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Electrician on trial in millionaire's killing

Suspect married victim's wife

By John Springer
Court TV

RIVERHEAD, New York (Court TV) -- Not since F. Scott Fitzgerald penned his novel "The Great Gatsby" has a Long Island murder case captivated residents like the one currently under way on the East End.

Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of Daniel Pelosi, a 40-year-old home improvement contractor who authorities say fell in love with another man's wife, and her millions.

Pelosi's 2002 marriage to Generosa Ammon was too much of a coincidence for police and prosecutors investigating the murder three months earlier of Ammon's husband. Theodore Ammon, an investment banker and philanthropist worth an estimated $100 million, was beaten to death by someone who may have carried a "stun gun" and knew how to disable a hidden security camera system installed in Ammon's East Hampton mansion without his knowledge.

Pelosi admits owning stun guns and having someone install the secret security system, but he denies any involvement in the vicious killing. Pelosi claims he was at his sister's house in another town, or on his way there, when Ted Ammon was involved in a violent struggle with his killer.

Rich man, poor man

Ammon, the chairman of Jazz at the Lincoln Center, was struck over the head at least 30 times. Fractured bones in his hands and chest suggested he put up a fight. At the time of the killing, the Ammons were just days away from finalizing a settlement in a bitter divorce battle.

Pelosi -- who has gotten into scrapes with the law for fighting, drunk driving and stealing electricity -- has called reporters from jail to protest his innocence and claim that he was targeted by investigators because he was a poor man running with a rich man's wife.

"I'm ready to go to trial," Pelosi, wearing a Navy blue blazer and tie-less light blue shirt, told state Supreme Court Judge Robert W. Doyle before lawyers began questioning prospective jurors individually.

"I am an innocent man. I'm ready to go to trial, your honor," said Pelosi, who remains held without bail.

Pelosi has been saying he is ready for trial since his March 24 arrest and arraignment. Believing prosecutors have only a weak circumstantial case, the defense originally requested that the trial begin in early summer.

"We've wanted to go to trial since the arraignment. We want to go to trial now," said lead defense attorney Gerald Schargel, a prominent Manhattan attorney whose list of former clients includes the late mob boss John Gotti.

Fight over stun gun experts

Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Janet Albertson sought to delay the start of jury selection to give her time to respond to a defense motion to keep out testimony from two stun gun experts. Because it would have delayed the start of the trial, the defense withdrew its request for a hearing on the scientific reliability of testimony expected to be offered by Dr. Michael Dobersen of Colorado and Dr. Robert Stratbucker of Nebraska.

The basis for the withdrawn motion was that no New York court has qualified a witness as an expert in stun guns, a nonlethal, hand-held device that immobilizes a person for as long as 30 minutes. Lawyers for Pelosi said they would deal with the issue when it comes time to cross-examine Dobersen and Stratbucker, who have offered sometimes conflicting opinions about whether a stun gun was used by the killer of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in Colorado in 1996.

"I think it is a very good motion. The only reason I'm withdrawing it is because there is no bail," Pelosi told the court.

Schargel told reporters to expect vigorous cross-examinations of the "so-called stun gun experts," who were shown photos of Ammon's wounds but did not have access to the body, which was cremated.

It was not until Pelosi volunteered to police that he owned a stun gun and surrendered it that investigators began pursuing a stun-gun theory, Schargel added. "There was no stun gun [used] here," he said.

Albertson, the prosecutor, suggested that the defense withdrew the motion because Pelosi's lawyers knew they were going to lose the "meritless" application to exclude stun gun evidence that is "not novel" and has been accepted in other courts.

Jury selection could take several weeks. The defense hired prominent jury consultant Robert Hirschhon, who helped billionaire New York real estate heir Robert Durst pick the panel that acquitted him of killing an elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas. Durst admitted dismembering the body but claimed the killing was in self-defense.

Pelosi's defense is being subsidized by the $2 million Generosa Ammon gave him when they divorced in 2003. She died of cancer a short time later at age 46. Pelosi is now engaged to a bank teller, who gave birth to his son on August 31.

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