A 33-year-old White Plains, N.Y., man had his manslaughter conviction overturned after a federal judge ruled that comments he made in an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting could not be used as evidence against him, the Associated Press reported Aug. 2.
Paul Cox was convicted of two counts of manslaughter for the 1988 stabbings of Laksman Rao Chervu and his wife, Shanta, in their home. Cox did not know the couple, but they lived in the home where he grew up.
Cox claimed during his trial that he had no memory of the attack. But the trial included subpoenaed testimony from AA members who said that Cox had discussed memories of the stabbings at AA meetings.
Cox appealed his 16-year prison sentence, claiming that his statements to fellow AA members were confidential and should not have been admitted as evidence. In making his ruling, U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant agreed that conversations among AA participants could not be used as evidence because the exchanges are a form of confidential religious communication.
District Attorney Jeanine Pirro had argued that the testimony was not privileged because "there was no evidence whatsoever that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religious organization as required by statute, or that another member is a clergyman."
Brieant also wrote that the entire AA relationship "is anonymous and confidential."