The former Schenectady schools facilities director who could spend the rest of his life in prison for arson and other crimes is now making a last-ditch effort to overturn his convictions by going to federal court, having failed at every level of the state court system.
Steven Raucci, 67, asked a federal judge earlier this year to review his convictions on several grounds, including ineffective assistance of counsel at his 2010 Schenectady County trial.
A state response to his filing had been due this week, but has been delayed until next month, records show.
The federal filing comes after Raucci exhausted all his state court appeals, two years after the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, refused to hear his case and three years after a mid-level appeals court ruled against him.
Attorney Alan J. Pierce filed the federal appeal. Once the state Attorney General’s Office responds, the judge is expected to decide whether to hold a hearing.
A spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Wednesday. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, who prosecuted Raucci, could not be reached for comment.
A Schenectady County Court jury in 2010 convicted Raucci on 18 of 21 counts in the long and complex trial. It found Raucci guilty in a series of incidents intended to intimidate people he perceived as enemies or enemies of his friends. No injuries resulted from any of the incidents. Police arrested him in February 2009.
Raucci served as facilities manager for the Schenectady City School District and also led the union unit that represented the workers he supervised. The dual position, prosecutors said, made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.
Raucci received a total sentence of 23 years to life in prison and is serving his time in the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
The potential life sentence stems from Raucci’s conviction for first-degree arson. The jury found he placed an explosive device on an occupied home in Rotterdam in 2001, and that constituted first-degree arson.
That charge or elements of it are the focus of two of Pierce’s arguments to the federal judge and a part of a third. Many of the arguments made in the petition also were made to the state appeals courts.
Pierce argues that the damage caused by the device was “so insignificant” as to not meet federal due process standards with such an arson charge, and that testimony of the residents didn’t support the charge.
Pierce included the photo of the damage used as evidence at trial, showing an indentation behind the door handle.
Pierce also repeated a previous argument that a newspaper clipping related to the 2001 incident found in Raucci’s briefcase in 2009 should not have been admitted because of an insufficient search warrant. The trial judge allowed it, finding a second search warrant covered the briefcase.
Pierce argued a brief statement by Raucci to a police officer should have been suppressed and an FBI lab report identifying materials should not have been admitted, as one of the analysts who worked on it did not testify.
Regarding the ineffective assistance of counsel argument, Pierce uses seven of 17 pages of the argument to discuss ways in which he says Raucci’s trial attorney, Ronald DeAngelus, failed to represent him properly.
Pierce also notes that the Second Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals, which includes the district that covers the Capital Region, has granted such federal requests to overturn convictions “several times in recent years” due to ineffective assistance of counsel.
Pierce argues the trial attorney failed to make key objections to evidence, testimony and “numerous improper statements” made by the district attorney in his opening statement.
“DeAngelus was simply overwhelmed at trial as a senior citizen sole counsel over the course of a trial that lasted five weeks with jury selection included and where the DA had the benefit of several assistant DA’s working the trial with him,” Pierce wrote.
Pierce wrote that the trial transcript and expected DeAngelus testimony at the possible federal hearing would show DeAngelus “was not physically capable of handling the demands of this trial.”
Pierce initially filed the federal appeal in January, but a judge ruled he hadn’t yet exhausted all possibilities in state court. He then completed that task and refiled the petition in May, leading to the original deadline for state response this week.
The mid-level Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court rejected nearly every issue raised by Raucci in June 2013. Regarding DeAngelus, the court found no issue with the defense attorney’s representation, writing he effectively cross-examined witnesses and presented a coherent defense. The Court of Appeals then refused to hear the case in 2014.
A renewed appeal in the state court system essentially can be mounted only if new evidence surfaces.
If his federal bid to overturn his conviction fails, Raucci’s first scheduled visit before a state parole board would be in October 2031, when he would be 83 years old.