January 17, 2007
Thomas Grasso

I'll be getting back into my usual swing of things later today, but until then here's a story from my hometown paper that caught my interest. I'll highlight the relevant bits:

The convicted murderer, a Staten Islander, was eager to die rather than rot behind bars. But the governor, a Catholic, adamantly opposed capital punishment.

So Mario Cuomo pulled every string in his political cabinet to keep 32-year-old Thomas Grasso of St. George alive to serve a sentence of 20 years to life for the 1991 strangling of an elderly St. George man, rather than see him extradited to Oklahoma, where he faced certain execution for murdering an 87-year-old Tulsa woman.

But then Republican George Pataki turned the capital case into an election promise and upset Cuomo in New York's tightly contested 1994 gubernatorial race.

In one of his first acts after being sworn in, Pataki signed Grasso's extradition papers, and on March 20, 1995, Grasso got his fondest wish in the form of an injection of lethal drugs at Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

He was the last Staten Islander executed for murder.

What interests me about this is that the judge who sentenced Thomas Grasso back in the day was my dad. Dad had a few issues with the history that was presented in this story. Here's the email he sent in response to the reporter:

I don't agree with your conclusion that Thomas Grasso was a "Staten Islander". I don't have access to the records ( Ind. #240/91) but I remember that this Oklahoma killer was a transient living in a SRO on Central Avenue.

A reasonable definition of a "Staten Islander" should include, at the least, some recognizable contact with the Island. Mr. Grasso didn't appear to have any real contact with the Island except being physically there when arrested for the horrible murder.

As to Gov. Mario Cuomo's "Catholic" motivated resistance to the sending Mr. Grasso back to Oklahoma to face the death penalty, I question your definition of the then Governor's religious beliefs. Certainly, his opposition was his political stance on the death penalty but to equate that opposition to his religious beliefs is too much a stretch for me. If his opposition to the death penalty was solely "Catholic" than he should have been opposed to abortion. We know he did not oppose abortion and that appeared to be also a political decision.

I still hold to my position about Mr. Grasso; he should have served his 20 years in New York and then have been sent back to Oklahoma. He got the mercy that his victim didn't get, and he got that mercy for political reasons. Clearly Mr. Grasso out smarted both Cuomo and Pataki.

So much for my opinion,

Charles A. Kuffner, Jr.

Dad showed me a transcript of the sentencing hearing. During the brief proceeding, Grasso told Dad to "suck my ", to which Dad, in one of the great wish-I'd-thought-of-that moments I've heard of, responded "Fortunately for me, I'm a vegetarian." I don't have a point to make about any of this, I just love the story and thought this was as good a time as any to share it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 17, 2007 to Crime and Punishment


If your dad was Charles Kuffner,Jr then are you Charles the 3rd?

That is so cool! I hope you can consider Charley or so as a nick name or name for your next child to continue such a family tradition.

Posted by: Burt Levine on January 17, 2007 9:25 AM

Yes, I'm Charles III. I've always been proud of that. If I do have a son someday, though, I'm not planning to pass that on. I think three's enough, and that it's best to restart every now and then.

That said, if the next generation wants to pick it up again, I won't object.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on January 17, 2007 11:06 AM