Leisa Pyatt, In My Own Words
In a moment of desperate fear of losing my life and that of my child's, I reached for a knife exposed by the broken panel Kevin had just kicked from a drawer and put the knife between me and him. Kevin was drunk, high and in a rage. We were having a fight over him drinking and driving. We had just fought on our balcony where he tried to throw me over and was choking me. He threatened to kill me and my son. In defense of my son and myself, I put the knife between us and tried to keep him away from me and my son. In his rage and my fear the extremely sharp fishing knife penetrated his chest ¾ of an inch. Within seconds of this happening, I was on the balcony screaming for help to the ambulance workers below who had just witnessed us struggling on the balcony. For my actions, I was found guilty of pre-meditated murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison and will not be eligible for parole for 30 years.
What happened after this was a long series of nightmares for me and my family. What is to follow is a synopsis of what occurred.
A. I got immediate help for Kevin. Right outside of the apartment was the first aid squad building. Kevin waited for over an hour in the hospital before receiving any medical treatment. Kevin had two damaged arteries in his heart. If the doctors had given him the proper treatment he most likely would not have died. This information was not allowed to be brought into the trial. Details in the appendix, paragraph A.
B. When I arrived at the County Jail, Sgt. Garabaldi noticed the bruises on my neck. Photographs were taken showing that I had been choked. These photographs were later “lost”. The photographs were documented. This information was not allowed in court. Details in the appendix, paragraph B.
C. An old girlfriend of Kevin's was to testify on my behalf supporting Kevin's abusive behavior. She was physically beaten by Kevin with a closet pole according to police reports. The defense flew her out from Washington State. Unknown to the defense, she was met by and stayed with Kevin's family, secretly met with the prosecutor and then testified against me. Details in the appendix, paragraph C.
D. My friend, Ray Dougherty, was a witness to Kevin's physical abuse towards me and the bruises I received. Ray died just before my trial, without my lawyer getting a written statement from him. Details in the appendix, paragraph D.
E. My original public defender was reassigned and her job was threatened when she tried to help me with an appeal. A new public defender was assigned. He made himself scarce to me and later admitted to making serious errors in my trial. He had never represented any one on trial for murder before me. Details in the appendix, paragraph E.
F. I was never presented with a plea bargain. A plea was offered for a 20 year sentence, my public defender never relayed this offer to me. An appeal was filed. The result was that the Judge's determination was that I would have turned down the plea offer anyway. Therefore I lost the appeal. The Judge made many determinations based on his beliefs not on facts.
G. In May of 1999 a bill (A259) went into law. I along with the battered woman's shelter, Strengthen Our Sisters, campaigned heavily for this bill to be enacted. This law changes the Duty to Retreat Doctrine. This law now states that a person now has the right to defend themselves and/or minor child in their own home in a domestic violence situation. The law was enacted too late for me.
I have been incarcerated now for 12 years. I, who defended myself and most importantly my son, who I long to be with and my small daughter, must spend my days knowing the injustices that are keeping us apart. Not seeing them grow up and not being part of their lives is the worst punishment I could ever receive. I only protected my child, now, I never see him.
A. The expert medical testimony stating that Kevin never should have died had he received adequate medical attention at the hospital was never heard by the jurors. The judge said that this information was irrelevant. Though liquids were administered in the emergency room, Kevin was bleeding internally and he was not given blood until he was taken to the operating room an hour and five minutes after he had been admitted… a hard fact documented by the hospital reports and autopsy reports. Dr. A. Scotti, a forensic pathologist and veteran Chief of Staff and Dr. J. Adams, a forensic pathologist who has testified in hundreds of murder trials, confirmed this fact. Neither doctor was permitted to testify. Back to Leisa's own words.
B. The nurse at the jail was not permitted to testify to the jury as to the bruises on Leisa's neck from the struggle that night. Pictures of these bruises were taken by Sergeant Garibaldi when she was brought to the county jail that night. These photographs were later lost and never produced as evidence during the trial. The nurse who saw the bruises was needed to testify as a result. The judge denied her as a witness. The prosecutor objected to having her as a witness saying she would be introduced too late into the trial process. Back to Leisa's own words.
C. In response to Leisa's attorney's request, Kevin's former girlfriend agreed to testify at the trial. She was physically hit by Kevin with a closet pole and had called the police for help. Lisa's attorney failed to have her commit in writing ahead of time (in order to be prepared) what she might say in court. The public defense office paid to fly Kevin's former girl friend from Washington State to New Jersey. The prosecutor informed Kevin's family of the situation. Kevin's family met her at the airport. She stayed with them at their house. She met secretly several times with the prosecutor prior to her testimony and had no meeting with Lisa's lawyer. When asked in court about the abuse from Kevin, she testified that there wasn't any and that she had lied to the police on the occasion when she herself called for help. She stated that she loved Kevin and was sorry that she had left him. Back to Leisa's own words.
D. Lisa's best witness, a man who had been present during several occasions when Kevin had been abusive died two weeks before the trial so his testimony was never heard. His name was Ray Doughtery and Lisa continuously informed her public defender, newly assigned (Kevin Young), of Mr. Doughtery's dire health. He did not get any type of written statement, deathbed affidavit or documentation of their conversation. Back to Leisa's own words.
E. Lisa's original court appointed public defender, Bonnie Richmond, was a competent attorney who believed that Lisa would likely be acquitted or, at the very worse face an aggravated man slaughter charge. But Richmond was pulled from the case at the last minute. According to Ms. Richmond's affidavit, her job had been threatened by the head of the Public Defenders Office in Trenton when she attempted to continue to represent Lisa through an appeal. Lisa's new Public Defender, Kevin Young, seemed disinterested and ignored Lisa and her family's suggestions for witnesses and ideas they had which may have helped. The appeal for the reassignment of the prior attorney cost Lisa's father his retirement fund and the loss of his home in New Jersey. The appeal was based on several factors, one of which was the ineptness of the representation by an attorney who was getting married in a few weeks of the trial and made himself scarce to Lisa and her family throughout the process. He later admitted having made serious errors. Back to Leisa's own words.
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The Justice for Mothers and Children group have been gathering letters of support to accompany Leisa's clemency appeal. Those interested in helping should send two signed letters requesting clemency for Leisa, to Governor Jon Corzine, POB 001, Trenton, NJ with The words "Leisa Pyatt Clemency Support" on the envelope. Those seeking additional information, a copy of the video, or wanting to help can call Sandra Ramos at 973-831-6156, or Karin Westdyk at 973-728-7880, or email us.