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Paul Cox Trials: 1994

A Confidantes Testify Against Cox

Defendant: Paul Cox
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Andrew A. Rubin
Chief Prosecutor: George L. Bolen
Judge: James R. Cowhey
Place: White Plains, New York
Dates of Trials:
First trial: June 1994; second trial: November-December 1994
Verdicts: First trial: Mistrial/hung jury; second trial: Guilty of manslaughter
Sentence: 16-50 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The courts refusal in the Paul Cox trials to extend the privilege of confidential communications to members of self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous raised questions about such groups' need for the privilege at a time when they were becoming increasingly important social forces.

On December 31, 1988, 21-year-old Paul Cox sat drinking with friends in Garry's Barleycorn Bar in New Rochelle, New York. After downing several pitchers of beer and mixed drinks, the group went for a drive that ended in an accident. Cox then walked to his nearby childhood home in Larchmont, which now belonged to Shanta Chervu and her husband, Lakshman Rao Chervu, both physicians. Cox broke a window, entered the house, and stabbed both of the Chervus to death. He left many fingerprints, but because he didn't have a criminal record the police could not match them with any on file. The double murder remained a mystery for four years.

Cox, meanwhile, joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and began to follow its Twelve-Step program, the fifth of which calls for an admission "to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Soon Cox started to tell fellow members that he thought he might be responsible for the Chervu killings.

"He told me," one man later said, that "he had gone to a house and killed two people while they slept." Cox's girlfriend, herself an AA member, gave a similar account. "'I don't remember this night,'" she reported him as saying. "'I don't know what happened. I don't know what went on. But I might have done it.'"

Cox said that he had once been diagnosed with patricidal and matricidal tendencies, and that he feared that he had mistaken the Chervus for his parents since they were sleeping in his parents' old bedroom. He also recalled finding a bloody knife a few weeks after the murders and throwing it into Long Island Sound.

Confidentiality is crucial in AA meetings. Without it, members would not freely confess their wrongdoings, an important part of the Twelve-Step program. But in 1993, some members contacted the police about what they had been told. As a consequence, Cox was indicted for second-degree murder.

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