This article was originally published on GoErie.com by Madeleine O’Neill on Jan. 3, 2018
A 23-year-old Erie homicide case will make its way back into an Erie County courtroom in the coming months.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is proceeding with a new trial against 48-year-old Vance L. Haskell, in accordance with a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found a witness’s “perjured testimony” at Haskell’s first trial, in 1998, violated his constitutional right to due process.
Following the 3rd Circuit’s decision, in August, prosecutors in September were granted six months to retry the case. Assistant District Attorney Jessica Lasley said they are preparing to meet that deadline.
“We’re intending to try the case within the next couple of months,” Lasley said.
She will try the case with Assistant District Attorney Molly Anglin.
The prosecution will again attempt to prove Haskell guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of 24-year-old Darrel Cooley, who was shot 11 times with a submachine gun that witnesses described as being similar to an Uzi. Cooley was fatally shot in the now-closed Jethroe’s Steakhouse, on East 18th Street, in the early hours of Dec. 10, 1994.
“Any time you’re retrying any case that time has elapsed, there is a difficulty with making sure that all of the components that were used in the original case can be found again,” Lasley said. She said the original witnesses are currently being sought for the retrial.
A trial date has not been set. A status conference scheduled before Senior Erie County Judge John A. Bozza Thursday was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled.
Haskell remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene, in Waynesburg.
Haskell will be represented in the new trial by Erie lawyer Nathaniel Strasser, who is court-appointed. Strasser said he could not comment because he was only recently assigned to the case.
Haskell, who is from Rochester, New York, had sought a new trial since shortly after he was convicted in October 1998.
In one of his appeals, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter found that a prosecution witness, Antoinette Blue, was not being truthful when she said she did not expect to receive anything in return for her testimony in Haskell’s trial. Blue identified Haskell as Cooley’s shooter at the trial.
But Baxter rejected the appeal in 2015, finding that the perjured testimony did not have a “substantial and injurious effect or influence” on the jury’s guilty verdict.
A three-judge panel on the 3rd Circuit disagreed, and on Aug. 1 issued a ruling that opened up the possibility of a new trial for Haskell.
The panel said evidence showed that, in exchange for Blue’s cooperation in the Haskell case, then-Erie County prosecutor Matthew R. Hayes vouched for Blue’s assistance to the prosecutor handling a shoplifting case against her in Mercer County.
The panel said Blue’s testimony, and what the panel characterized as the prosecution’s failure to correct Blue’s false statement, violated Haskell’s right to a fair trial.
“Haskell has demonstrated that there is a reasonable likelihood that Blue’s false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury, ” the panel wrote.
The District Attorney’s Office on Aug. 14 asked that a larger panel of 3rd Circuit judges rehear the case, court records show. That request was denied Sept. 6.
At Haskell’s new trial, the prosecution intends to call all of the witnesses who testified at Haskell’s first trial, including Blue, Lasley said.