By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO April 10, 2001 - In a surprise announcement last Thursday, Anthony Schroedel, 42, of Eldred pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder, in addition to a host of other charges, stemming from his brutal knife attack on a mother and her 11-year-old son almost two years ago.
On June 21, 1999, Schroedel broke into the home of Barbara Vogt along Route 55 in the Town of Highland at approximately 4 a.m., apparently intent on burglarizing the premises. Armed with a hunting type knife and carrying a flashlight, the gloved intruder caused the death of Barbara Vogt, by repeatedly slashing and stabbing her, according to the 17-page grand jury indictment of Schroedel on July 7, 1999.
At the same time, Schroedel attempted to cause the death of John Vogt [Vogts then-11-year-old son, who is also known as J.T.] . . . by using a dangerous instrument . . . to slash and stab him multiple times, causing serious physical injuries, continued the indictment.
Schroedel was scheduled to appear April 24 in a capital murder trial before Sullivan County Court Judge Frank J. LaBuda. By pleading guilty to 16 of the 18 charges levied against him by the grand jury, Schroedel escaped facing lethel injection at the hands of the state.
Two of the charges were dropped, as they were deemed redundant by Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen F. Lungen, long known for his tough stance of crime.
By pleading guilty, Schroedel faces life without parole, plus 75-100 years to life in a maximum security facility. He will be formally sentenced on May 17.
Noting that he had a very strong case to seek the death penalty, Lungen said during a press conference following the court procedure, It took us 14 months to file the death notice in this case . . . but last week, things changed.
As the date of the murder trial neared, the relatives of J.T. Vogt, now a 13-year-old struggling to come to grips with his mothers death and heal from his wounds, approached Lungen and advised him they were concerned over the impact having to testify in open court would have on the youngster.
We had extensive conversations with family members, said Lungen. Some agreed early on with pursuing the death penalty, [while] others had different points of view.
Last week, Lungen met with J.T., his father John Vogt and Barbara Vogts sister, Patricia McDonald. John and Patricia are looking after J.T. now that his mother is gone.
You could see the pain on his face it was extraordinary, said Lungen of the recent interview with J.T. and his family.
Faced with the prospect of putting his key eyewitness to the murder on the stand in front of a killer, Lungen decided to accept the guilty pleas and drop the death notice, thus sparing Schroedel from execution.
The joint investigation was handled by the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department, New York State Police and the DAs Office.
Im in full agreement with the DA and the family that it was the right decision not to bring in a 13-year-old boy to relive what took place that tragic night, said Sullivan County Sheriff Daniel Hogue.
During the press conference, at one point Lungen had a vise-like grip on the microphone stands in front of him as he recounted the tale of Schroedel breaking into the Vogt residence.
He walked up those stairs and viciously and brutally murdered her . . . then he went back to his house and burned his bloody clothes, he said. This defendant knew and understood exactly what he was doing.
In the end, Schroedel pleaded guilty to multiple charges: first- and second-degree murder and attempted murder; burglary and assault in the first degree; and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.
The decision [to seek the death penalty] was mine, and to a significant degree still is. . . . As a district attorney, I wanted to go forward with the death penaty . . . [but] I had to put my personal position aside in the best interests of J.T. and his family, said Lungen.
Under the state law as its now on the books, a defendant cant plead guilty to a murder indictment if a death notice is pending.
According to Lungen, before Schroedel pleaded guilty to the numerous charges, he understood that his admissions could be used against him at trial. The judicial admissions were followed by Lungen withdrawing the death notice. Schroedel then pleaded guilty to 16 of the 18 counts in the original indictment.
In February, the Capital Defenders Office for the first time provided some evidence claiming that the defendant was mentally retarded, said Lungen. NYS statutes preclude a death penalty verdict if a defendant is found to meet certain standards of mental retardation.
Noting that his office investigated Schroedels prior history, [medical] records and hired a qualified psychologist to examine Schroedel, he said, The DAs office was prepared to litigate that issue at trial.
According to Lungen, what was at issue regarding the question of mental retardation wasnt whether or not Schroedel fully understood the crimes he commited the DA firmly believes he did but whether or not he met the states statutory definition of mental retardation.
Lungen pointed out that Schroedels competency to stand trial was never a consideration.
This was one of the most brutal, bloody crimes I ever witnessed in my 27 years [in law enforcement], including 50-75 homicide investigations, said Lungen during the press conference.
For the incredible act of violence committed on June 21, 1999 against Barbara Vogt and J.T., he [Schroedel] will serve every day of his life in a maximum security prison, thinking about what he did to this family, he added.
In the final analysis, Anthony Schroedel escaped the death penalty not by legal manuevering, but by a DAs compassion toward a small boy who was almost murdered by the same hands that killed his mother.
I believe and know that the interests of justice were served by the disposition, said Judge Frank LaBuda after Schroedel had been led away in shackles.