also active in the community and served on the local school board. Mr. Prouty had been a pioneer in radio and advertising, but his career was cut short by crippling multiple sclerosis. By 1980, he was bed-ridden and defenseless.
The Proutys were community-minded advocates for youth detained at Lincoln Hall, a juvenile facility a couple of miles from their home, and frequently hired the boys to rake leaves and perform other chores, according to the family.
In the early morning hours of May 25, 1980, Losicco and David Hollis escaped from the juvenile facility and broke into the Prouty home.
Mr. Prouty was bludgeoned with a piece of firewood as he lay helpless in bed. Ms. Prouty was beaten, kicked and sodomized before she was strangled, according to various documents.
Losicco was connected to the crime in part because of the boot print he left on Ms. Prouty’s face, records show. The carnage was discovered by their 9-year-old granddaughter who lived next door and went to visit her grandparents that Sunday morning.
Hollis was convicted of felony murder and served a 20-year-to-life term before he was released in 2010.
Losicco was convicted of intentional murder, burglary, robbery and other crimes and sentenced to a 25-year-to-life term, the maximum permitted at the time.
The sentencing judge, Justice Angelo Ingrassia, now of Larkin, Axelrod, Ingrassia & Tetenbaum in Middletown, said at the time that he could not recall "a more brutal or vicious crime," and made clear in the record that in his view Losicco should never get out of prison.
But under state law, Losicco became eligible for parole after serving the minimum of his indeterminate sentence, 25 years, and is entitled to consideration anew every two years. Even though Losicco has been denied release four times, his parole hearings every 24 months inflict a "continuous crime by the state" against the survivors and the community, Saks said.
"In 1980, sentencing laws were weak because of a misguided view that everyone is capable of rehabilitation," Saks said. "That is just not the case and the risk of recidivism and harm to the community is just so great for some individuals. Although I don’t believe in the death penalty, I do believe in life without parole."
Brooks Prouty, who was 15 when his grandparents were attacked, said the parole hearings are like salt in an open wound.
"It’s excruciating," he said. "It’s one thing to remember, another to be reminded. I loved my grandparents—and especially my grandmother. However, the frequency of the parole hearings is punishing on all of us because we are reminded that not only was Ellie killed, but she suffered horribly. To wake up to Terry Losicco and David Hollis in your bedroom—I can’t even imagine, frankly—horror beyond words."
Records suggest that Losicco, who will turn 50 in June, has been a model prisoner, earning various academic credentials and staying out of trouble since he became prisoner #81B1188 shortly after President Ronald Reagan first took office.
Prouty is not impressed.
"I have no idea what sort of a person Terry Losicco has become, nor do I particularly care," Prouty said in a statement to the parole board. "Even if he were a model prisoner—even a great humanitarian—I would adamantly oppose parole… He committed a heinous crime whose aftermath my family and I still struggle to live with."
At his 2011 parole interview (See Transcript), Losicco complained that he had been "over-indicted," should have been convicted of only felony murder and denied performing a sex act on Ms. Prouty, an assertion that contradicts a statement submitted to the parole board by Assistant District Attorney Patricia Murphy of Westchester County, chief of the superior court trial division.
In a letter to the parole board in 2005, when the inmate first became eligible, Murphy described Losicco as "evil" and said the crime was among the most vicious she had ever encountered. She said Losicco wasn’t content with simply beating and kicking Ms. Prouty as she lay on the floor.
"Still not satiated by his violent acts, this defendant then ripped her nightgown aside and anally sodomized Mrs. Prouty as she lay dying, blood gurgling from her face and mouth," Murphy said in the letter. "Defendant then strangled the life out of a woman who had shown nothing but kindness to the residents of Lincoln Hall."
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore stands by the 2005 letter and continues to oppose parole, according to her spokesman, Lucien Chalfen.
Prouty has launched an online petition opposing parole. More than 1,000 people have signed it, many of them describing Losicco in terms such as "monster" and "piece of crap," and some of them threatening retribution. One suggested that opponents pool their resources to hire a hit man.
"The Prouty family and all the people who have publicly commented on the matter do not want Losicco to be granted parole—ever—not in 10 years, not in 20, not in 30," Prouty said.
Saks, who like the sentencing judge believes life-without-parole would be appropriate in this case, recognizes that such a sentence most likely could not be imposed retroactively.
However, he said the law should be changed to stretch the period between parole hearings to five years, so the Prouty family and the community of Somers do not have to relive the horrors of May 25, 1980, so frequently.
State Senator Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, has introduced legislation (S.2486) that would amend the executive law and provide for parole interviews at 60-month rather than 24-month intervals.
"Each time an inmate is considered for parole, the victim and his/her family is required to relive the [horror] of the crime for the sake of impressing upon the Parole Board the inappropriateness of early release," LaValle said in his bill justification.
In addition, the local state senator, Greg Ball, R-Patterson, has joined the online petition and issued a press release opposing Losicco’s release.
"It is clear that Terry Losicco’s release will create a clear and present danger to our community and especially the Prouty family," Ball said in the press release.
But Cheryl Kates, an attorney in Victor, Ontario County, who advocates for inmates and for parole reform, said Losicco should be evaluated on objective criteria, not on the subjective sentiments of the community or politicians.
"I am strongly opposed to public opinion pressuring the parole board," said Kates, who has no involvement with this case. Apparently, Losicco is unrepresented.
"The hearing should be held by the book, and based on the law and whether the individual presents as someone who is ready to re-integrate into society," Kates said.
She points to research on the adolescent mind, indicating that youth, particularly those using drugs—and in this case Losicco says he was high on marijuana and angel dust—lack the maturity to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions.
She said a crime committed so long ago by a teen is not an indication of any current danger to society, and contends that extending the period between parole interviews would amount to an unconstitutional resentencing.
Statistically, if Losicco is released his chances of re-offending are slim, state records show.
Murderers released on parole consistently have the lowest recidivism rate of former offenders and, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, are far less likely to return to prison than other felons.
Saks is not persuaded.
He said the pure "rage" Losicco harbored in 1980 raises a question of whether those demons can ever be exorcised.
"Simply put, when you commit a murder you are now in a class of individuals who have the propensity to do it again, even if you don’t act on it," said Saks, who is attempting to drum up support for the petition as well as legislation that would extend the period between parole interviews.
"Releasing anybody with that propensity is an injustice for those in society who are innocent and could be harmed," Saks said. "It is for this exact reason that I believe there needs to be parole reform to close the loophole created by the period of time when there was no true life sentence in New York."
Saks said neither he nor his wife paid attention to criminal law until they embraced the Prouty case.
"I, never in my wildest dreams, thought that I would ever have an interest in criminal law," Saks said. "I do have a real fascination with criminal law now."
He said that like many others, he assumed that elected officials got it right and were "protecting all of us." But after learning about the Prouty case and others, he said, "My views have changed. I am not convinced that others have it under control and I think there has been complacency that has enabled some to shape the laws in ways that many would find shocking had they focused or known some of the more bizarre outcomes."
@|John Caher can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.