Lawyer: ‘Reckless conduct’ that resulted in fatal Jersey City car crash mistrial warrants full dismissal

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The attorney representing a Jersey City man accused of killing a local firefighter in a drunken crash said that the case should be dismissed with prejudice after a mistrial since someone else’s blood sample was entered into evidence as his client’s DNA.

Stephen Zadroga.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Peter Willis, counsel for Stephen Zadroga in the matter, argued in a brief earlier this month that further examination of the evidence that resulted in a July 15th mistrial indicates that the indictment should be dismissed with prejudice.

“On July 11, 2019, RN Melissa Rosario testified during cross examination that on November 16th, 2017 the she drew (2) two vials of blood from Mr. Zadroga. This testimony contradicted all HCPO reports that stated that the State was in possession [of] (5) five vials of blood that were drawn from Mr. Zadroga and placed into evidence,” Willis wrote.

“If the Defense hadn’t asked the witness how many vials of blood she had drawn from Mr. Zadroga this egregious mixup from the State would have never been discovered.”

Zadroga, 29, of Jersey City, was indicted in December 2017 on charges that included death by auto and driving while intoxicated in connection to a fatal crash the previous month which took the life of Matthew Nierstedt, a Jersey City firefighter.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office alleged that Zadroga had a blood alcohol content of .376, over four times the legal limit of .08.

Willis further argues that a guilty verdict based on this BAC alone could have forced Zadroga to serve anywhere between 10 to 30 years in jail.

Counsel continues that the state’s “reckless conduct” denies his client of the “constitutional right of fundamental fairness,” since the prosecutor’s office introduced blood samples taken from someone other than Zadroga as part of the evidence in the case.

Seeking to provide ample evidence that the state were either “willful” or “so grossly negligent that its handling of the evidence rose to the level of willful conduct,” Willis recalls meeting with the state on July 26th to inspect the blood vials in question.

“What was very clear from the labels on these vials was that they did not contain Mr. Zadroga’s name, his date of birth, his medical record number or the correct date that Mr. Zadroga’s blood was drawn at the JCMC (Jersey City Medical Center),” he said in the brief.

“Also what was very clear was that each vial had the date of 4/4/17 as the date the blood was drawn, the vials had the medical record number of J0099907975 which was not the medical record number of Mr. Zadroga and they had the birth date of a ‘John Doe.'”

He accuses HCPO Det. Daniel Bellini of mishandling the evidence in this instance, since he signed for the vials – allegedly without checking the name, date of birth, medical record number or blood draw date.

In conclusion, Willis contends that these errors made by the state are more than enough for the court to waive off this case for good.

“Mr. Zadroga should not have to pay for the State’s incompetence and extreme recklessness by being put through another trial. He has already paid dearly both emotionally and monetarily,” wrote Willis.

” … If the State is not subjected to serious consequences and held accountable for their negligence and reckless conduct it will not deter them which will ensure that this will happen again to another defendant.”

Hudson County Superior Court Judge Patrick Arre is currently scheduled to rule on the motion at a September 9th hearing.

HCPO spokesman Ray Worrall said that the state will be opposing the motion, but declined to comment further due to the fact that the matter remains in pending litigation.

“This is a motion filed by the defense for a reconsideration of the Court’s prior ruling to dismiss the matter without prejudice,” he said.

“Due to the pending motion, which the State shall oppose before the Court on September 9, 2019, the State is precluded from commenting any further on the matter.”