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NY Court of Appeals hears arguments for new Thibodeau trial

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New York State Court of Appeals
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Federal public defender Lisa Peebles argues before the New York State Court of Appeals.

The attorney for the man convicted of kidnapping Heidi Allen from a New Haven convenience store in 1994 argued before New York state's highest court Thursday about why he deserves a new trial.

Federal public defender Lisa Peebles says new testimony in the case could be enough to free Gary Thibodeau and identify other suspects in Allen's disappearance. But the justices on the Court of Appeals repeatedly questioned whether that testimony is credible, and whether they have the legal right to overturn two lower court decisions that said it is not.

The defense's case for a new trial largely relies on testimony from several people who claim three other men were responsible for kidnapping and killing Allen. One of those admissions was captured by law enforcement on a secretly recorded phone call that the lower court judges have said is inadmissible because of questions about its credibility.

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Credit New York State Court of Appeals
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Lisa Peebles

"Those facts should have been permitted for a jury to look at and the court precluded the defense from introducing this by suggesting it would be inadmissible because it didn’t meet these hearsay exceptions," Peebles said during her argument. "That in fact is where the court erred as a matter of law."

But several justices pointed out that the person in that taped phone call and another witness who placed someone other than Thibodeau at the convenience store that Easter morning have given conflicting testimony. Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes hit on those reliability questions during his arguments.

"There’s been no independent evidence, no competent physical evidence outside of the declarations themselves that show these statements are true," Oakes said.

And Oakes argued that technically the Court of Appeals is supposed to be looking at whether the lower court judges erred in their decisions not whether they find the witnesses credible.

"Those are credibility issues left to the court that – with due respect – are beyond this court," He said. 

It could take months for the Court of Appeals to reach their decision. And even if they grant Thibodeau a new trial, he may not survive to see it because he's suffering from a chronic lung disease.