Delano takes the stand
Embattled Buffalo Police
Detective Dennis Delano’s
disciplinary hearing continues
On Tuesday, a group of about two dozen people consisting of friends, relatives, journalists, and police officers spent the day observing the ongoing investigation into the actions of suspended detective Dennis Delano. The respondent’s lawyer began by placing him on the stand and asking him a series of questions about his past.
By the first break everyone learned, or was reminded, that Delano is an ordained minister who has performed weddings and funerals, and that when he took the solemn oath sworn upon becoming a police officer in 1985—to support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the State of New York, and to faithfully discharge the duties of the office of police officer—he didn’t take it lightly. Assistant corporation counsel Diane O’Gorman, representing the Buffalo Police, said she wasn’t sure that religious materials are relevant.
A big stack of plaques was introduced into evidence, after O’Gorman allowed they could be copied and introduced. Among them, an award from the Erie County Bar Association, Erie County Crisis Services, the American Legion, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Governor of New York State, the Buffalo News (Outstanding Citizen), the Police Benevolent Association, and the City of Buffalo—not to mention that his photo hangs in the lobby at police headquarters, 74 Franklin Street. It was also noted that he received over half a million votes on the TV show America’s Most Wanted, where he was nominated as an “All Star.”
As the day progressed, a picture emerged of Delano schooling himself as a detective by studying files of unsolved murders left either by the boiler in the basement of police headquarters, or in boxes stored behind the women’s cell block there. He tracked them down on his own and brought copies home to study. None of these cases had been solved, and Delano testified that although people knew he was taking the neglected cases home for study, he was never admonished. “It was never an issue. Nobody was working on them,” he said.
By studying the old cases, Delano was able to learn the methods used by experienced detectives. He was spending as much time studying at home as he did on the clock. It helped him learn how to work current homicides. There then came a time that then Chief of Detectives Barba asked him if he would like to work cold cases. Delano said yes.
On the stand, the detective described the differences between working a new murder and an old one. With a new murder, “There comes a point where time starts working against you.” Evidence has been collected, statements collected, and the collected pieces are not adding up. “But at some point,” Delano explained, “time begins working for you. People talk. People die. People get divorced. So the hard part about cold cases is locating people.”
There was no day-to-day supervision, and specific cold cases weren’t assigned. Never solved, they would sit there by the boiler in the basement until somebody felt like taking a crack at them again. In the first year, the cold case squad solved 12 cases. Delano was asked why these old cases are important. “Because you still have a victim,” he said. “You still have a killer.” Over time, there’s the possibility that killer may slay again.
Sitting through the testimony, certain details jump out. For example, most people recall that Delano suspected Dennis Donohue in the murder of Crystallynn Girard, but that Donohue had been given immunity in exchange for his testimony in that case. Why did he suspect Donohue other than the fact that he was dating Lynn DeJac—Girard’s mother—at the time? Delano referred to the 1975 rape and murder of Carol Reed, and remembered that Donohue’s name had come up as a suspect in connection with that case also. Reed was found nude, face up, having been raped and strangled on September 9, 1975.
Eighteen years to the day, Joan Giambra was found nude, face up, raped and strangled on September 9, 1993. Her daughter was found with her, nude, catatonic, and apparently left for dead. She survived, but has no memory of the events. Donohue was found guilty just last year in that case, and is currently in jail for Giambra’s murder.
Even a casual observer untrained in any kind of detective work might think it weird that both these murders occurred on the same calendar date—September 9—of different years, and that Donohue was a suspect in both cases.
But is it merely a weird coincidence or a chilling fact that Donohue’s birthday is September 9, 1952?
Delano wanted to re-investigate Reed’s murder, but the evidence in that case seems to have vanished or been destroyed in 1978. And until former DA Frank Clark declared Girard’s death a cocaine overdose last February 13 as a result of forensic superstar Michael Baden’s opinion 15 years after the fact, it had been a murder.
Only a few months prior, the girl’s mother Lynn DeJac had been in prison for the strangulation death. Imagine if Baden could have visited over a decade ago and cleared things up back then. Justice could have been done. Girard, by the way, was also found nude, facing up, and DeJac had always maintained she felt Donohue had been responsible.
DNA evidence has come a long way since 1993. Back then, there was no way to display to the jury that Donohue’s DNA was found mixed with blood in Girard’s bedroom—on the walls, bedclothes, and in her vagina. These are all now inconvenient, ugly truths, but of course, Donohue can never be tried for the murder. Her death certificate records for posterity that the 13-year-old died as a result of having trace amounts of cocaine in her bloodstream and head trauma. Baden cited froth in her mouth as evidence of a coke overdose.
It was with this and other knowledge about the case that Delano sensed a whitewash. Joe Marusek, who prosecuted DeJac for the DA all those years ago, put in a call to Delano’s superiors when the detective attempted to contact a woman named Katie Harrington, a childhood friend of Girard. Marusek met Harrington during the trial, and years later he received a call from her because Delano was looking for her, wanting to ask her questions about the case.
Marusek, now a private practice lawyer with Paul William Beltz, went over Delano’s head to discourage such an interview. Delano then got a call from Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards letting him know that both Deputy Police Commissioner Derenda and the DA’s office were upset that he was trying to contact Harrington.
Harrington—whose name may be changed now through marriage—currently works for the New York State Attorney General.
At one point on Tuesday, a tape of Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson was played. In it, the Commissioner says that if he had a problem, Delano should’ve “gone to the FBI or the Attorney General’s office.”
Delano did. He went to the FBI four times. It appears they forwarded things to the Attorney General, who forwarded them back to the Erie County DA.
Delano also tried to contact Wayne Hudson, whose testimony was instrumental in convicting DeJac. At the time of his testimony, Hudson was facing lengthy jail time for forgery. Back then he claimed that DeJac confessed to murdering her daughter, and he was not charged with forgery.
A meeting was arranged, and Hudson initially spoke to a Detective Aronica, but then called back later, irate. In the interim, he’d been contacted by the DA’s office. They had him sign off again on his original statements regarding the case, thus renewing the statute of limitations for perjury. He couldn’t change his story without risking jail time.
The frustration Delano felt affected his health. Trouble with his heart and appeals from his wife prompted him to take time off in December 2007 and January 2008. He’d returned by Valentine’s Day last year, when Girard’s death certificate was changed, and DA Clark announced the case was over.
After that, WGRZ reporter Scott Brown set up interviews with two experts at a forensic science convention in Washington, DC, and invited Delano to attend. Delano chose to go at the last minute, paying his own way. The experts refuted the cocaine overdose theory. Delano appeared on camera, and supplied a copy of crime scene footage and a polygraph test requested by Brown. After all, the evidence now concerned an overdose, not a murder.
Delano also recorded a disclaimer on camera, making clear that he was not appearing as a representative of the police department, as required by the police manual for any off-duty officer interacting with the media. Unfortunately, that disclaimer did not appear in the story, which aired February 25, and that little edit helps form the basis for the first charge currently filed against him.
The hearing is scheduled to continue Saturday. It may be months before it is determined whether or not Delano will be fired for insubordination.
—buck quigleyblog comments powered by Disqus
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