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Murderer’s past to get passing mention at robbery trial

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
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— Opening statements are scheduled for this morning in the burglary and robbery trial of a man accused of breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, hitting her and robbing her.

But on Tuesday morning, it was Isaiah Curry’s criminal past that was at issue, and the question was how much attorneys could say about that history, if anything, at trial.

The biggest issue with Curry’s past is his participation in one of the most notorious local murder cases of the past 20 years: the baseball-bat beating death of pizza delivery man Hassan Noorzai at Yates Village in November 2000.

In the current case, Curry, now 28, faces up to 15 years in prison. He is accused of forcing his way into the woman’s apartment Sept. 19, punching her in the face and throwing her into an aluminum screen door. The victim injured her foot, according to court papers, and Curry allegedly stole a key from her.

Prosecutor Brian Gray alleged in court Tuesday morning that Curry essentially admitted to the break-in on a recorded jailhouse phone call and encouraged a woman to intimidate the victim into not talking. That same night, Gray said, a group of women did just that.

Curry’s defense attorney, Wendy DeForge, questioned what Curry actually said on the recording.

The September incident happened in the same public housing complex in which Curry and two other teens killed delivery man Hassan Noorzai and came about five months after Curry’s latest release from state prison.

Curry, who was 15 at the time of Noorzai’s death, served about 11 years in prison for his role in the November 2000 killing. He received a total sentence of 10 years to life, the maximum murder sentence for a 15-year-old. His codefendants, one of whom delivered the fatal blows with the bat, were both 16 at the time and are now serving sentences of 50 years to life.

The three lured Noorzai to Yates Village by ordering pizza, soda and breadsticks. The trio made off with $15. Curry’s cut was $5. They spent it on marijuana.

Noorzai was an immigrant from Afghanistan who had lived in the Capital Region for 18 years. He worked as a civil engineer until his employer went bankrupt. He then became an assistant manager for Domino’s Pizza on State Street.

Defendants’ criminal histories are generally off limits at later trials for unrelated crimes, but they can be referenced under specific circumstances. If a prior bad act is directly relevant to the new case, prosecutors can seek to use it in their case. More often, though, prior convictions come up if the defendant takes the stand, on the theory that the criminal history helps determine credibility.

Judges must then weigh the credibility concerns versus fair trial concerns, and they often rule for compromise, allowing generic felony questions over specific conviction questions. That’s what Judge Felix Catena ruled in Curry’s case.

Gray asked Catena for permission to be able to question Curry if he was convicted of murder. If Catena would not allow that, Gray asked for the standard compromise. Gray wanted to ask Curry if he was convicted of a “violent felony.”

Curry’s attorney, Wendy DeForge, argued that any mention of the prior conviction would be too prejudicial to her client. If there was to be a compromise, she asked that Gray only be allowed to ask Curry if he was convicted of a “felony.”

After hearing the arguments, Catena ruled in favor of the “felony” compromise proposed by DeForge.

If Curry takes the stand, the killing of Noorzai will be referenced only as “a felony,” with no details.

 
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