Ex-cabbie guilty of murder

Jury finds man killed Albany senior in failed bid for crack money

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B6

Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007

ALBANY - Former cab driver Christopher Oathout was convicted late Friday of stabbing a 69-year-old man to death last year in a downtown apartment building.

Jurors deliberated more than 28 hours over two days before finding Oathout, 25, guilty of killing Robert Taylor during a botched scheme to obtain crack money in the DeWitt Clinton Apartments in October 2006. He faces 25 years to life in prison. "I swear I didn't do this," a sobbing Oathout said repeatedly, as deputies carried him away in handcuffs and shackles. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Oathout was arrested last December, two months after Taylor's body was found on the seventh-floor of the apartments, which overlook the state Capitol on State Street. He was convicted of second-degree murder after a five-day trial featuring an eclectic assortment of witnesses who ranged from seasoned police detectives to a crack-addicted former prostitute.

The prosecution's final witness was a white supremacist with a lengthy criminal record who sported a tattoo on his head that read "skinhead."

"I think the difference was the jury believed the witnesses the people presented," said Assistant District Attorney Brian Farley, who prosecuted the case. "They chose to give them credibility."

The jury of six men and six woman convicted Oathout shortly before 8 p.m. As the jurors rushed out of Albany County Court, one told reporters the experience had been "very upsetting." In a later interview, one juror said that while the panelists questioned the credibility of each witness, the fact that they did not know each other and presented very similar versions of events was the deciding factor.

While describing the witnesses as "one more unreliable than the last," the juror - who asked not to be identified - noted that "the state didn't pick the witnesses, he (Oathout) picked his own witnesses by the people he hung out with."

"There was a little bit of division in the beginning," the juror said, adding that many of the panelists harbored doubts, and requested the definition of a "reasonable doubt" to ease the decision. "That's why we asked to listen to those two testimonies again. It clarified to a lot of us hearing it read back by the reporter. We could tell that the two stories matched, and that they didn't know each other ... either by themself wouldn't have done it."

"It was gut-wrenching - it wasn't an easy decision either way," the juror said.

Oathout's defense attorney, John Aretakis, left the courthouse moments earlier, proclaiming, "Juries - it's a total crap shoot. Tonight it came up snake-eyes." He had questioned the prosecution's case, which rested on the eyewitness testimony of former prostitute Oswaida Lugo, 39, a crack-addicted grandmother with 11 prior convictions.

She testified Tuesday that she and Oathout went to Taylor's apartment to have sex in front of the man. In return, she said, they were to receive $20.

But when Taylor wouldn't fork over more money, Oathout punched and repeatedly stabbed him. Oathout told her the victim was "making me do it," she testified.

When Lugo first spoke to police in December 2006, she said Oathout stabbed Taylor in his bedroom. She then changed her account, saying the victim was slain on a couch. Lugo also testified that she was unsure what time of day the slaying took place, saying, "Sometimes, I don't even know if it's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday."

Another witness, white supremacist Daniel Reuter, testified Thursday that Oathout confessed the slaying to him in May, while both men were in the Albany County jail.

"Someday they'll be a shining light on Christopher Oathout," Aretakis told reporters. "He's a good person. He's not a liar."

County Judge Thomas A. Breslin presided in the case.

Oathout, who was taken to the Albany County jail, will be sentenced Feb. 8.

Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at rgavin@ timesunion.com.