Judge: Detective’s alleged OT theft not relevant at murder trial

Posted: August 14, 2012

A cop in trouble can make a defense attorney dance, eager for anything to exonerate the defendant.

But Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina wouldn't have it Monday.

When defense attorney Daniel Conner tried to bring up fired Philly homicide Detective Kenneth Rossiter's troubles during a murder trial, Sarmina sternly warned Conner that she'd fine him $1,000 and refer him to the disciplinary board if he questioned Rossiter about anything other than the statement he took from defendant Thomas White.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey fired Rossiter in June after the Daily News began asking about an Internal Affairs investigation into allegations that Rossiter repeatedly collected court overtime last year when he was actually at his Bustleton home.

Rossiter denied the allegations, but investigators sustained them. He has appealed his termination through the Fraternal Order of Police and the case remains in arbitration. Police officials have declined to release details of the investigation, saying internal probes aren't public record.

Rossiter was at the Criminal Justice Center Monday ready to testify that White, 62, confessed to him and another homicide detective that he killed Garrett "G-Man" Sanders Nov. 9, 2010, in a drug-dealing dispute.

White, a repeat violent offender who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, admitted he shot Sanders when the pair fought over drug money in 2009. But he insisted, boisterously and belligerently on the stand Monday, that their problems ended in 2009 and he did not kill Sanders. Asked if he knew who did, White paused dramatically before saying: "No."

Conner wanted to question Rossiter about the overtime allegations to cast doubt on White's official confession, which White claimed was almost wholly fabricated. White said detectives held him for two days without food, water or medication before he signed the confession because "I was tired, man. I was under duress, man."

Conner, during a break in court, explained: "If you're doctoring overtime, the more confessions they (suspects) make, the more time they (detectives) come to court, and the more overtime."

But Rossiter never took the stand. Conner decided not to call him after Sarmina, hearing from Conner that Rossiter planned to plead the Fifth if he was asked about the internal investigation, threatened him with fines and disciplinary action.

Rossiter and Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax, although visibly frustrated, declined to comment. The jury will resume deliberations Tuesday.

Ramsey said Monday that Conner is unlikely to be the last attorney to raise Rossiter's troubles in defense of an accused criminal.

"Defense attorneys do what they can to get their client off the hook," Ramsey said. "I've always found Rossiter to be a good detective, and nothing can take away from that."

Contact Dana DiFilippo at 215-854-5934 or difilid@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanaDiFilippo and read her blog, phillyconfidential.com.

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