Injustice Experienced By Joseph Sunseri In Rhode Island.

A Client's definition of Ineffective Assistance And The Court's Definition Can Be Miles Apart

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Complaint One

On January 2, 1988 at 4:35 p.m. Joseph M. Sunseri was charged and arrested by Charlestown police officer Sgt. Raoul Lefebvre for an alleged domestic dispute with Mrs. Shirley Cookman. The State in case W2/88-86 charged Mr. Sunseri with assault with a deadly weapon, 2nd degree sexual assault, and simple assault. The trial was held on February 15-16 and Mr. Sunseri was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 26 years, the absolute maximum sentence allowed by law. Mr. Sunseri never did time prior to this sentence. Mr. Sunseri asserts the following wrongdoing in his case:

Sgt. Lefebvre and Ms. Cookman were friends. Sgt. Lefebvre filed fraudulent police reports and assisted Ms. Cookman in filing fraudulent police reports. These fraudulent police reports were used to deceive the jury by giving credibility to Ms. Cookman's perjured testimony and pre-sentence report. In order to support Ms. Cookman's claims of serious injuries at the hands of Mr. Sunseri, Sgt. Lefebvre filed a report saying Ms. Cookman had a cast on her right knee and had other serious lacerations and injuries. Prosecutor John M McLoughlin, now a District Court judge, was either grossly negligent or withheld evidence and procured or allowed perjured testimony to be put before the jury. Certified mail on April 27, 1999 informed him of the facts to ensure he also was not deceived by Sgt. Lefebvre.

Sgt. Lefebvre and Ms. Cookman allege numerous serious injuries occurred on January 1, 1988 like:

  • broken/dislocated jaw
  • a broken/dislocated nose
  • a broken/dislocated knee that required surgery to remove an infection
  • bleeding bite marks all over Ms. Cookman's body
  • Ms. Cookman had supposedly bitten off part of her tongue and it was alleged to have been found by police and
  • other lacerations and abrasions.

Ms. Cookman also claimed the house was trashed with holes in the walls from her head being smashed into the A-frame ceiling and walls. After Mr. Sunseri was arrested, a police report indicates that on 1-2-88 the house was neat and clean with no signs of damage as Ms. Cookman claimed. No police report indicated that there was blood anywhere or any part of Ms. Goodman's tongue at the scene. According to Ms. Goodman's testimony and other evidence, Ms. Goodman, despite her alleged injuries, left Mr. Sunseri at about 7:00AM, drove to Ledyard, Connecticut and then arrived at the Charlestown police at 10:20AM.

Ms. Goodman did not get to South County Hospital until 12:58PM and walked in unaided. Ms. Goodman was released unaided by Dr. Walsh at 1:30PM, 32 minutes after her arrival. On the only medical recorded provided there was:

  • no x-rays
  • no broken bones
  • no sprains or fractures
  • no severe bruises and
  • no sutures listed.

Other medical records were alleged to be in discovery, but even appellant counsel Paula Rosin from the Public Defender's Office notes their absence from the court records. They were either improperly withheld or did not exist in the first place.

Despite the above irrefutable facts, Prosecutor John M. McLoughlin, Sgt. Lefebvre and Louis B. Cappuccio Jr. ( Mr. Sunseri's defense counsel) allowed Ms. Cookman's perjury to go before the court as uncontroverted truth. The now Judge McLoughlin has declined to contact counsel Ronald Bonin to reopen the case and correct this injustice.

Prior to trial, Mr. Sunseri's trial counsel, Atty. Louis B. Cappuccio Jr., failed to do any independent investigation and, by his own admission, relied only on Sgt. Raoul Lefebvre. Atty. Cappuccio did not talk to several employees of Mary Habersham's Inn where Mr. Sunseri and Ms. Cookman frequented. Ms. Goodman had told several witnesses that, "she and her good friend Sgt. Raoul L. Lefebvre had plans to make sure that Mr. Sunseri would never see the light of day again." The employees of Mary Habersham's Inn could have told Atty. Cappuccio, like they told Attorney Ronald Bonin of Moretti & Pearlow, that they saw Mrs. Cookman with no visible signs of injuries or complaints of injuries a few days after the alleged attack.

It has been recently learned by Mr. Sunseri that Sgt. Raoul Lefebvre had apparently convinced Ms. Cookman and Mr. Sunseri's Atty. Louis Cappuccio Jr., that Mr. Sunseri was responsible for his sister's disappearance and murder in Louisiana. Now that this is known the motive for Atty. Cappuccio's grossly inadequate defense is clear. There is also a report where Ms. Cookman made a statement claiming Mr. Sunseri said, "[s] is, they'll never find you now, they'll never find you in that dumpster near the " The report ends abruptly without finishing the sentence.

Update

Atty. Cappuccio responded with a scathing letter to Caught on 11-16-2000. Atty. Cappuccio also eventually sent a 4-5-1995 ruling from the RI Supreme Court [Case 94-148 CA (WM 93-61)] regarding Mr. Sunseri's application for post-conviction relief where he claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. The ruling states in part that Mr. Sunseri failed to sustain the burden of showing his counsel had been ineffective within the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington. The ruling also states Atty. Cappuccio was "severely disadvantaged" in presenting a defense and that the strategy he used in cross-examining the victim was not unreasonable.


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