The Connecticut Law Tribune by Christian Nolan - January 25, 2011
Longtime Waterbury State’s Attorney John Connelly will be remembered for trying more death penalty and murder cases than possibly any other prosecutor in the state’s history.
But whether that’s what he’ll be remembered for most is still up in the air. Connelly, according to sources, is a target of a federal investigation into alleged preferential treatment to clients of a close friend on the other side of the courtroom – Waterbury defense lawyer Martin Minnella, of Moynahan & Minnella. While that investigation is ongoing, Connelly, 61, has decided to retire. A statement issued by state Supreme Court Justice Richard N. Palmer, chair of the Criminal Justice Commission, said Connelly’s retirement “follows an inquiry undertaken by the Commission into allegations regarding Mr. Connelly’s conduct while in office.” Palmer further stated that, because the commission’s inquiry involved a personnel matter, and because the allegations have been the subject of an investigation by federal authorities, he was not free to discuss details. Palmer said the commission was prepared to take action against Connelly but that since Connelly decided to step down, “any such action has been rendered unnecessary.” Connelly’s lawyer, however, Hugh F. Keefe, of Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante in New Haven, said the prosecutor retired due to health reasons. Connelly referred comment for this article to Keefe. Keefe explained that just over a year ago, Connelly was diagnosed with two separate forms of cancer, colon and rectal. Connelly had surgery for the colon cancer and because of complications from the surgery, had to go in for a second surgery soon thereafter. Afterward, Keefe said Connelly did a year-long course of chemotherapy that just wrapped up two months ago. “When you are diagnosed with a serious disease, your perspective as to what’s really important changes,” said Keefe. “He wanted to concentrate on getting better. His focus is on getting well. His priority now is health, family and friends.” When asked about the investigation, Keefe said: “I was informed some time ago that John was not a target of it and have no reason to believe that’s not changed.” Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said he could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is taking place or that a grand jury has been empanelled.
According to various sources, federal investigators are looking into possible evidence that Connelly’s and Minnella’s friendship has led to special treatment for some of Minnella’s clients. The sources claim the two often traveled to Las Vegas, with Minnella paying the way. Minnella’s lawyer, Norman Pattis, of Bethany, did not return repeated calls for this story. But Pattis has previously told the Law Tribune that he had met with federal officials about such claims and that, in his view, there was “no evidence” to support them. However, one defense lawyer has gone to court to try to get his client’s case moved to another jurisdiction because he believes the client could get a raw deal in Waterbury. The reason: the lawyer says his client has been cooperating with federal authorities in the investigation of Connelly and Minnella. The lawyer, Michael Moscowitz, of Moscowitz & Giovanniello LLC in New Haven, filed motions to get his client’s case, Michael Seifert, transferred out of Waterbury. A hearing took place a few weeks ago, in which Connelly testified. Seifert is facing charges for allegedly robbing 13 banks in two states. “That’s my goal, to send [the case] to another jurisdiction where there won’t be any possibility of improprieties or vindictiveness,” said Moscowitz. Though Moscowitz said he couldn’t go into detail on why Seifert is participating in the investigation, he said he had a past client who was affected by the Connelly-Minnella relationship. Charles Fullenwiley, owner of a technology store in Waterbury, was convicted in 2009 of 10 sex crimes, including illegal sexual contact with a minor and risk of injury to a child for molesting a 17-year-old boy inside the shop. The victim claims that a retired police officer, Stephen Flanigan, handcuffed him, pushed him to the floor and took photos while Fullenwiley molested him. Fullenwiley, represented by Moscowitz, received “substantial jail time,” the defense lawyer said. But Flanigan, the former cop, represented by Minnella, had his charges dropped. “He had a great attorney, Martin Minnella,” said Moscowitz. Also, a parent of a defendant who was convicted in Waterbury told the Law Tribune that there is a widespread perception that Connelly played favorites with defense lawyers. “If you stayed on his good side, all went well for you and your clients. But if you questioned or challenged him, life was over and your sentence inflated for no reason.”
'Integrity And Courage’
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said he hopes Connelly is remembered for all the hard work and criminals he put behind bars through the years. “He’s done excellent work,” said Kane. “He’s handled many very difficult cases with a lot integrity and courage. I hope that’s what he’ll be remembered for.” Kane said Connelly also developed a lot of good assistant state’s attorneys through the years. Connelly, a Waterbury native, was hired as a prosecutor in Waterbury in 1980. He left in 1983 to become an assistant U.S. attorney, a position he held until 1984, when he was hired to become State’s Attorney of Waterbury. Connelly, who served four years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war, has remained the state’s attorney there ever since. “His entire life has been public service,” said Keefe, his lawyer. “He is wildly popular in the Waterbury area. Pick a jury with him and you’ll find that out.” Keefe said Connelly has taken 22 murder cases to trial, a number Keefe thinks could be the most of any prosecutor in Connecticut. Further, Keefe said that Connelly had won six capital convictions (two were later reduced to life sentences on appeal). The four remaining members of death row whom Connelly prosecuted are Sedrick “Ricky” Cobb, Robert Breton, Todd Rizzo, and Richard Reynolds. Keefe said Connelly was often brought in to other jurisdictions to handle an especially difficult case. For example, Connelly was brought up to Hartford for the grand jury proceedings against retired Hartford Police Officer Bob Lawlor, who was charged and later acquitted for killing two unarmed black men in 2005. “Whenever the chief state’s attorney had a knotty, difficult case, they’d ask John Connelly to handle it,” said Keefe. “He never ducked a difficult assignment.” Connelly’s retirement is effective Feb. 1. Kane has appointed Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard C. Boyle to exercise supervisory authority over the Waterbury office effective immediately. Boyle will serve in that supervisory capacity until the Criminal Justice Commission appoints a new State’s Attorney for Waterbury.