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Alice Crimmins Trials: 1968 & 1971

A New Trial

An unauthorized visit to Earominski's building by three jurors during the trial and the judge's disallowance of evidence that might have cast doubt on Rorech's and Earominski's testimony led an appeals court to overturn Crimmins' conviction in December 1969.

Six months later, she was indicted again. Under the double-jeopardy rule preventing defendants from being tried more than once for the same crime, she could not be charged twice with murdering Missy. She was charged instead with manslaughter and indicted for murdering Eddie, largely Rorech's new claim that she had "agreed to" her son's death.

The second trial revealed how sloppily detectives had handled the investigation. Potential evidence from the Crimmins apartment was not kept. Psychiatric doubts about Sophie Earominski's mental fitness were introduced. Joe Rorech expanded his testimony, saying that Crimmins told him that a convicted bank robber named Vinnie Colabella had killed Eddie Jr. for her. Prosecutors took Colabella out of prison and put him on the stand. He denied ever seeing Crimmins before. The prosecutor from the first trial, Anthony Lombardino, was called as a witness and admitted that he had once offered Colabella "a deal" in return for testimony.

The defense attacked the only motive prosecutors gave for Crimmins having her children killed, the custody battle with her husband (who stood by her during both trials). Her divorce lawyer testified that he had advised her that she would never lose her children under New York law, regardless of allegations about her moral reputation.

A new prosecution witness, Tina DeVita, remembered glimpsing a woman, a man with a bundle, a boy, and a dog on the night the Crimmins children disappeared, echoing Sophie Earominski's scenario without identifying anyone. After DeVita's testimony, Alice Crimmins appealed to the public for help. A man named Marvin Weinstein came forward and testified that he had been walking in the neighborhood with his dog, his young son, and his wife, who was carrying their daughter in a blanket. Mrs. Weinstein came to court. She resembled Alice Crimmins. When a former business associate testified that the Weinsteins did not visit his home on the night in question, the Weinsteins retorted that the man was a liar. Mr. Weinstein said he had not come forward during the first trial because he had not realized the case depended so much on Earominski's testimony.

The state's case seemed so shaky that shock and weeping filled the courtroom when Alice Crimmins was again found guilty. In May 1971, she was sentenced to life imprisonment, for murder, with a concurrent five to 20 years for manslaughter.

The murder charge was overturned two years later by an appellate division of the New York Supreme Court, which ruled that Eddie's death had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have resulted from a criminal act. The manslaughter conviction was also overturned. The court ruled that allowing errors like Joe Rorech's testimony that he had taken "truth serum" and a prosecutor's declaration that Crimmins did not "have the courage to stand up and tell the whole world she killed her daughter" were "grossly prejudicial." The court ordered her to be tried again, but only on the manslaughter charge.

In February 1975, however, the New York State Court of Appeals reinstated the manslaughter verdict. Noting that two juries had found Alice Crimmins "criminally responsible for the death of her daughter," the court ruled that the conviction was fair because there was no "significant probability, rather than only a rational possibility that the jury would have acquitted the defendant had it not been for the error or errors which occurred." Dissenting justices wrote that this decision changed the definition of prejudicial conduct, "dangerously diluting the time-honored standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which has been a cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence."

Alice Crimmins was ordered to finish her sentence. She was paroled in 1977, quietly ending one of the most emotional and troubling cases ever heard in New York courts.

Thomas C. Smith

Suggestions for Further Reading

Goldstein, Tom. "Appeals Court Finds 'Overwhelming Proof Mrs. Crimmins Killed Her Daughter." The New York Times (February 26, 1975): 34.

Gross, Kenneth. The Alice Crimmins Case. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975.

Helpern, Milton with Bernard Knight. Autopsy: The Memoirs of Milton Helpern, The World's Greatest Medical Detective. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977.

Mills, James. The Prosecutor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Alice Crimmins Trials: 1968 1971 - Trial Begins Three Years Later, Observed From Above, A New Trial, Suggestions For Further Reading