Two Convicted of Murdering Police Officer, 15 Years Later
In a case that took 15 years to resolve, a Manhattan jury convicted two men of murder yesterday in the death of a city police officer in 1988.
The men, Pablo Almonte and Jose Fernandez, were each found guilty of one count of second-degree murder in the death of Officer Michael Buczek, 24, who was fatally shot in Washington Heights as he and his partner chased several men suspected of robbing drug dealers.
Mr. Almonte and Mr. Fernandez, who were brought to trial in April after spending years as fugitives, face 25 years to life in prison at sentencing, set for June 19.
After the verdict was announced in State Supreme Court, Officer Buczek's father, Ted Buczek, addressed reporters in a corridor of the courthouse, saying: "I waited 15 years for this. But I'd trade all this to have my son back."
Before he was led out of court in handcuffs, Mr. Almonte, 51, turned to the rows of onlookers and mouthed to his wife and son, "It's O.K.," smiling slightly. Mr. Fernandez, 52, was expressionless.
The trial was long in coming because Mr. Almonte and Mr. Fernandez fled to the Dominican Republic, their home country, after the murder. Extraditing them took years of legal and political work, United States officials have said, because Mr. Almonte's brother, an official in the Dominican Army, helped him elude the authorities.
He was finally captured in November 2000, and Mr. Fernandez was arrested last year. The police have said that an accomplice of the men, who has since died in a Dominican prison, fired the shot that killed the officer.
The jury deliberated for about six hours before reaching its verdict. One juror, a publisher from Chelsea, said that there was some dissension, but that for the most part, everyone on the jury thought "the prosecution presented a very strong case."
A defense lawyer, Fred T. Bittlingmaier, said an appeal was likely.