Niagara Gazette

April 25, 2014

Talks ensue as third trial nears for NT man accused of murder

By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Motions were discussed in Niagara County Court on Thursday regarding the third trial of Robie Drake, who has spent more than three decades in prison for the 1981 murder of two of his North Tonawanda High School classmates. 

Drake was first convicted in 1982 and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison, though a key witness, who testified on the nature of a bite mark found on one victim, was later discovered to be a janitor rather than an authority on the topic. 

 Drake’s sentence was lengthened during a second 2010 trial, before a 2012 ruling by a state appellate court found evidence from that trial to be inadmissible, and again declared a mistrial. 

On Thursday, the discussion largely centered on a 200-page motion filed by Drake’s defense team, county public defenders Christopher Privateer and Joseph Fraser, who tendered various requests to Judge Richard C. Kloch, who is overseeing the trial. 

While Kloch was ready to rule on the motions Wednesday, Privateer requested more time to file a response to the prosecution’s own 40-page motion led by Assistant District Attorney Thomas Brandt — an appeal that was granted with a deadline set for May 12.  

Among the volley of requests tendered by the defense and described by Kloch on Wednesday as “voluminous,” was a push to change the future trial to another jurisdiction, a measure already denied by a state appellate court earlier this year. Kloch, who oversaw Drake’s second trial in 2010, refused to recuse himself from the upcoming trial last year. 

The motion also asks that testimony gathered during previous trials be precluded from future court proceedings and that the trial take place in a larger courtroom within the Niagara County Courthouse. 

“This is not a specter, it’s a murder trial,” Kloch said to the request. “I didn’t see a problem in regards to this particular courtroom last time.”

“There’s important cases going on upstairs as well,” he added, in reference to a larger courtroom occupied by Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas.  

Brandt, the assistant district attorney, said many witnesses who testified in past trials have either died or are unavailable for testimony for Drake’s third trial, including an officer who responded in 1981 to the site of the alleged River Road murders, as well as “a friend of Robie Drake” and the victim’s parents. That scenario that will likely lead to arguments over the admissibility of past testimony. 

Both sides of the legal aisle are due back in court June 12 for a ruling on the motions.