Prosecutors: Keep ‘predatory’ killer on death row

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Richard Laird (left) and Frank R. Chester (right).

Last week, Bucks County prosecutors urged the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to reject Richard R. Laird’s request to vacate his death sentence. Laird, who’s been on death row for 32 years, killed artist Anthony Milano in what prosecutors call a “predatory” crime against a gay man.

In December 1987, Laird and his accomplice Frank R. Chester kidnapped Milano, 26, to a wooded area in Tullytown, Pa., and slashed his throat so many times that Milano’s head was nearly severed.

The case became a cause celebre in the local LGBT community because both defendants voiced homophobic slurs inside a Bucks County tavern prior to kidnapping Milano. 

In 1988, Laird and Chester were sentenced to death by a Bucks County jury. But both men eventually were granted new trials due to faulty jury instructions. 

Rather than retry Chester, Bucks County authorities agreed to remove him from death row to the general prison population. In return, Chester agreed to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Chester, 51, is currently incarcerated at a state prison in LaBelle, Pa.

But no deal was offered to Laird, and after a second trial in 2007, he was resentenced to death. Laird claims his 2007 trial was unfair, because his attorneys failed to thoroughly investigate his background and convey to jurors the full extent of his childhood sexual abuse by his father. 

According to Laird’s appeal to the Third Circuit, he was orally and anally raped by his father between the ages of five and 11. The abuse caused him to become severely homophobic. He still suffers from gag reflex and cannot stand to be touched by another man. If jurors were alerted to the strong connection between Laird’s childhood abuse and Milano’s murder, they may have spared his life, according to Laird’s appeal.

But in a 62-page reply brief filed Sept. 21, prosecutors described Laird’s crime as “horrific” and “heinous.” They said Laird has only himself to blame for not disclosing to his attorneys the full extent of his father’s alleged abuse. “Laird himself is the only source that ever could provide additional information regarding his own sexual abuse [and] his decision not to reveal more information prior to his 2007 trial was the sole ‘limitation’ placed on [his attorneys’] investigation,” the reply brief states.

Prosecutors also note that jurors in 2007 were told that Laird’s father forced him to perform fellatio on occasion. Additionally, prosecutors scoffed at the notion that Laird cannot tolerate being touched by another man. They noted that prior to killing Milano, Laird and Chester slow-danced together in the tavern, in order to mock Milano, according to the reply brief.

Moreover, prosecutors asserted that Milano did nothing to provoke Laird, prior to his death. 

“Anthony Milano was minding his own business when Laird compelled the interaction between them by calling Milano over, demanding he buy drinks, and then taunting him for his sexual orientation,” the reply brief states. “Then, instead of leaving the bar or allowing Milano to leave, Laird demanded Milano give him and Chester a ride. Laird repeatedly engaged in predatory behavior toward Milano without provocation and then viciously killed him.”

Laird’s appellate attorneys, Joseph W. Luby and Christi A. Charpentier, declined to comment about the prosecution’s brief.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub also declined to comment. In a previous statement, Weintraub said: “We remain just as committed to the appeal and prosecution of Richard Laird for his hate-based murder of Anthony Milano now as much as ever. We do so in order to serve justice, and to honor Mr. Milano’s memory.” 

Weintraub had no comment on whether he would consider an agreement with Laird — similar to the agreement with Chester — allowing Laird to leave death row if he agreed to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Laird, 57, is currently on death row at a state prison in Skippack, Pa.

Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, said he’s impressed with the prosecution’s brief. 

“On two occasions, a Bucks County jury has sentenced Mr. Laird to death,” Robinette told PGN. “However, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever be executed. Although Mr. Laird has admitted killing Anthony Milano, he appears to blame his father’s abuse for this egregious crime. That’s unacceptable. If Mr. Laird takes full accountability for his wrongdoing, I would support his transfer to the general prison population for the remainder of his life. Otherwise, let him stay on death row indefinitely.”