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Shut case is eyeopener
Ex-prosecutor wants new look at 1987 death

New York, NY - April 18, 2004 - A former Queens prosecutor said he believes the suspicious death of a young man outside an Elmhurst nightclub in 1987 was a homicide and that the case should be reopened.

John Scarpa, a respected veteran of the Queens district attorney's office who handled hundreds of homicide cases, reached his conclusion after reviewing autopsy and investigative reports of Christopher O'Connor, whose body was found outside the now- defunct L'Amour East club on Queens Blvd. christopher o'connor

"My position is it was circumstantially a homicide; he was beaten," said Scarpa, who was assigned to the homicide bureau from 1988 to 1998.

Scarpa, who is now in private practice, also charged that the autopsy performed by deputy medical examiner Dr. Josette Montas was incomplete.

The medical examiner ruled that O'Connor died of acute alcohol intoxication, but the manner of death - murder, suicide, accidental, natural - was never classified.

"I can't think of another case in the Queens County DA's office where someone died after calling the police and saying they were the victim of a crime, and it was not classified as a homicide investigation," Scarpa said.

Since O'Connor's body was discovered April 11, 1987, the case has been marked by controversy, with allegations of a political coverup, an incompetent investigation and mob ties to the nightclub.

Seventeen years later, those claims are being kept alive, primarily through O'Connor's boss, Michael Salem, who runs a mail-order lingerie business.

Salem operates a Web site called www.helpchristopher.com, and is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for O'Connor's death.

Salem contends that O'Connor, who had been ejected from the club, went back inside to retrieve his coat and wallet and was beaten by bouncers.

"Justice for Christopher is very important, but I also want to protect others from those people who killed Christopher," Salem said.

Issues raised by Salem, private investigators and pathologists he hired, and by Scarpa, who reviewed the case without fee through his affiliation with the Queens chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, include:

Despite a .39 blood-alcohol level, O'Connor made a fairly lucid call to 911 after he was ejected from the club. He gave the operator the phone number he was calling from, the street location and stated, "I've just been assaulted. ... They stole my jacket. They took my ... wallet. ... He punched my eye out."

He then called Salem and left a message saying, "They have my jacket. ... I'll take care of it."

Montas did not take into account the 911 tape in her autopsy findings, and ignored evidence that O'Connor's body may have been dragged to the location where he was found.

L'Amour East was owned by Joseph Guarino, an ex-cop with a shady past.

The club janitor, Riza Dekidjiev, who found O'Connor's body, was himself bludgeoned to death two years later inside the club - several days before he was scheduled to meet with lawyers representing O'Connor's mother in a civil suit. His killing remains unsolved.

Patrick Clark, a spokesman for current Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, said in a statement: "While we have great sympathy for the O'Connor family, his death was carefully and thoroughly investigated when it occurred 17 years ago. No evidence was found at that time to indicate that he died as the result of foul play, and there would appear to be no basis now to warrant a reinvestigation of the tragic incident."

Former Queens City Councilman Morton Povman, who represented the nightclub, said that the victim "brought on his own problem."

"He was drunk and he got in a fight outside the establishment, and as a result of his getting in a fight and falling to the ground, he died," Povman said, adding that the club paid O'Connor's mother a $60,000 settlement without admitting any wrongdoing.

According to NYPD reports, witnesses saw O'Connor engage in a pushing match with another man outside the club, and said he fell to the ground several times.

"I feel that his friend [Salem] sincerely believes there was foul play," Povman said, "but he's in error."

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