2006-03-17 / Community

Legal Loophole Frees Convicted Killer

By Howard Schwach

A man found guilty in 2000 of hiring a hit man to kill his wife in 1996 was released from prison last August after spending four years in Attica for the murder because of a court ruling that narrowly defined the meaning of "depraved indifference murder."

The November 23, 1996 issue of The Wave trumpeted multiple murders that took place that weekend.

"Woman Found Dead in Stairwell, Arrest Made in Gory Slaying," headlined the article, which detailed the death of 29-year-old Sharon Bartow and the arrest of her husband, Kerry Bartow, at the Wavecrest Gardens Houses on Seagirt Boulevard in Far Rockaway.

Sharon was shot in the head from point black range and the couple's 6-year-old daughter had her throat slashed from ear to ear in the attack, according to the Wave's coverage of the story.

Kerry was tried in Queens Supreme Court and acquitted on a charge of intentional murder, but found guilty of the lesser charge of depraved indifference murder. He was sentenced to 25 years for the murder.

The killing was fictionalized for a segment of the television series, "Law And Order."

At the time, prosecutors said that Kerry had hired his girlfriend's brother, Terry Collins, 18, to kill his wife in the family's Far Rockaway apartment.

He reportedly left the apartment door open for the killer's easy access.

Collins confessed and made a plea bargain with the state and serving a sentence of seven to fourteen years for his part in the murder. He could be released next year.

Kerry appealed his conviction and last year it was thrown out as part of the Appellate Court's decision in People V. Payne, in which the court ruled that depraved indifference murder could only be charged in cases of "extremely dangerous and fatal conduct performed without specific intent" - such as shooting into a crowd.

The court said that the charge couldn't be made in the case of a homicide because there is usually a specific intent to kill.

Kerry Bartow, who is now living in New Jersey with his mother, cannot be charged with intentional murder because he was already acquitted of the charge and it would be double jeopardy, a violation of the United States Constitution.

After his release, he filed papers staking his claim to his dead wife's estate.

Kerry is one of 11 convicted murders who were set free by the court's ruling.

City Councilman Peter Vallone told reporters that this is only "the tip of the iceberg.

"The fact that murderers are walking free in this state because of technicalities and loopholes is obviously not an old wive's tale. It is happening here, and right now."

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