Steven Raucci’s long fight to have his arson and other convictions overturned essentially ended this week with a brief, one-page order from a judge on the state’s highest court.
The order, signed by Associate Judge Eugene F. Pigott, denied the convicted arsonist and former city school official permission to have his criminal appeal heard before the state Court of Appeals.
“Upon the papers filed and due deliberation,” the document simply reads, “it is ordered that the application is denied.”
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney on Thursday also described the document’s meaning simply: “It means the direct appeals are over,” he said.
Carney, who prosecuted the case himself, received the order in the mail Thursday, two days after it was signed.
“It’s very gratifying,” Carney said of the decision. “This gives it some real, solid finality.”
The denial effectively exhausts all of Raucci’s appeals on the state level, leaving only a possible long-shot bid in federal court. A renewed state bid essentially could only be mounted if new evidence surfaces.
Raucci’s case has been closely watched since his February 2009 arrest on a host of charges that included first-degree arson.
The case involved threats and intimidation, all backed up with explosive devices.
Raucci served as facilities manager for the Schenectady City School District, leading a union unit that represented the workers he supervised. It was a dual position that prosecutors said made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.
Raucci worked to curry favor with those above him in the district while controlling those below him. To accomplish that, he struck out against enemies or perceived enemies using tools that ranged from petty vandalism to planting explosive devices.
The end result was the now-65-year-old Raucci’s 2010 conviction on 18 of 21 counts against him. The top count was first-degree arson. His total sentence: 23 years to life in state prison.
No one was injured in any of the incidents.
The case became public with Raucci’s arrest in the rear parking lot of Mont Pleasant Middle School. An explosive device similar to ones he was found to have used against his targets was found in his school office.
His trial began a year later, taking the whole of the month of March 2010. He was sentenced that June. The backbone of the sentence was Raucci’s conviction for placing an explosive device on an occupied Rotterdam home in 2001.
This week’s decision from the Court of Appeals had been eagerly anticipated since last June. That’s when the mid-level Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court ruled against Raucci’s defense on nearly every issue raised in the long and complex case.
That ruling left only the Court of Appeals to hear the arguments. Attorneys must convince a judge that there are issues worthy of the high court’s time. The new order showed that was something Raucci’s attorneys could not do.
Contacted late Thursday afternoon, Raucci’s Syracuse-based attorney, Alan Pierce, said he had yet to receive a copy of the order. He declined specific comment.
Told of the order’s contents, though, Pierce generally said he was “extremely disappointed … to say the least.”
Pierce said he would have to talk to his client about options going forward.
Pierce’s argument to get the case before the high court centered largely on whether acts committed outside of Schenectady County were properly tried in Schenectady County.
The Appellate Division found the intent of the acts, including the planting of explosive devices, was to affect the Schenectady City School District.
Judge Pigott’s decision this week, Carney said, backs up that earlier ruling. Pigott found no issues the Court of Appeals needed to consider.
Carney noted that, had the defense won on the issue, Raucci would have faced retrial in multiple counties — and possible consecutive sentences. Currently, Raucci’s sentences for those out-of-county cases run concurrent to his Schenectady County-based sentences.
As for Raucci’s remaining options, Carney said the federal route is generally much more difficult for defendants than state appeals.
Carney, who has led the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office since 1990, said he doesn’t recall any county case being overturned federally during his time in office.
Handling the Raucci appeal for the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office was Gerald Dwyer.
Raucci has led a relatively quiet existence at the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora since his arrival there. He’s been cited only twice for minor infractions, records show.
Without any further intervention, the next date on Raucci’s calender is October 2031 — his first scheduled visit before a New York State Parole Board. Raucci would be 83 years old.