3.16.2012

Filiberti Homicide - One Year Later

Last year, St.Patrick's Day fell on a Thursday, followed by a balmy weekend of fun and parties. Although this year's Winter was very mild here in Hyde Park, NY, last year I remember that the weekend had been the first breath of Springtime in the air, a nice weekend, that went horribly wrong. This St. Patrick's Day weekend marks the one-year anniversary of a popular young woman's violent death.

Katie Filiberti
HYDE PARK, NY - In the late morning of March 19, 2011, playing children discovered the brutalized remains of 18-year old gymnast Kathryn "Katie" Filiberti in a town park. Ms. Filiberti was a graduate of Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, just up the road from the suburban neighborhood where her body was discovered. She was also enrolled as a student at Dutchess Community College. The death was a shock to the community, and more so of course, to those who knew the young, popular athlete with a zest for life.

With a rash of domestic violence related homicides in the region, suspicions fell immediately upon her boyfriend, who had accompanied her to a party the night before she died. She had left that party abruptly, and the young man admitted to being the last person to see her alive as she left the party on foot, allegedly upset that someone she disliked showed up at the social gathering. The young people's celebration was held at a house in a development off of route 9G, a few miles south of where her body was found in another development along that same main road. The community fully expected a quick arrest and solution to the apparent murder.

While some supposed that perhaps, just perhaps, the death might be accidental, or even a tragic suicide, details of a vicious crime were leaked into the rumor mill. It was said that she had been found partially submerged in a drainage ditch on the edge of the park, half naked, violated, with her flesh carved into, and even stabbed in the face. In time, some of these details would sadly prove to be fairly accurate. We know today that she was indeed raped, strangled, and drowned. However, at that time investigators remained tight-lipped about all of the details in the case, refusing to even officially declare the death a homicide. They admitted to conducting a homicide investigation, as they would do in any suspicious death, but refused to proclaim that she had in fact died at the hands of another human being.

As weeks passed with no details emerging, and no arrest made, community frustration mounted. The public began to scrutinize the handling of the case, under the leadership of the Town of Hyde Park's newly and politically appointed police chief. He had come to the department with the credentials of a homicide investigator from a nearby city, but the outsider had been selected for the top post over a well-liked department veteran. The new chief was hand-picked by the town supervisor, amid a cloud of political wrangling under which the acting-chief finally threw up his hands and abruptly retired. So it is no surprise that the community began to question whether or not there was some political element to this investigation. Some even accused the police of dragging their feet to resolve the case because the boyfriend is in the family of a local prominent business owner.

The public were placated by the notion that we "just have to let the police do their job" and that police were only making sure they had all their ducks-in-a-row so to speak, in order to make the case air-tight for prosecution. The police chief himself personally assured the community that it was safe, leading most townsfolk to believe that he either knew who the killer was, or that the death was not in fact a murder after all. Perhaps a drunken stumble, a drug overdose, anything was on the table still for speculation at that point for anyone who did not personally have intimate knowledge of the case. Spokespersons from the investigative team promised that more details would be forthcoming once the Medical Examiner's Office had made their report.

The community was hungry for any small detail and the police had offered none, but the truth is that the Medical Examiner's report is instrumental in any suspicious death. Police had investigated the death as a homicide, as a matter of course, but it stood to reason that perhaps they were not sure of a cause of death themselves, or that they needed certain key details in order to properly charge their suspect, or both. So it was with breathless anticipation that the community awaited the Medical Examiner's report, and the statement by police informing the public as to the true nature of this young woman's death. Imagine the public outrage when that promise was broken.

Mystery Deepens Surrounding Death of Teen Girl

There were no new details to emerge, as promised with the completion of the report. Instead, the Dutchess County District Attorney's Office placed a gag order on the Medical Examiner's Office, who were then not even allowed to disclose the manner of death. Not the cause of death mind you, but not even allowed to reveal the manner of death, to confirm that the case was indeed a homicide. It was an unprecedented turn of events. What stumble had the police made in their investigation? What bombshell had been uncovered by the Medical Examiner? The community could only hope at that point, that time would tell.

It is understandable that police would not want to reveal certain details which might compromise an investigation, but this level of secrecy was truly unheard of. Granted, Hyde Park had never faced this sort of emotionally charged investigation before, but the county, and supposedly this new chief himself, have seen more than their fair share of tragic deaths. In nearby Poughkeepsie, for example, a string of missing persons turned out to be the work of a homegrown serial killer. That case was finally resolved when police raided that killer's house and found all or most of his victims there in the house, in varying states of decay. That case weighs heavy in the minds of most locals whenever a suspicious death is reported, and was no doubt something in mind when locals questioned how the police chief could make assurances of public safety without even having named a suspect or the circumstances of the young woman's death. Had this investigation been befouled by incompetence, or was there something much more sinister afoot?

Given the climate of suspicion by the community that there was something very wrong with the investigation at this point, their faith in public servants broken by broken promises, it is little wonder that the next turn of events exploded the way it did.

Cops Busted For Murder of Teen Girl in NY?

CONFIRMED: 2 Town Officers Submit DNA in Case of Slain Teen

To this day, the ins-and-outs of all that happened there in that frenzy of rumor, hatred, impatience, and incompetence is not fully understood. In short though, the rumor went out that two Hyde Park police officers had been arrested and charged in the death of Katie Filiberti. That rumor turned out to be less than accurate. They had not been charged. Instead, two officers were brought in for DNA testing after one officer admitted to having a personal relationship of some sort with the victim. It is said that the two were never suspects, but instead chose to submit DNA samples of their own accord, in order to quell public rumors of their involvement. Rumors that a large portion of the community had never heard until this news of DNA submission broke through the rumor mill, rather than an official statement declaring who was being tested and why. That entire chapter of this story was a complete debacle for the police department, and the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office quietly took over the homicide investigation, with a brief and simple statement that the two officers were not suspects. That did little to quell public outrage or suspicion.

Conspiracy and coverup in case of slain teen?

Although police were quick to clear their own as suspects in the case, without even suggesting any other suspects, they failed to clear the name of the young man who had been suspected initially. He had to do that himself, and without any official support or statement by officials.

Boyfriend of slain Hyde Park teen claims he has been ruled out as a suspect

Mother of slain teen's boyfriend slams town supervisor

Kate's boyfriend's name and reputation had been dragged through the mud for months, particularly in the commentary at a prominent local newspaper. While the publication did nothing to moderate a torrent of slanderous and threatening remarks there against the young man, they were quick to censor any talk of the police officers as suspects in the case. Before long, they closed comments entirely on any new story related to the case. This blatant and biased censorship only helped to further compound suspicions that there was indeed a coverup to protect police. To this day, that sentiment has not entirely dissipated, and some still believe that there has been a coverup right from the start, despite the fact that a suspect has since been named and charged.

Arrest Made in Case of Slain Teen 

Filiberti Homicide Press Conference

Stephen God-Afi Shand
According to officials, Stephen Shand is the man who sexually assaulted and murdered Kathryn Filiberti. Reports say Shand is an illegal immigrant from Jamaica who was working as a driver delivering Poughkeepsie Journal newspapers in the early morning hours of March 19, when he happened upon Katie walking alone along the road after she had left the party where she was last seen by friends. He was stopped and questioned by police, but let go despite the fact that he has no driver license. It wasn't until July 2011 that police asked Shand to provide a DNA sample. On August 9 police called him on the telephone and asked him to come to the police station, in order to help them with the investigation, where he was promptly arrested and charged.

It is quite possible, even likely that the police investigation was accurately concluded. However, there are those who have many lingering questions, doubts, and suspicions. Is Shand really the killer? Was there a coverup? On the one hand, questions like that sound like they come from the mind of a crazed conspiracy-theorist, but in this day and age, given the strange turns this case has taken, given very real conspiracies and coverups that have happened before, and given that this wouldn't be the first time cops got away with murder, those questions are really not so far-fetched. Just the same though, for those who are not prepared to ask such dangerous questions, one certainly has to call into question the competence of how this investigation was conducted. Although that police chief did resign in short-order, he was not the the only person involved in this case.

Controversial Police Chief Resigns

Even with the arrest of a suspect, the story was not over. Tragically, Kate's father John was found dead in a truck where he worked in late September of this past year, 2011. Police called the death a suicide.

John Filiberti was found dead in his company vehicle on Sunday afternoon. It is reported that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and that a 40-caliber semi-automatic pistol registered to him was recovered at the scene. The 48-year old's remains were discovered by playing children at the Verizon maintenance building on Van Wagner Road around 1 p.m.

The prosecution of the murder case now rests entirely on DNA evidence. Pretrial hearings in the case are set to begin May 21. At issue before these hearings get underway, is how police obtained the DNA sample from their suspect. Attorney's for Stephen Shand claim that his rights were violated when police failed to explain that he was not obligated to give a DNA sample, though he did sign a voluntary consent form.

Whatever the truth is, whatever the outcome of this trial may be, this weekend is the time to take a moment to remember Katie Filiberti, and mark the one year point since she left this Earth too early. May justice be served and may she rest in peace.

My personal condolences to her family, dear friends, and all those who's lives she touched.

Kate Filiberti



An open discussion on the case can be found here: Hudson Valley Forums

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