Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Zarinsky

Order In The Court!

The prosecution and defense presented their opening statements.

Kolano walked the jury through the tragic events of November 28, 1958; a night that climaxed when Zarinsky shot Bernoskie twice in the chest and once in the face.

Benedict claimed that Zarinsky had been falsely charged, and that Schiffer and Judith Sapsa, as reported in the Spectator-Leader, were "...liars, cheats, and a murderer...Benedict told the jury that Sapsa and Schiffer were caught and were making deals with the prosecution...Sapsa knew about Zarinsky's scar and...(Benedict) contended that Schiffer was given a script of Sapsa's statements in order to properly implicate Zarinsky."

"Sapsa and Schiffer had credibility issues," Benedict said. "I told the jury that they would have difficulty believing either of these people...and if they did believe them beyond a reasonable doubt they should find him guilty. Zarinsky was upset with me for putting all our eggs in one basket, but I thought that was our best chance of succeeding. I set the bar and said, 'Now try and cross it...'"

A group of witnesses were paraded onto the stand, starting with Elizabeth Bernoskie.

Elizabeth Bernoskie on the stand
Elizabeth Bernoskie on the stand

She identified her husband's uniform, stated that when he went to work...it didn't have bullet holes.

"It was heart wrenching," Benedict said. "It was very effective by the prosecutor to do that because it was pretty moving stuff. I was really impressed with her. She treated me with the utmost courtesy during the course of the trial. Her family had great dignity. She was obviously a strong woman to raise the family the way that she did."

Benedict declined cross-examination.

But Schiffer...he attacked.

"I asked Schiffer if he was a 'yes man,'" Benedict said. "He said, 'no.' Then I went through his original statement and found 27 yes answers in a row. So basically his statement was saying, 'Yes...yes...yes...'"

Benedict found four specific areas in the statement that were inconsistent with his yes answers (ie: Schiffer initially stated he had been shot in the lower left side, not the chest...).

Judith Sapsa was a completely different story.

"She was a hostile witness...very good for the prosecution. I had a tough time developing any inconsistencies."

But then Judith Sapsa faltered.

"The issue arose about her son who worked as a prison guard," Benedict said. "It ended up that he worked at the same facility as Zarinsky. You are not supposed to work at the same facility if you have a relative there. The son claimed that he never said anything, because he didn't want anyone to know that he was related to Zarinsky. And she (Judith Sapsa) outright lied about it...she denied that her son knew about Zarinsky. She was trying to protect him. We just happen to catch her in a lie and that was the first part of my strategy. You could not believe these people to convict somebody beyond a reasonable doubt..."

Zarinsky in court, listens to testimony
Zarinsky in court, listens to testimony

Then Zarinsky himself took the stand.

"I didn't want him to testify, but he insisted," said Benedict. "He said the reason he was found guilty in his other case (Calandriello) was because he never got to take the stand. He blamed it on taking his lawyer's advice."

Zarinsky had over the years fancied himself "a jailhouse lawyer."

"He (Zarinsky) was one of the brightest clients I ever had," said Benedict. "He knows the law. I had to do my homework before I had a meeting with him. I didn't want to be showed up. He'd ask me about how such and such a case applied. We had a lot of discussions about the legal issues in the case. Let me tell you how bright he is...during one of the pre-trial hearings a detective was testifying and we both noticed that he said something that was inconsistent with his grand jury testimony. Now I pull out the grand jury testimony and Zarinsky whispers in my ear, 'It's on page 76, line eight...,' and sure enough I go to page 76 and there's what I'm looking for." Zarinsky took the stand and steadfastly maintained his innocence.

He claimed that he had gone to a movie on the night in question, but that all those who could corroborate his story had died.

The prosecutor couldn't disprove his story, either.

The trial's most debated issue involved the scar on Zarinsky's back.

"The ultimate issue though, was whether the forensic evidence supported the state's case," said Benedict.

Zarinsky originally told investigators that an ex-girlfriend stabbed him with a pocketknife on Fourth of July weekend - 1958.

Kolano presented the chief medical examiner from Union County, who testified that photographs and X-rays of Zarinsky showed specks of metal fragments, possibly from an old bullet wound.

Benedict countered by putting a forensic pathologist on the stand, who refuted the evidence.

The Star-Ledger reported that the pathologist stated the scar was "more consistent with a stabbing than with a gunshot wound" and that the "specks were flaws in the film." (Mary Ann Spoto)

"The state's experts went too far," said Benedict. "They testified to something that they shouldn't have. If they were to have simply said, 'Hey, it looks like a bullet wound to me, and sometimes they don't leave shrapnel, my expert would have agreed with that..."

The trial went on for six days.

Benedict's closing statements echoed a familiar theme. According to the Star-Ledger, Schiffer and Judith Sapsa had lied "in order to win easier treatment from authorities in their own criminal cases.

"Kolano suggested the defense wants it both ways, saying that Benedict accepts Sapsa's claims about Schiffer but not about Zarinsky." (Mary Ann Spoto)

A jury of nine women and six men deliberated for two days.

"I've never seen a jury deliver a verdict like this...," said Benedict. "The men were visibly angry and the women were crying."

Zarinsky was acquitted.

According to Robert Hanley in the New York Times, "Afterwards, the jury foreman was quoted as saying that several jurors wanted to convict Mr. Zarinsky, but that the evidence did not establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt..."

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