Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Genetic Violence: Robert an Stephen Spahalski

The Trial

In January 2006, Spahalski pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Initially he had intended to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but he changed his defense strategy.

The trial lasted two weeks and involved all four murders, although there was some question about whether there might be four separate trials. The prosecutor, Ken Hyland, offered a narrative that involved about forty witnesses and over 200 exhibits, to show that Robert Bruce Spahalski was a dangerous man who should be locked away for as long as possible. His confessions matched the physical evidence, so it was clear he did exactly what he claimed he did.

Spahalski's attorney, Joe Damelio, protested the reliability of Spahalski's 13-hour interrogation. He said that due to Spahalski's drug use and his inability to take the medication he needed for a psychological condition, he was not of sound mind when he came into the police department to turn himself in, nor when he signed four separate admissions of guilt. Damelio wanted the confessions thrown out, but the judge allowed them to stay. Damelio then focused on the fact that Spahalski had been high on crack cocaine during each incident, suffered from extreme emotional disturbance, and could not have formed the requisite intent to kill. "The demon's here," he said as he placed two bags of cocaine in front of the jury, "and it's affected his mind."

However, Hyland pressed home the fact that beating someone with a hammer over small change is quite personal and brutally violent, as were the strangulations with ropes and wires. In addition, voluntary intoxication is not an exculpatory defense if the person chose to take drugs aware of such possible outcomes. In Spahalski's case, he had known he had committed murder on other occasions when he had used cocaine, and yet he had kept using it. He also had known each time that what he was doing was wrong, because he had tried to cover it up and mislead the police.

On November 13, the jury began to deliberate. They took less than three hours to find Spahalski guilty on several counts: intentional second-degree murder in the strangling death of Vivian Irizarry, two counts of second-degree murder in the beating of Charles Grande (one count was for the felony robbery associated with the murder), and two counts of intentional second-degree murder in the strangling deaths of both Moraine Armstrong and Adrian Berger. In other words, the jury concluded that Spahalski had been aware of what he was doing when he killed these four people, and that it was wrong.

He continues to be suspected in other deaths, but the evidence is lacking and he may not be prosecuted for them.

On December 12, Hyland asked for the maximum sentence of 25 years for each count, to be served consecutively. Spahalski was sentenced to 100 years in prison.


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