Original article no longer available
Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ)
November 16, 1999
Author: ELAINE SILVESTRINI/FREEHOLD BUREAU
FREEHOLD – Jurors who will decide whether Thomas Patterson should be executed for killing his wife and her boyfriend heard testimony yesterday about the defendant’s troubled childhood and his devotion to his family. But the father of murder victim Robert John Strugala also took the witness stand to testify about his son’s virtues, and how the loss of his only child has made his and his wife’s lives empty. “We miss his smile and his teasing and his jokes,” the older Robert Strugala said, struggling to contain his sadness after being warned by Superior Court Judge Ira E. Kreizman that he was not to show any emotion. “We miss the happiness and the warmth he conveyed to us whenever we saw him.”
Strugala said his son, a former Eagle Scout, Pop Warner football player and hospital volunteer, was “well-liked by everyone who knew him … He always put others before himself.” Now, “There is no chance of a daughter-in-law or a grandchild,” Strugala testified. “It looks like our lineage is going to end.” Patterson was convicted of the murder of Robert John Strugala and the felony murder and manslaughter of his wife, Michele Steller Patterson.
Both victims were shot, stabbed and bludgeoned inside the Pattersons’ home in Wall. Patterson continued to refuse to cooperate in his own defense, and in a statement that angered Kreizman, said outside the presence of jurors, “This jury is being used as pawns to commit murder.” The defendant’s mother, Julia Patterson, whose history of mental illness was detailed for jurors, took the witness stand later and said, “My son was a good boy … He was a dedicated son. He loves his mother and father very much … I’ll love him forever.”
Patterson’s sister, Harriet Wegeman of Toms River, testified that her brother was “a wonderful father” to his two young sons who was devastated when his marriage began to fall apart. “I never saw him cry in his life,” she said. But after the marriage began to crumble, “he cried every day.” And Patterson’s father, who is now deceased, testified by videotape. Asked if he had anything to say to jurors, Thomas Patterson Sr. said, “I hope they find the kindness in their heart to save Tommy’s life … He loves his sons and he loves life. Please don’t take his.”
Over Patterson’s objections, his lawyers also presented testimony from forensic social worker Lois Nardone, who told jurors about the defendant’s mother’s long history of paranoid schizophrenia and depression, and numerous hospitalizations and electric shock treatments. Nardone also detailed the alcoholism of Patterson’s father and his occasional abuse of his wife. Outside the presence of jurors, Patterson, who refuses to cooperate with lawyers, objected to Nardone’s testimony, because she was hired by a prior set of lawyers who Patterson believes conspired against him to prevent him from seeing his children and to keep him from his pension money. Patterson has repeatedly demanded an investigation, claiming he has documentation, and asserting that his deceased wife’s family have been involved in the conspiracy. His lawyers have expressed concern for his mental state and have argued unsuccessfully that he is mentally unfit to stand trial. “This isn’t about a pity party,” Patterson said to the judge yesterday. “There’s no reason to bring up things that happened in my past.
Everyone has a past. You have a past. President Clinton has a past … It has to do with the documents I’ve brought up … The documents will prove what I say.” Several times during the day, Kreizman asked Patterson if he would like to address the jurors. But the judge imposed numerous restrictions on what the defendant could say, and specifically barred him from raising his problems with his lawyers. “I would love to present these documents to the jury,” the defendant said. “You’re not going to do that,” the judge said, adding that they were “not relevant to the issue at hand.” “This is my life, and I should be able to speak about this injustice,” Patterson said. He added later, “My mercy comes from the Lord. I know that there’s no mercy here, and there’s no justice in this courtroom.” Patterson, however, refused to allow a minister, Harry Flaherty, to testify about his private discussions with him. Because Patterson would not waive his privilege, Flaherty was only able to tell jurors that he had met with Patterson in the jail.
Another defense witness, Terry Avakian, a state construction inspector who said he worked with Patterson in Patterson’s job as a foreman on a highway job, testified that the defendant was “just a really good guy” who exhibited “a profound personality change” when his marriage ran into trouble. Later, Patterson complained to the judge that his lawyers had not investigated the fact that he had taken Prozac and Valium and drank beer the day of the slayings.
In his opening statement to the jury, Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Warshaw briefly addressed the lone “aggravating factor” he is presenting in seeking the death penalty: that Strugala’s murder was committed in the course of Michele Patterson’s felony murder. “He started with Bob,” Warshaw said, “and went from Bob to Michele and back again, and at one point, even left the room to get a knife.” Defense lawyer Roy Greenman said the prosecution was trying to have it both ways, as Warshaw argued in the guilt phase of the trial that Patterson went to the house intending to kill Strugala and then wound up killing Mrs. Patterson. “It seems pretty clear that Robert Strugala was fatally wounded before Mr. Patterson turned on Michele,” Greenman said.” Greenman said mitigating factors “exist in this case in abundance,” and include the fact that the Pattersons’ two young sons, ages 8 and 11, love their father and don’t want him to get a death sentence. Because both sides agreed it was not in the boys’ best interests to bring them into court, lawyers agreed to a stipulation that was read to the jury regarding the boys’ feelings. ce? Elaine Silvestrini: 732-462-6509 ElaineS@app.com Section: B Page: B01 Copyright (c) Asbury Park Press. All rights reserved.