Person of interest in decades old Darien cop killing facing unrelated gun, drug charges
Suspect in decades-old murder of Darien policeman arrested on unrelated drug, gun charges
On Wednesday, Darien police stood by in a federal courtroom as Anthony Sabato, a longtime "person of interest" in the unsolved killing of Darien Police Officer Kenneth Bateman in spring 1981, sat quietly facing unrelated drug and gun charges half a lifetime later.
What is unclear, and what those Darien cops wouldn't say, is whether the arrest could mean a new break in the murder of Bateman on an early summer night 34 years ago -- the only unsolved killing of a Connecticut police officer on record.
"I can't say anything," Darien Detective Jeremiah Marron said.
"Yes, I'm a Darien policeman," another officer said, before ignoring further questions.
On Wednesday, those officers and other police from surrounding towns crowded into a second-floor federal courtroom in Bridgeport to observe Sabato, 57, a Stamford native who now lives in West Haven, appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel.
The day before, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and West Haven police arrested Sabato and Miguel Joel Roman, 25, at Sabato's home for allegedly arranging to buy two ounces of crack cocaine for $2,000, according to the criminal complaint.
The complaint said that since January, Sabato and Roman allegedly made repeated drug deals with undercover officers from the West Haven police department to sell crack cocaine and other narcotics out of Sabato's residence.
The men also attempted to buy a firearm from an undercover officer, according to the complaint.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Defender Jennifer Mellon, Sabato's attorney, asked Garfinkel to speak loudly for her client, who she said didn't have his hearing aid. Even with Garfinkel raising his voice, Sabato, dressed in a blue tee-shirt and grey work pants, appeared to strain to hear what was going on around him -- including Garfinkel's words.
"You can't hear me even now?" Garfinkel asked Sabato.
As Garfinkel attempted to communicate to Sabato his rights, he ordered the suspect to stand at a lectern directly in front of the bench to hear better.
U.S. Attorney Tracy Dayton interjected to observe that Sabato didn't use hearing aids during lengthy surveillance tapes recorded over the past three months, in which he conducted the narcotics transactions.
"We have hundreds of hours of recordings in which he is never using a hearing aid and engaging in narcotics transactions," Dayton said.
Standing behind Sabato in court was Police Sgt. Marron, a present day Darien detective, while other detectives sat in the courtroom's gallery during the short proceedings.
Garfinkel ordered Sabato and Roman to return for a probable cause hearing on April 8, but a grand jury indictment could be issued before then based on the criminal complaint.
Both men are charged with conspiring to distribute crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, and conspiring to possess a firearm in furtherance of a narcotics trafficking offense.
Dayton said the narcotic charges could carry a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine, and the attempt to buy a gun carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
However, Sabato could face a potential mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a $1 million fine for trying to buy the gun because of previous convictions.
Marron and other Darien officers declined comment after the hearing as Dayton ushered them and other police into a conference room outside the courtroom. Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello did not return calls for comment about the Bateman case Wednesday.
From practically the beginning, Darien police have tagged Sabato as a prime suspect in the killing of Bateman. Sabato has a wide-ranging criminal history, including 37 Connecticut arrests for burglary, drugs, weapons and assault charges since 1975. However, police have never been able to charge him with Bateman's murder.
In 2011, former investigators said Sabato came under scrutiny partly because he was suspected in other burglaries occurring along the Post Road at the time of Bateman's killing. Sabato was never charged in those particular break-ins.
He was also never charged in a Stamford house burglary committed sometime before Bateman was shot, during which police believe the gun used to shoot him was stolen, investigators have said. Police contend the slug pulled from Bateman's body was a unique "wad-cutter" that in all probability was among the ammunition taken in the Stamford burglary. The gun was never found.
Bateman was killed early on the morning of May 31, 1981 as he responded to what would usually be a non-event call; a burglar alarm activated at the Duchess Patio Restaurant at the edge of town near the Norwalk border. When Bateman pulled his cruiser into the parking lot, the seven-year veteran police officer observed the restaurant's side door was pried open and called for backup, according to police. When he walked to the other side of the fast-food eatery, Bateman spotted the suspected burglar breaking through a plate-glass door to get away, according to police accounts.
After ordering the suspect to halt, according to witness accounts, at least seven shots were fired, with Bateman emptying his Smith & Wesson revolver.
By the time Bateman fired his last shot, he had fallen to the ground. A .38-caliber slug pierced through his neck, severing his carotid artery, voice box and wind pipe. He was pronounced dead 90 minutes later at Norwalk Hospital.
On Wednesday, retired Darien Police Capt. Angelo Toscano, a former investigator on the case who went on to become Wilton Police chief for 17 years, said police believed Sabato was the most likely killer, but acknowledged they were never able to charge him with the break-ins or corroborate their theory about the gun with evidence.
"We never found the gun but even finding the gun would only have confirmed the gun was responsible," Toscano said. "We never put the gun in Sabato's hands."
"I'd be very happy if it could be solved," Toscano said. "Happy for Bateman's family and happy that I lived long enough to see it solved."