Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — More than 31 years after the killings in North Tonawanda, Robie Drake was back in Niagara County Court Thursday in preparation for his third homicide trial and his second court case before State Supreme Court Judge Richard Kloch.
Drake, now 48, was 17 when he killed his peers Steven Rosenthal, 18, and Amy Smith, 16, in a parked car off River Road in 1981. Two of his previous guilty convictions have been tossed out, and now Drake awaits his third opportunity to convince a jury that although he killed the victims, he didn’t do so intentionally.
The trial’s start is likely months away, but it inched closer Thursday afternoon when Kloch delivered his decisions on several pretrial motions. Most notably, Kloch denied a public defenders’ vehement request that he recuse himself from the case.
The defense lawyers made many varied objections to Kloch presiding over the trial, including negative statements the judge made about Drake’s behavior at his last sentencing in 2010 and Kloch’s role as North Tonawanda city attorney when the killings took place in 1981.
“Never did the police consult with me about Mr. Drake’s case,” Kloch said. “Never did they consult with me about any case.”
Assistant Public Defender Christopher Privateer also took issue with Kloch’s law clerk, Ron Winter, who previously served as an assistant district attorney for a period of time between Drake’s first and second trial. Although Kloch denied that Winter was involved in the case, he said he would not discuss the case with his clerk “in an exercise of extreme caution.”
Privateer also brought up an alleged conversation Kloch had with one of the victims’ family members. He demanded an inquiry into what had been said, but Kloch said he didn’t remember the talk taking place, and said if it had, the discussion wouldn’t have been inconsequential.