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What you need to know for 10/22/2017

Day 18: DNA, blast video hit hard at Raucci trial (with video)

Day 18: DNA, blast video hit hard at Raucci trial (with video)

There were a few bangs Thursday to end the prosecution’s arson and terrorism case against Steven Rau

There were a few bangs Thursday to end the prosecution’s arson and terrorism case against Steven Raucci.

Some jurors flinched.

There was the virtual bang from a state police forensic scientist, testifying that there was a less than 1 in 300 billion chance that DNA found at the failed Schodack bomb was of someone other than Raucci. It was testimony that linked Raucci directly to the Jan. 12, 2007 attempted bombing and vandalism at the Schodack home of Laura Balogh.

Then there were later, literal bangs, three of them, each shown on video to the Schenectady County Court jury hearing the case. An FBI explosives expert, the prosecution’s final witness before it rested, testified to tests conducted in December 2008 showing the power of the devices allegedly linked to Raucci.

Raucci’s defense attorney, Ronald De Angelus, has suggested the devices were nothing more than fireworks.

But the video demonstration played in court attempted to put that suggestion to rest.

Three devices similar to those allegedly used by Raucci, containing a similar amount of explosive flash powder — just under 16 grams — were detonated inside three materials: ballistics gel, a cement block and a common mailbox. For comparison, the most powerful commercially available consumer firecracker was lit in the same materials.

All three examples were barely affected by the firecrackers. All that happened to the mailbox was its door flopped open.

The similar explosive devices, however, had much more effect.

“Is it fair to say that the gelatin was torn apart?” Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney asked FBI supervisory Special Agent Thomas Mohnal.

“It functioned as I would expect it to,” Mohnal responded.

All three materials were obliterated by the blasts. Some jurors could be seen flinching in response to at least one of the explosions.

The videos came in over objections from De Angelus.

On cross-examination, De Angelus asked Mohnal if gelatin, masonry blocks or mailboxes were involved in the Raucci case.

“We simply use these as witness materials,” Mohnal responded. “It’s almost standard operating procedure to use certain items. It demonstrates the potential of an item in trying to determine the power and force it actually gives off.”

Cross-examination done, the prosecution rested.

Raucci, 61, a resident of Niskayuna, is standing trial on nearly two dozen counts charging criminal mischief as well as the weightier charges of arson and terrorism.

Raucci served as school district facilities director, and also led the union unit representing the workers he supervised. It was a dual position that prosecutors allege made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.

The prosecution alleges he is responsible for numerous cases of vandalism and worse — in four cases bombs were placed on homes or cars — in a series of incidents intended to intimidate the victims whom he perceived as his enemies or enemies of his friends.

In some cases, the prosecution alleges, his actions were designed to maintain and solidify his positions with the school district, which included the additional title of energy manager. His role as energy manager allowed him to earn thousands of dollars in overtime pay every year.

With the prosecution rested, De Angelus made standard motions to dismiss the charges against his client.

De Angelus argued to acting Schenectady County Court Judge Polly Hoye that prosecutors had failed to prove all the elements of the charges against Raucci.

De Angelus also renewed arguments that the school district is not a “political subdivision” of Schenectady County. The school district, he argued, is a subdivision of the state, not the county.

It is a nuance that he argued should result in the dismissal of charges relating to alleged acts committed in Saratoga and Rensselaer counties. If granted, the result would simply mean prosecution would essentially move to the other counties.

The argument also has bearing on one of the top counts against Raucci, terrorism. A terrorism conviction requires a finding of intent to “influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion.”

De Angelus has declined to concede that the school district is a “unit of government,” forcing Hoye to make a ruling on the matter.

In brief arguments, Carney noted that 110 employees in Schenectady County worked under Raucci and that Raucci’s acts in and out of Schenectady County had greater impact in Schenectady County.

Carney also noted that De Angelus’ argument that the school district is a part of the state appeared to concede that it was in fact, a unit of government.

Nonetheless, Carney was expected to submit paperwork and case law supporting the argument.

Hoye is expected to rule today.

One charge dropped

The number of charges going to the jury was, however, reduced by one Thursday.

Raucci was originally indicted on 26 separate counts. Three were peeled off in pre-trial motions, leaving 23 at the start of the trial. Those three, related to using district materials to stain his personal deck, technically remain pending.

On Thursday, Carney consented to the outright dropping of one of the 23 remaining charges, third-degree criminal possession of stolen property. It was one related to stolen night-vision goggles.

Raucci was accused of possessing the goggles, knowing they were stolen. Knowing an item is stolen is an essential element of the charge.

Longtime Raucci friend-turned-informant Keith McKenna admitted in testimony that McKenna stole them from the Glenville Police Department. He then gave them to Raucci after hearing of the department investigation into their disappearance.

When asked if Raucci was told the goggles were stolen, McKenna’s answer was unclear.

Carney consented to the dismissal. He said he could call other witnesses to bolster the charge, but did not.

The goggles themselves, however, are expected to play a role in Carney’s closing arguments.

Most of the vandalism and bombing incidents were done at night. In the Schodack attempted bombing, prosecutors made a point to emphasize that an outdoor light, normally on at night, was turned out.

The emphasis appeared to be aimed at two issues, that whoever did the vandalism and left the bomb had a key to the home and turned the light out from the inside. Testimony was that Joanne DeSarbo, Raucci’s alleged coconspirator in that case, had a key.

But also, with the light out at the rural home, it was dark, just like the many other incidents. Carney has suggested Raucci used the goggles to help do the crimes charged.

Defense to open

The prosecution resting Thursday means the defense will begin its case this morning. However, the case isn’t expected to be long.

De Angelus hasn’t identified exactly whom he will call. Motions Wednesday suggested at least one more school district employee would take the stand.

Following the defense case will be a conference between the attorney and the judge on legal matters on which the jury will be instructed, possibly completed by the end of the day.

Closing arguments then would be expected Monday morning, with the jury possibly beginning deliberations by late afternoon.

Mohnal testified he supervised the creation of six videos, three each with the most powerful commercially available firecrackers and three with devices similar to those Raucci allegedly left on a Schodack home, a Clifton Park car and one found by police in Raucci’s middle school office.

Mohnal testified the explosive devices allegedly linked to Raucci had 300 times the amount of explosive material as in the firecrackers, 15 grams to 50 milligrams.

To illustrate the point, before the later video illustration, Carney entered into evidence two containers, one with 15 grams of powdered sugar, equivalent to the Raucci-linked devices, and the other with the much smaller amount of 50 mg, the equivalent of commercial firecracker.

The 15 grams almost filled the small container, the 50 milligrams appeared to barely cover the bottom.

The explosive devices used in the video demonstration were actually recovered from an unrelated 2008 explosives case from Johnstown, Pa. The devices used had almost exactly the same amount of explosives as one of the three recovered in the Raucci case, just under 16 grams. The other two allegedly Raucci-linked devices had 13 and 17 grams respectively.

The Pennsylvania devices were used, Mohnal testified, because the devices are too dangerous for police to risk constructing themselves.

David McCollam of the FBI explosives unit testified earlier. McCollam also worked the unrelated Johnstown case, testifying against one defendant just two weeks ago, according to newspaper accounts.

Flash powder

McCollam testified he tested the powders taken from local explosive devices in evidence and determined them to be “flash powder.”

It was the same substance described in testimony Wednesday by state police Chief Tech. Sgt. Timothy Fischer as being a component of explosive devices that he fears the most. The substance is dangerous and unstable, Fischer testified. It can detonate with static or impact.

But first on the stand Thursday was Kristine Robinson, of the state police Forensics Center. She testified she compared the DNA profile from the cigarette at the January 2007 Schodack crime scene to Raucci’s DNA.

Carney asked if it was an identical match.

“Yes it is,” Robinson said.

De Angelus questioned why Robinson didn’t have a master’s degree. She said one is not required for her position. De Angelus also emphasized the evidence she couldn’t link to Raucci and that her findings were subjective.

DNA tests were also done in February 2010 on three explosive devices, one from Clifton Park, one from Schodack and one that police said they found in Raucci’s office at the Mont Pleasant Middle School.

Tests performed on the tube of the explosive device found in Raucci’s office found DNA consistent with Raucci’s. A second donor is included, but Raucci’s DNA was the major contributor.

The Schodack wick was consistent with Raucci’s DNA, and Raucci’s DNA could not be excluded from the tube of the Schodack device, according to testimony.

No DNA was found on the Clifton Park wick, and no conclusions could be made from the Clifton Park tube.

For both the Schodack cigarette butt and the device tube from Raucci’s office, Robinson estimated the chance that the DNA profiles came from someone other than Raucci at 1 in 300 billion. There are about 6 billion people in the world today.

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