Letter to the Governor
Opposing Executive Clemency
for Carter and Artis

From Joseph Panagia, son of Lafayette Grill owner Betty Panagia

 

Saddle Brook, N.J.
October 22, 1975

The Honorable Brendan T. Byrne
Governor of New Jersey
Governor's Office
Trenton, New Jersey

My Dear Governor Byrne:

I would like to preface this letter with a personal note. On June 17, 1966, at approximately 2:30 a.m., three innocent human beings were slain by bullets ripping through their bodies, and one was seriously injured. This atrocity caused not only the pain and death of these innocent human beings, but resulted in the personal and final loss to their loved ones and friends.

I can only speak for myself as I well know, but it should be said.

My mother, Elizabeth Panagia, owned the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, N.J. at the time she had been a widow for fourteen years and was trying to make a decent living. She was emotionally involved with Jim Oliver who was brutally gunned down. Jim Oliver was like a father to my two brothers and me. The loss of him was very traumatic to all of us. He was a loving, kind person with a tremendous passion for people and life.

Bob Nauyoks, Hazel Tanis and Bill Marins were dear friends and especially close to my mother.

As you can see at this point, I do have personal involvement in this situation. But let me say it is not this and this alone that makes me get involved. It is, I feel, my duty as a concerned citizen who happens to be fairly knowledgeable about the facts, which motivates me to get involved.

To further enlighten you, I would like to state that I am a 42 years old, married and the father of two boys, a member of the Saddle Brook Police Department for 20 years in the capacity of Lieutenant of Detectives, which I worked very hard through the ranks to achieve.

Now I would like to state my case:

As I stated previously, three people were killed in cold blood and one was seriously injured on June 17, 1966 at 2:30 a.m. in the Lafayette Grill. The fact is that there wasn't any armed robbery. This was an act of revenge. On the evening of June 16, 1966, a white man shot and killed a black man who owned the Waltz Inn located just a short distance from the Lafayette Grill. Later that night, two black men entered the Lafayette Grill and snuffed out three lives for the purpose of revenge and revenge only.

Two officers responding to the call stopped Carter and Artis a short distance away from the scene of the crime in a vehicle which fit the description. They were let go because who would believe Carter, a famous, affluent boxer, would commit an armed robbery. [Editor's note: According to one of the police officers, they were let go because there were three people in the car, not two as reported on the police radio.] The fact is two witnesses positively identified them as the assassins. A third party identified the car and described the car very descriptively as to make, model, color, and color of the license plate and further, although she didn't see their faces, gave an excellent description fitting Carter and Artis. Other evidence was found and with this the case was presented to the Grand Jury and they were indicted. Subsequently, there was a trial in the Superior Court in Passaic County, where through the judicial system of the State of New Jersey, Carter and Artis were convicted by a jury of their peers.

Almost nine years later, for some unknown reason, the two eyewitnesses recanted their testimony. The attorneys for Carter and Artis naturally brought this to the attention of the courts. Judge Samuel A. Larner who presided at the original trial, heard the testimony at the recantation hearing. Judge Larner, after thoroughly going over the evidence presented, handed down a lengthy decision stating the recantation appeared to be tainted. Of course all of this and other evidence is available to you and your staff to review. Let me, at this time, explain to you what I feel is the crux of the matter and separate fact from fiction. Carter wrote a book and had it published which brought him a great amount of notoriety and money. The book was supposed to be fact but in my opinion it was a fictional novel.

Carter stated to the news media that he was picked up nowhere near the scene of the crime when they were first stopped, fiction. Fact: He was only a short distance away. Carter stated he took and passed a Polygraph test, fiction. Fact: He, in fact, failed the test. Carter stated Jim Oliver was a bookie and took bets at the bar and took bets in the bar, fiction. Fact: Jim Oliver was never a bookie, nor was he involved in any criminal action and to my personal knowledge has never been arrested or convicted of any crime. There are many more points I can bring up but I am sure you are aware of most of them.

Let us now bring our attention to the supposedly meek and mild Mr. Carter. Is he really meek and mild like he wishes the public to believe? Mr. Governor, I urge you, please check his arrest record, talk to people who really know him. The late Carmine Tedeschi, Carter's one-time manager who resided in Saddle Brook, called the Police and reported he was having contractual problems with Carter and was fearful of his life and lo and behold, doesn't someone blow up his car in the middle of the night while it was parked in front of his house a few days later. These have been only some of the details of which I have knowledge. I sincerely hope they have been enlightening.

Let us now get to your role in the case. It has been reported that you are leaning towards granting these two convicted killers an Executive Clemency and that you have legislative backing. How in the world could something like this come to pass? Although I know it is within your power to grant such a pardon, it is inconceivable to me how you, as Governor of this state, can do this with a clear conscience. Just because a handful of celebrities have a mock march to your office and stated they had thousands of people and in fact only get a few hundred, most of which were curiosity seekers. Who were these people? Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazer, Jimmy Breslin, etc. Are they residents of New Jersey? Where were the New Jersey residents who are so aggrieved at this miscarriage of justice? I also understand petitions were submitted. Where were they obtained? Most of them outside of office buildings in Manhattan. Is this how we protect the victims in New Jersey where articulate people who have no knowledge of the facts coerce the Governor of New Jersey to grant something the judicial system in our state will not allow. There are other avenues these convicted killers can take. Our state and nation have these safeguards in our system since the inception of our Constitution. Are we to be bulldozed into a position where the Governor of New Jersey is going to grant clemency where the judicial system has not yet been exhausted? This, of course, is not fair, not fair to the victims, their families, friends, but most of all, Governor, its not fair to your constituents, the citizens of New Jersey. Do we rule by shouting, marches, petitions or do we rule by the three parts of government established by our forefathers? Do not let the apathy of the people cast a shadow of doubt as to their feelings. Remember, fear plays a major role in this matter. Fear of retaliation on their families for speaking out, for believe me, Governor, I have that fear  yes, a man of twenty years police experience who has arrested and convicted many persons of serious crimes.

Why don't we let the Appellate Division, the Supreme Court and even the United States Supreme Court rule on this matter before being pressured into a decision which will be a disaster and a disgrace to our great state.

I will be at your disposal any time or place if I can be of any assistance or offer anything constructive in this case.

Sincerely yours.

Joseph Panagia

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