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Judge asked to toss charges; Men juveniles when indicted.

Byline: Gary V. Murray

WORCESTER - A judge was asked yesterday to reconsider her earlier denial of a motion to dismiss murder indictments against two Milford teenagers charged in a fatal stabbing two years ago.

Lawyers for Patrick I. Powell and Vinnie Ruscitti, both 16 when they were charged in the Jan. 6, 2006, stabbing death of 21-year-old Daniel Columbo, maintained in their motion to dismiss that subjecting their clients to mandatory life sentences without parole if they were convicted of first-degree murder would amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the state and federal constitutions. Mr. Powell's lawyers, John G. Swomley and Kenneth J. King and lawyer Michael S. Hussey, representing Mr. Ruscitti, challenged the constitutionality of a state law requiring that murder suspects between the ages of 14 and 17 be tried as adults and face the same penalties as adult offenders if found guilty.

They contended that juvenile offenders are less culpable than adults who commit the same crimes because of the youths' cognitive and psychological immaturity.

Finding that the issues raised by the defense were not yet ripe for the court's consideration, Judge Kathe M. Tuttman denied the motion last month. The judge said the motion could be renewed in the event either defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment without parole.

Mr. King asked Judge Tuttman during a hearing yesterday in Worcester Superior Court to reconsider her denial of the motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, to report the questions of law raised in the motion to the state Appeals Court for its consideration. Mr. King said the legal issues raised on behalf of Mr. Powell and Mr. Ruscitti were "of substantial public import" to warrant consideration by an appellate court before trial.

He said the Worcester Superior Court case stemming from the killing of Mr. Columbo during a fight outside the victim's Milford home was among several prosecutions statewide involving murder suspects between the ages of 14 and 17.

Assistant District Attorney Eduardo O. Velazquez opposed the request for reconsideration, saying a grand jury had determined there was sufficient evidence to charge Mr. Powell and Mr. Ruscitti with murder.

"We're looking for a trial date," the prosecutor told the judge.

Mr. Hussey also asked Judge Tuttman to amend her ruling to allow the renewal of the motion to dismiss after any first-degree murder conviction in the case, but prior to sentencing.

Judge Tuttman took all of the requests under advisement and continued the case to April 17 for a final pretrial conference.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 25, 2008
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