Settlement Reached In Murder-For-Hire Litigation
CONTACT: Peggy McFarland
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - United States Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that a stipulation and settlement agreement had been entered between with Randall Delbert Knight and approved by the Honorable William M. Skretny, Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of New York.
In 2010, Knight pleaded guilty before the Chief Judge Skretny to interstate murder-for-hire, for his July 3, 1994, murder of Andie Gasper, in the Town of Yorkshire in Cattaraugus County. Prior to stabbing Mr. Gasper to death, Knight and the victim’s wife, Cheryl Gasper, discussed murdering him in order that they might share in the proceeds of his life insurance policy. In furtherance of those discussions, Knight and Cheryl Gasper communicated using facilities of, and travelled in, interstate commerce between their respective residences in the States of Ohio and New York. Prior to his prosecution in federal court, Knight, in 1995, had been tried and acquitted for the murder in New York State Court. Following his 2010 federal plea of guilty, which also contained an agreement from the State of Ohio that he would not face prosecution in Ohio for his murder of Gasper, Knight was sentenced principally to a term of imprisonment of 288 months.
After he was sentenced, Knight claimed that the attorney who represented him at the time of his plea in federal court was deficient in that the attorney failed to raise and consider, prior to his plea of guilty, a potential statute of limitations defense. The defense could have been based on the fact that the statute to which Knight pled guilty was governed by a five (5) year statute of limitation period as of the date of the homicide. The law was amended, after the homicide, on September 13, 1994, with such amendment arguably removing the statute of limitation period.
While Chief Judge Skretny originally rejected Knight’s statute of limitation claim, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, following an appeal by Knight, sent the case back to Chief Judge Skretny for further consideration. In so doing, the Court of Appeals observed that the Solicitor General’s Office, in a brief filed in an unrelated case before the United States Supreme Court, had adopted the position that the Department of Justice no longer believed that the 1994 amendment to the murder-for-hire statute—the same statute to which Knight had pled guilty—extended the statute of limitations applicable to offenses committed before that date. As a result, the government was effectively precluded from defending the very argument relied upon by Chief Judge Skretny in rejecting Knight’s claims.
On remand, Judge Skretny, beginning last month, commenced a fact finding hearing. The United States was represented at that hearing by First Assistant United States Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. and Criminal Chief Joseph M. Guerra, III. During the course of the hearing, Knight, in addition to his statute of limitation claim, also asserted that his prior attorney was deficient for failing to raise and consider, before his earlier plea of guilty, whether Knight, in fact, could have been subject to prosecution in the State of Ohio for his killing of Andie Gasper.
At the hearing, Knight’s current attorney cross-examined his former attorney over the course of three days. The hearing also included testimony from a federal prosecutor who handled the matter at the time of plea, and Knight himself.
The stipulation and settlement agreement approved by Chief Judge Skretny calls for Knight to be sentenced to 168 months imprisonment. Knight will terminate all litigation seeking to attack his prior conviction and judgment.
United States Attorney Hochul stated that today’s stipulation “ensures that a confessed murderer, having previously been acquitted in State court, will not escape prosecution based upon the claimed deficiencies of his prior attorney. More than 20 years after their son and brother was ruthlessly murdered, the Gasper family will hopefully find some peace knowing that they will not have to hear from Mr. Knight ever again.”