James Catterson Jr., 77; DA prosecuted serial killer, mobster
NEW YORK - James M. Catterson Jr., a former Suffolk County district attorney who prosecuted serial killer Joel Rifkin, mob boss Carmine Persico, and Long Island's most infamous kidnapping case, died Thursday. He was 77.
Mr. Catterson died at New York hospital after a short illness, according to his daughter, Lynn Catterson.
Mr. Catterson, a prominent Republican and a lawyer from Belle Terre, N.Y., began his legal career as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk, moving up to head of the rackets bureau in an office he was elected to lead more than a quarter-century later.
"My father was both compassionate and passionate, ethical and moral. Very few people had the ability to give so much to so many people," Lynn Catterson said.
During his 12-year tenure as district attorney, Mr. Catterson oversaw the widely publicized case of Katie Beers, an 11-year-old girl kidnapped and sexually abused while imprisoned in a concrete bunker for 17 days in 1992. Her abductor, John Esposito, pleaded guilty to the crime.
Mr. Catterson, known as an aggressive prosecutor, personally tried two men accused in the stabbing murder of the daughter of Robert Greene, a former Newsday editor and Pulitzer recipient. They were convicted in 1990.
Rifkin, currently serving a life sentence, admitted to 17 slayings after his May 1994 murder conviction in neighboring Nassau County. He pleaded guilty to a pair of murders in Suffolk County.
Mr. Catterson also fiercely fought the release of Kerry Kotler, convicted in 1982 of raping a woman twice, after DNA evidence showed he was not the rapist. Kotler was freed in 1992 after serving 11 years in prison. Four years after his release, Kotler was charged with the rape of a woman in 1995, and Mr. Catterson used DNA evidence to win his conviction.
Mr. Catterson, a voracious reader and Irish history buff, also served as an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District, leading the initial prosecution of Persico for hijacking and racketeering.
Drew Biondo, former Suffolk district attorney spokesman, called Mr. Catterson a "modern-day renaissance man."
"He was so well read that he could intelligently discuss just about any topic raised in conversation. He cared deeply about people no matter what their state in life," Biondo said.
In the 1970s, Mr. Catterson was chief counsel to the New York Assembly minority leader and was involved in crafting many of New York's laws - including the state's RICO statute and the Rockefeller drug laws. He was appointed Nassau County attorney in 1976.
He was a founder of the New York Prosecutor's Training Institute, responsible for training prosecutors and assisting district attorneys' offices statewide.
He served in the Army in Korea in 1952 and was a major in the Army Reserves.
Mr. Catterson was a graduate of Niagara University and St. John's School of Law.
He leaves his wife, Lola; his daughter, Lynn; a son, James, a judge in the New York Appellate Division; and four grandchildren.