By Philip Newman
John Santucci, who served as the Queens district attorney from 1977 to 1991 in a tenure that involved a number of controversial and highly publicized cases, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack at his home in Garden City, L.I. He was 85.
Santucci, who was born of Italian immigrant parents in Ozone Park in 1931, was appointed Queens district attorney by Gov. Hugh Carey in 1977 and elected four times.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said “John spent his entire career in dedicated service to the people of Queens County,” and said he was ‘’deeply saddened.”
Much of Santucci’s time in office was defined by cases that grabbed the headlines.
One of the most controversial was a racial attack in Howard Beach in December 1986 by a group of white youths against three African Americans. One of the victims, Michael Griffin, 23, was chased onto the Belt Parkway where he was struck and killed by a car. His death still haunts the borough.
Santucci drew criticism for assigning the case to a special prosecutor, although he said he had no choice since the two other victims and their lawyers refused to cooperate with his office.
He established the “Second Chance Program,” which offered first-time offenders the chance to carry out community service in order to clear their records. He also greatly increased the number of people with physical and mental impairments hired to work in the district attorney’s office.
Prior to becoming Queens DA, Santucci served on the New York City Council and in the New York state senate.
Survivors include his wife of 62 years, the former Edna Ann Hayes; sons Thomas, John Jr. and Robert; daughters Mary Panvini, Carol Santucci and Edna Masone; brothers Thomas and Fred; and 12 grandchildren.