Judge orders new trial in 1985 murder conviction

Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man convicted 14 years ago of murdering his wife has won a new trial from a civil judge who says a translator should have been assigned to help him with his original trial.

Superior Court Judge Karen Hunt ruled last week that the lawyer who defended Abidin ''Dino'' Zeciri in 1985 was ineffective and the state needs to try him again. Zeciri's public defender was Dana Fabe, now a justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

Zeciri was convicted of shooting his wife in the chest during a fight in their South Anchorage home.

The prosecution said Zeciri killed his wife, Safije, because she berated him about his infidelities, including having fathered an illegitimate son.

The defense said she killed herself because she had recently given birth to a girl when she believed she needed a boy to save her marriage. The couple had three daughters, including a 3-month-old.

Zeciri and his wife were Albanians from what was then Yugoslavia.

The question of a translator for Zeciri came up briefly before the trial, but neither Zeciri nor Fabe nor the judge pushed it.

At a hearing last month, Fabe and other lawyers who worked with Zeciri back in the 1980s testified that he spoke English well.

''He never asked for a translator, never showed any inability to speak or understand English,'' said Allison Mendel, a private attorney who represented Zeciri in a custody case after his murder conviction.

For Scott Sterling, the defense attorney who may have won Zeciri a new trial, the issue is not whether Zeciri understood English well enough to hold a conversation but whether he understood the nuances of English well enough to make important decisions, including whether to take the stand in his own defense. Zeciri did not testify at his trial.

''It's impossible to say,'' if it would have made a difference, Sterling said. But ''we want to be positive that when you're standing trial you truly do understand everything that's going on.''

Assistant District Attorney John Novak has filed notice the state will appeal Hunt's decision to the state Supreme Court.

Zeciri remains jailed pending a bail decision.



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