Local News

Past Abuse Claims Could Be Admitted As Evidence In Passaro's Trial

Posted March 14, 2006

— New allegations of abuse have surfaced that prosecutors want to use as evidence in the trial of a former CIA contractor charged in a fatal international prisoner abuse case.

The U.S. Attorney's Office recently filed court documents seeking to admit evidence into trial that indicates David Passaro allegedly abused his former stepson with a flashlight, similar to the way Passaro is accused of beating a prison detainee in Afghanistan.

The motion alleges that Passaro began beating Matthew Newman with a "Mag" light when Newman was 6 years old and would "systematically beat [him] using different objects, such as a spoon, a hammer and the Mag light, which he would force Newman to first select before inflicting the beating."

According to the motion, Passaro had boasted about being an "experienced interrogator and knew how to beat a person without leaving any visible marks on the victim's body."

The alleged abuse continued over a period of at least eight years, according to the court documents, and Newman told investigators that the alleged beatings "caused such extreme pain that he would frequently give Passaro false confessions to various allegations of misconduct leveled at him and his sister."

Passaro is accused of beating an Afghan detainee in June 2003 similar to the way he allegedly abused Newman.

Attorneys argue that Newman's testimony is intended to show a pattern of violent behavior and to show that Passaro intended to inflict pain upon the detainee "as a means of extracting a confession from him."

Attorney Robert Nunley is a former military judge and retired Marine colonel who understands the nature of cases like Passaro's, which deal with classified information and questions of character.

"It's going to strip the defendant of some of his military service and the glamour," Nunley said. "It will make him look like a bad person."

U.S. attorneys have already argued that Passaro has a violent past. Last year, while he was on house arrest awaiting trial, Passaro was arrested on charges of assaulting his girlfriend, Bonnie Heart. That case is pending, and Passaro is now in jail awaiting trial.

There is no guarantee, however, that a jury will get to hear any of the new evidence of allegations of past abuse.

"Because you run the risk of convicting someone based on evidence in another act at another time other than what they are charged with," Nunley said.

The past played an important role in another high-profile trial -- that of former Durham mayoral candidate

Michael Peterson

, who was convicted in 2003 of killing his wife.

In Peterson's trial, prosecutors dredged up information about a Peterson family friend whose body was found at the bottom of a staircase years before Peterson's wife was found dead in a staircase. Durham County prosecutors called it a pattern with Peterson.

The admissibility of that evidence during the trial is one of the key points of Peterson's appeal.

Passaro's brother told WRAL Tuesday that he doesn't believe the accusations of child abuse.

Passaro's lawyers are once again arguing to get their client out of jail while he awaits trial, which is scheduled for next month, but could be further delayed.


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