LOCKPORT – A former Lutheran school music teacher, whose conviction for sex crimes was overturned by the State Court of Appeals, testified last week that he falsely confessed under police pressure.
Michael J. Solomon took the witness stand in a Niagara County Court pretrial hearing in which defense attorney Glenn Pincus is attempting to invalidate the confession.
Solomon, now 48, was convicted in August 2005 on 23 counts of having sex with a girl younger than 11 between August 1999 and March 2004, and of using her in pornographic photos.
Solomon directed the fourth- through eighth-grade band at St. John and Holy Ghost Lutheran schools in Wheatfield and at night taught trumpet, trombone, saxophone, clarinet and drums at Matt’s Music in North Tonawanda. Police said his alleged victim was not one of his students.
He was sentenced to 32 years in prison, but last October, the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial on the grounds that his trial attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michele G. Bergevin, had a conflict of interest because she was representing North Tonawanda Detective Larry Kuebler, one of the investigating officers, in a private legal matter.
Even though the court acknowledged that Bergevin did a good job cross-examining Kuebler during the trial, such a conflict produced an automatic reversal of the conviction.
Besides discussion of the interview between Solomon and Detective Karen Smith, the hearing also featured a recording of two phone calls that the alleged victim made to Solomon on consecutive days in June 2004, under police guidance.
The girl, who is now 22, was attempting to obtain incriminating statements from Solomon. On the witness stand, Solomon said the tape reflects what the caller heard but not what he heard, because he was having poor cellphone reception.
He pointed to the pauses in his side of the conversation and the occasional repetition of what the girl was saying as proof of that.
But most of the hearing before County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas was concerned with a 40-minute interrogation of Solomon by Smith, after a search warrant was brought to the suspect’s home by six or seven officers and a police dog.
“They basically circled me like a wagon train from a Western movie,” Solomon said.
Once he was taken to Police Headquarters, Solomon quoted Smith as saying, “We can make this easy. Just say you did this. It’ll be better for (the girl).”
“I said, ‘This is ridiculous. I did not do this,’ ” Solomon testified.
But he said Smith wore him down, and he said he was worried about his children, one of them autistic, whom he had left at home with no indication of when he might return.
“I wanted to get home to my kids,” Solomon told Farkas. So he told Smith, “If you say I did it once, I did it once. If you say I did it 100 times, I did it 100 times.”
Smith then left the room and came back with an attorney Solomon didn’t know, who told him not to sign anything. He didn’t, but he was arrested anyway.
“I would have said anything to get out of that room. They were making awful allegations,” Solomon said.
Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco established that Solomon never said he wanted to leave, never asked for a lawyer and never asked for the questioning to stop.
“I was told I had the right to remain silent, but that’s not the impression I got,” Solomon told Zucco.
Solomon said he told Smith he might have molested the girl “once when I was very, very drunk.”
Solomon said Smith told him that police had a dress with DNA on it. “I said, ‘Great, that’ll clear me.’ It turned out that was fictitious,” Solomon testified.
As for the taped phone calls, Zucco noted that Solomon is never heard asking the girl to repeat anything.
The tape has Solomon telling the girl several times that he didn’t want to talk about these matters over the phone. Zucco accused Solomon of being tight-lipped because he suspected the call might be recorded; Solomon denied that.
The hearing was adjourned until late August, when Pincus may call another witness to the stand.