Manhasset man guilty of killing wife seeks new trial

Author: Ann Givens (ann.givens@newsday.com)
Date Published: 02/07/2009

A Manhasset man serving 25 years to life in prison for fatally shooting his wife in the head is seeking a new trial, saying his lawyer compromised his defense in the hope of getting an illegal $100,000 bonus.

Nikolaos Kotsopoulos, 48, maintained throughout his headline-grabbing 2003 trial that an intruder – not he – had shot his wife, Carol, 41, as she prepared dinner for Greek Orthodox Easter. Now Kotsopoulos’ new attorney is saying that he did kill his wife – accidentally – but did not admit that to a jury on the advice of his then-lawyer, who was determined to get Kotsopoulos a complete acquittal, and himself a $100,000 bonus for doing so.

”He testified as he did at trial based upon what his trial lawyer kept drumming into his head about obtaining a complete acquittal,” said Kotsopoulos’ current lawyer, Steven Kartagener of Manhattan.

Kotsopoulos has filed a petition for a new trial in federal court in Central Islip. If Judge Arthur Spatt agrees after a hearing that Jack Evseroff of Brooklyn provided an ineffective defense, Kotsopoulos could get a new trial.

It is illegal for criminal-defense lawyers to make deals with their clients that would allow them to get extra money if the clients are acquitted, lawyers in the case said. That’s because a lawyer who has a financial incentive to get his client acquitted might not ask the judge to give the jury the option of considering lesser charges against his client and might not negotiate a plea that would be good for his client, because it would mean he wouldn’t get his money.

Evseroff steadfastly denies that he struck any such deal with his client. And Nassau prosecutor Michael Walsh said even if there had been such a deal, it was irrelevant because prosecutors would not have agreed to a plea deal.

Kotsopoulos was convicted of murder through depraved indifference to human life. The jury also found Kotsopoulos guilty of third-degree assault for beating his wife before shooting her May 4, 2002, with a Taurus revolver he kept under the bed.

The trial made headlines when Kotsopoulos’ son, George, who was 13 at the time, told the jury he saw his father beat and shoot his mother. He said he initially lied to police and to a grand jury because his father told him to.

Kotsopoulos also took the stand, insisting through three days of testimony that he loved his wife and never struck her. He described in detail how he struggled with an intruder after hearing a shot in the kitchen.

Kotsopoulos said his son had been manipulated by police and by his wife’s family.

Friday in court, Kotsopoulos’ mother, Christina Kotsopoulos, 73, of Astoria, said she paid Evseroff $400,000 – a fee Evseroff denies – and that he then asked for another $100,000. Christina Kotsopoulos said she told him she would pay him the additional money only if her son was acquitted. She said Evseroff agreed to the deal.

But Walsh said in court that in an affidavit, Christina Kotsopoulos said it was Evseroff, not she, who suggested the deal. When Walsh pointed out the contradiction, Christina Kotsopoulos, speaking through a Greek translator, said she didn’t understand him.

”You understood perfectly well when Mr. Kartagener was asking you questions, didn’t you?” Walsh said.

Both Kotsopoulos and Evseroff are expected to testify March 23.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

THE SHOOTING: Carol Kotsopoulos, 41, was shot in the head in the kitchen of her Manhasset home on May 4, 2002. Her husband Nikolaos was convicted of second-degree murder in 2003.

Defense No. 1: At his trial, Kotsopoulos insisted a masked intruder shot his wife, even though one of his sons testified he saw his father kill his mother after beating her earlier.

Defense No. 2: Kotsopoulos now says he shot his wife accidentally while cleaning his revolver, but that his attorney prevented him from telling that story.

THE LEGAL ISSUE: Kotsopoulos also says his trial attorney stood to make an additional $100,000 if he won a complete acquittal. Such an arrangement is illegal, because it discourages an attorney from seeking a favorable plea deal.

OTHERS SAY: The former defense attorney denies he had such a fee arrangement. And Nassau prosecutors say it’s irrelevant anyway, because they never would have offered Kotsopoulos a plea deal.