YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The state Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether police in New Jersey can tap out-of-state phone conversations, in response to an appeal by “too fat to kill” murderer Edward Ates, who was convicted of gunning down his former son-in-law in the victim’s Ramsey home.
Ates is appealing his conviction based, in part, on wiretapped conversations that were used to secure a conviction and life sentence for the Aug. 23, 2006 killing of 40-year-old Paul Duncsak.
The justices agreed to hear his case after a state appeals court ruled that New Jersey’s Wiretapping and Surveillance Control Act allows investigators to run wiretaps on out-of-state conversations without warrants from judges in those states — as long as they’re doing it from here.
Along with the precedent-setting decision, the Appellate Division also refused to throw out the case after finding that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office improperly, albeit inadvertently, recorded a privileged call between him and his attorney.
Ates’ trial drew headlines for his defense attorney’s unusual strategy: He argued that the 300-pound defendant was too heavy to hide in his son-in-law’s basement, run up the stairs, surprise the victim and then high-tail it back to his Florida home on a 21-hour midnight run.
Among other evidence, prosecutors used wiretapped conversations between Ates in Florida and his mother and sister, who were in Louisiana, while outlining for jurors what they called a “commando-style” raid.
Ates was convicted, and a judge later sentenced him to life in prison.
Defense attorney Walter Lesnevich said he took the Appellate Division decision to the state’s highest court because he considers the wiretapping “a Big Brother intrusion” that he believes violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Duncsak had just gone through a divorce and child-custody battle with his ex-wife. He was talking on his cellphone with his girlfriend when he walked into his vestibule and suddenly screamed. She testified during the trial that she heard a loud thud but not what would be considered gunshots.
She called police, who found the pharmaceutical experts dead of several gunshot wounds and the locks on his doors picked.
Investigators immediately homed in on Ates, who they said had been stalking Duncsak for months – and was researching “how to commit the perfect murder” online. They said he also was looking into how to use a .22-caliber firearm – the same type that was used to kill Duncsak – and had bought books on how to pick locks and build gun silencers.
Prosecutors produced records of cars rented by Ates that had been driven hundreds of miles a day. His computer history also showed Mapquest directions to the victim’s house.
Ates, who turned 68 several weeks ago, said he’d been at his mother’s home the day of the murder.
He and his doctor told jurors he suffered from sleep apnea, diabetes and other health problems that would’ve prevented him from such a journey.
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