By Alex Davidson
The man arrested in 2001 for allegedly killing two Woodhaven bar owners in 1981 was acquitted of murder charges Feb. 14 after having spent close to two years in police custody at Rikers Island.
Frank Riccardi, 46, whom authorities tracked down in Boca Raton, Fla. in August 2001, faced 25 years to life in prison on the charges. The jury in the trial at the State Supreme Court building in Kew Gardens deliberated for three days before deciding the defendant was innocent of the charges.
“It was a huge responsibility for me because I knew I was representing an innocent person,” said Lawrence Hermann, Riccardi's attorney. “Thank God the jury was fair – I think this was a vindication of the jury system.”
Judge Randall Eng presided over the case.
Another suspect in the murder was acquitted in November and charges were dropped against a third man accused in the deaths of Richard Godkin, 35, and John D'Agnese, 22, who were shot following an argument at the Shamrock Bar in Woodhaven on April 11, 1981.
Riccardi, who was living in his mother's Florida home prior to his arrest, said he was using the alias Anthony Frank Alonzo to avoid extortionists threatening him over a failed business deal and to avoid the outcome of a car accident lawsuit. He testified that he and his soon-to-be wife, Mary Anne Stabile, were in Florida with relatives the night of the killings. Riccardi said he had never been to the Shamrock Bar.
Hermann said because the case spanned more than two decades, a lot of key witnesses could not be found and evidence was not submitted in the jury trial. He said one woman, Barbara Stodler, who had identified someone other than Riccardi at the time of the crime, could not be found to help acquit Riccardi.
He said he and his associates started a nationwide hunt for the missing witnesses but could not find them. Hermann also said police detectives interviewing witnesses the day after the crime listed other witnesses who could no longer remember the incident because it happened too long ago.
Queens Assistant District Attorney Robert Schwerdt contended that Riccardi was at the Woodhaven tavern on April 11, 1981 with two friends, Robert Vernace and Ronald Barlin, when someone accidentally spilled a drink on a woman with whom he was drinking. The prosecutor told the court Riccardi returned to the bar later that night and murdered Godkin and D'Agnese, who had only bought the bar six months earlier.
Vernace was acquitted of murder charges in November and the judge dismissed murder charges against Barlin after several witnesses contradicted earlier testimonies.
Hermann, who believes Riccardi was confused with someone else, was happy with the outcome of the case.
“We had an exquisitely fair judge and we had an ecumenical jury,” he said. “That's the perfect words for them.”
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.