TRENTON, N.J. – Almost 50 years after a police officer was slain, his widow has been ordered to pay $150,000 to the man acquitted of the murder.
Elizabeth Bernoskie says she doesn't have the money. Her lawyer calls the court ruling Tuesday "a cruel, torturous experience."
Charles Bernoskie, a police officer in Rahway with six young children, was shot to death while on duty in 1958, but it wasn't until 1999 that anyone was charged with the murder.
Robert Zarinsky, already in prison for the 1969 murder of a 17-year-old girl and a suspect in the killings of other teenage girls, was linked to the Bernoskie killing by his sister, Judith Zarinsky Sapsa. She told authorities that when she was 16 Zarinsky and a cousin said they had killed a police officer during a botched robbery.
The cousin, Theodore Schiffer, corroborated her story, admitted a role in the killing and served three years in prison.
Zarinsky, however, was acquitted. Jurors believed he did it but felt prosecutors did not build a strong enough case to prove it, the foreman said.
Elizabeth Bernoskie sued Zarinsky for wrongful death and was awarded $9.5 million in 2003. Zarinsky posted his $150,000 mutual fund as a down payment.
On Tuesday, a state appeals court panel ruled that Bernoskie's lawsuit should not have been allowed since Zarinsky had already been acquitted. The $150,000 must be returned, it said.
Bernoskie divided the money among her children and cannot afford to repay it, her lawyer said. Now, Zarinsky can move to seize her assets, including her home.
"I don't know what I am going to do," she told The Star-Ledger of Newark. "It is so horrible. I don't know where to turn, who to talk to."
Her lawyer told the paper the ruling was "diabolical."
"Everything is unraveled and undone," said attorney Kenneth Javerbaum. "It is a cruel, torturous experience (Bernoskie) has had. It is probably giving (Zarinsky) enormous pleasure."