Judge upholds lesser Casper conviction

Jessica Pierce

The state Court of Appeals won’t consider a request by Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo to overrule the reduced conviction of Walter Casper III.

State Court of Appeals Judge Judith Kaye rendered the decision Monday. Casper was convicted in July 2000 of second-degree murder for killing his wife, Cathy Bly-Casper, by sending her over a cliff at Grimes Glen in Naples in the family minivan.

Casper could return to Ontario County Court to be re-sentenced on the lesser conviction of second-degree manslaughter as early as next week, Tantillo said. If he gets the maximum of five to 15 years in prison for that lesser charge, a parole board could release him from the Five Points Corrections Facility in Seneca County or he could be ordered to spend three more years behind bars.

“Obviosuy I’m disappointed with the outcome,” said Tantillo, noting that it wasn’t a shock, though, since the court rarely agrees to hear such arguments. “This is probably one of the, if not the most egregious  miscarriages of justice I've seen in my 28 years as a prosecutor.”

Stephen Bly, brother of Cathy Bly-Casper, said his family is devastated.

“It defies all comprehension,” he said. “The whole thing is totally disgusting and wrong. It’s an injustice, it’s disrespect to my sister’s life. The legal system has failed all because of a change in the law.”

The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court threw out Casper’s murder conviction on July 6. In early August, Tantillo asked the state Court of Appeals to hear his argument against a ruling that overturned Casper’s murder conviction. He said then that the court typically grants between 1 and 2 percent of such requests.

Since Casper’s conviction, the Court of Appeals has issued a series of decisions that have revised the law regarding depraved indifference murder, of which Casper was convicted. The changes can be applied retroactively, which is what happened in Casper’s case, Tantillo explained. He said 40 murder cases across New York — including some in Monroe County — have been reversed due to the changes.

Tantillo has said previously that even with the change to the law, Casper’s case merits a murder conviction. Weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, Tantillo met with several members of Casper’s wife's family, including the Caspers' two sons, 17 and 19, who now live with an uncle.

Stephen Bly said the public should be worried that Casper may soon be released.

“In probably a very short time, there’s going to be a guy that committed a very brutal murder, he is going to be walking the streets,” he said.

Casper, a civil engineer, was sentenced to the maximum for murder —  25 years to life in prison. Prosecutors said he was having an affair and was obsessed with another woman. They said he killed his wife of 15 years after telling her, during a stay at his parents' cottage on Honeoye Lake, that he wanted to take her to breakfast in Naples.

State police said Casper pulled alongside County Road 36, telling his wife that he had to relieve himself, then let the minivan roll over the cliff.

Casper said at sentencing that his wife's death was an accident, and that he was haunted by thoughts of what he could have done to prevent it.

Jessica Pierce can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 250, or at jpierce@mpnewspapers.com.