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Federal appeals court backs use of AA confessions to convict man

By The Associated Press

07.22.02

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NEW YORK — A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a man who stabbed to death two doctors, finding it was fair to convict him using his confessions to fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members.

On July 17, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision of a lower court judge who had ruled that conversations among participants of the international voluntary rehabilitation program should have been excluded from the trial of Paul Cox.

U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant had concluded that the conversations were a form of confidential religious communication.

The appeals court stopped short of deciding whether AA conversations were protected as religious speech, saying the court record of the case failed to establish that Cox communicated with fellow AA members to seek spiritual guidance.

Law.com reported on July 18 that “although the court reaffirmed its view that under some circumstances, AA is a religious organization for purposes of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, it found that convicted killer Paul Cox ‘spoke with fellow AA members primarily to unburden himself, to seek empathy and emotional support, and perhaps in some instances to seek practical guidance’ such as legal advice.”

The court found that the confessions fell outside New York’s cleric-congregant privilege.

Cox was convicted in December 1994 on two counts of manslaughter in the 1988 stabbing deaths of Laksman Rao Chervu and his wife, Shanta Chervu, at their home. The crime went unsolved for four years. In November 1990, Cox joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

After becoming sober, the appeals court wrote, Cox increasingly suffered from dreams in which he experienced flashbacks, allowing him to recall that he had killed the couple.

He first confessed in a fit of tears to a fellow AA member who was his girlfriend. Between 1991 and 1993, Cox also confessed to a prospective roommate, the court said. The woman told police what Cox had said and he was arrested in May 1993.

He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The judge stayed Cox's release pending the appeal.

Cox's attorney, Robert Isseks, said he had not decided whether to appeal.

Previous

Judge: Alcoholics Anonymous conversations are 'religious communication'
Federal court overturns manslaughter conviction, saying AA's religious nature makes testimony from group’s members inadmissible.  08.02.01

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Justices refuse, without comment, to consider reinstating New York statutes that set standards for labeling kosher food.  02.24.03

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