Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Zarinsky

I'm Not a Lawyer

The trial opened in front of Superior Court Judge Thomas Lyons.

Javerbaum delivered an opening statement that was purposely understated. "I wanted to be credible," Javerbaum said. "I laid out an interesting story...the unique circumstances of the case. I didn't want the jury to think I was bullying Zarinsky."

Zarinsky picked-up his now familiar battle cry.

According to the Star-Ledger, "Zarinsky said his mother Veronica, father Julius and girlfriend Caroline could have corroborated his story that he spent November 28, 1958, the night of the shooting, at the movies." (Judith Lucas)

But all his witnesses were now dead.

He chose to attack Javerbaum instead.

"You've just heard Mr. Javerbaum talk," Zarinsky said. "I'm not a lawyer. I can't talk like Mr. Javerbaum. He's widely known as the F. Lee Bailey of Union County. Some people call him F. Lee Javerbaum."

Robert Zarinsky at his trial, testifying
Robert Zarinsky at his trial, testifying

Said Javerbaum, "I turned to the guys I knew from the prosecutor's office and I was like, 'Give me a break...,' He tried to paint himself as this poor, unarmed guy."

Javerbaum put Elizabeth Bernoskie on the stand and asked the jury to picture what she had gone through after her husband was killed:

She and her six children moved back in with her parents.

She went back to school and got a nursing degree.

She helped put each of her children through college.

Javerbaum called her "the most unpretentious woman you'll ever meet..."

Zarinsky's tense, but brief cross-examination involved the affidavit she gave to Javerbaum and the number of possible suspects the police said had been at the scene - two, maybe three.

The drama rose.

Judith Sapsa entered the courtroom in a wheelchair, pushed by her husband - Peter. Brother and sister would finally face off against each other one-on-one.

Zarinsky started off the questioning..., "Isn't it true Mommy always like me more than she liked you?"

"It was like watching two children," said Javerbaum.

Schiffer was next on the stand.

He had been released from Lakawanna County Jail in Scranton, Pa., after having served more than three years, and had received an additional five years probation and 300 days of community service.

The Bernoskie family had lost an appeal to keep Schiffer behind bars.

"Schiffer was now this meek, old guy," said Javerbaum. "It was clear he was not a leader. He was the kind of guy who would be happy with a beer and a Slim Jim."

Zarinsky called Schiffer a liar and said that he had made a deal with the devil.

Zarinsky's theory, which he explained in minute detail, was that Schiffer had been the one who committed the robbery along with two known burglars from Union County - Steve Kobe and Lenny Maher.

"But for a guy who had been in jail as long as Zarinksy, and who was charged with a crime that had taken place in 1958, it didn't seem possible that he could reconstruct a particular night from that long ago," said Javerbaum. "He (Zarinsky) didn't come off as particularly credible."

And the longer he cross-examined Schiffer the more he hurt his case.

"He probably had read some book about cross-examination, but it was kind of like having read a sex manual without ever having had sex. He understood the process, but he didn't have the experience. He couldn't separate what was important from what was not important...," Javerbaum said. "No matter how good a jailhouse lawyer he was, a trial case is something else." Zarinsky then put himself on the stand.

He referenced his dialogue with both a question and an answer.

Question: Mr. Zarinsky, did you murder officer Bernoskie?

Answer: Absolutely not...

And on and on for an entire day.

Javerbaum said Zarinsky, "...overstated his case. It got to the point that I think he actually believed the things he was trying to advance. He convinced himself that the facts were other than what they really were."

The jury rendered their verdict in under two hours.

Zarinsky was found guilty and Elizabeth Bernoskie was awarded $9.5 million.

"I cried," said Javerbaum.

The old adage proved true: He who defends himself has a fool for a client...

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