Man talks of drug life, denies Albany killing

Suspect in stabbing of retiree says witness account is vindictive lie

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B10

Date: Friday, December 29, 2006

ALBANY - Behind the steering wheel of his taxicab, drifting in and out of dark corners of the city at night, Christopher Oathout discovered crack.

"It was very easy to get what you wanted - and sometimes get it for free," the 24-year-old accused killer said Thursday at the Albany County jail. It was Oathout's lust for the drug that authorities say led him to kill. He is charged with first-degree murder and robbery.

But for the first time Thursday, Oathout publicly challenged the charges against him, saying the woman who says she watched him repeatedly stab 69-year-old Robert Taylor was a spurned lover angry that she was losing her drug connection.

"I wasn't in the apartment - no less stabbed the gentleman," Oathout, who grew up in Hudson, said. "The only thing I'm guilty of is having an addiction and hanging around with the wrong people."

Police say he killed Taylor during a fight over money that Oathout needed for crack. The case has so far hung on the accounts of a 38-year-old admitted crack user named Oswaida Lugo.

The woman wept on the witness stand as she recounted the killing earlier this month, but told police she smoked crack after the slaying and testified that she could not exactly recall whether it was night or day.

Lugo gave police at least two conflicting accounts of the slaying at the historic DeWitt Clinton Apartments, across Eagle Street from the Capitol.

In one, she says she watched the killing in the bedroom, while Taylor was pinned to his bed. In a second statement made hours later to two detectives, she said she witnessed the murder in the living room, where Taylor was later found. Lugo signed both statements, swearing they were the truth.

Neither statement was allowed into evidence during a preliminary hearing - a development that infuriated Oathout's lawyer, John Aretakis, who insists her credibility underpins the state's case.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Harris declined to comment on Lugo's statements, noting that his office had not released them and deferred to the judge in the preliminary hearing, who ordered Oathout held without bail pending action by a grand jury.

Lugo, who has an extensive criminal record for drugs, told police Oathout urged her to accompany him to Taylor's seventh-floor apartment on the premise that the older man would pay to watch the two have sex.

Oathout denied ever being in the apartment and said he had seen Taylor perhaps only once while he and Lugo were staying with a friend, Ernie Nelson, at the DeWitt Clinton.

Police have said the murder occurred sometime between Oct. 6 and Oct. 9 - the same time that Oathout contends he and Lugo had a falling out over her insistence that she keep prostituting herself.

Lugo could not be reached for comment Thursday. A man who answered the phone at a number she has used in the past said she did not live there anymore.

"I told her to go on her way," Oathout said, an order he said made her angry. "I was her bread and butter, I was her money to get the drugs."

Without a more exact time of death, Oathout said he can't give authorities an alibi.

"I can't tell you where I was a hundred hours," he said

Oathout said he was questioned by police going door-to-door almost immediately after Taylor's body was found by a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

He gave detectives a false name because he had a warrant for his arrest on an unrelated minor charge and then went to stay with his sister in Manhattan, he said.

New York City homicide detectives found him and he was brought back to Albany in late October, where he said city police questioned him about the slaying and released him.

On the night of Dec. 3, hours before Lugo gave the statements that would lead to Oathout's arrest, the two ran into each other near the Armory bus stop, he said.

Knowing police suspected him in the killing, he said he asked her what she knew and she replied something about a maintenance man being involved.

"I am not a person who is prone to violence," he said.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@