Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Woman, a Rape, a Murder and an Incompetent Lawyer

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Woman, a Rape, a Murder and an Incompetent Lawyer

Article excerpt

It was a harrowing story Sheila Ryan DeLuca had to tell, a story of kidnapping, rape, sodomy and murder. She told of being hassled in a Bronx after-hours club by three men, of leaving the club and finding them waiting in the parking lot, of being pushed into her car and forced to drive at knifepoint as the men drank, snorted cocaine, talked about gang rape.

She says one of them, a probationary fireman named Robert Bissett, boasted: "Killing is nothing to me. I've done it before."

It would have made some story for the jury, but the jury never heard it.

She says at a motel the other two men began to pound on the door when Bissett alone took her into a room. The manager threw them out and an enraged Bissett pulled her into the car, drove back to the bar to get his own van, and drove to a deserted spot where he raped and sodomized her. She hit him over the head with a bottle and fled.

It would have made some story for the jury, but the jury never heard it.

When she got home she says she took one shower, then another. Finally she broke down and told her husband what had happened. He insisted that she go to the hospital. She took him to the area where the attack had occurred, and Bissett's van was still there. When husband and wife looked inside it, Bissett rose up suddenly, yelled and reached for DeLuca. And she shot him four times in the head.

It would have made some story for the jury. But the jury never heard it.

Instead they heard a prosecutor's tale of a middle-aged woman who had picked up a younger man and inexplicably decided to kill him when the sex was over. DeLuca's defense attorney offered no defense at all, despite the fact that his client and her husband both wanted to testify. DeLuca says he insisted that the prosecution's case was so weak it could never prevail. She has thought a good deal about that judgment over the last 10 years, serving 20 years to life at Bedford Hills.

And Judge Robert J. Ward thought a good deal about it, too, as he granted a writ of habeas corpus in DeLuca's case. Noting her attorney's failure to tell his client that the decision to testify was hers and his failure to call any witnesses, including doctors who examined DeLuca's bruises and bleeding genitals, Ward set her murder conviction aside. …

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