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Victory for family of DWI victim

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Victory for family of DWI victim
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The family of the victim of a DWI crash in 2011 is marking a small victory in an Onondaga County courtroom, but is vowing to continue its fight against an appeals court ruling in the case. YNN's Bill Carey says the focus has been what happens when, in the midst of an appeal, a defendant dies.

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Two years ago, Michael Iannettoni, 58, was awaiting sentencing for his fifth conviction on DWI when, drunk again, he drove into the oncoming lane and struck another car along Buckley Road in Liverpool.

The video from that day shows rescue workers helping Iannettoni to an ambulance. He lived. The driver of the other car, Vincent Russo, 82, who'd been on his way to Sunday mass, was killed.

Iannettoni was convicted on vehicular manslaughter charges and sentenced to eight-and-a-third to 25 years in prison. His attorney filed a notice of a potential appeal. Then, Iannettoni became ill and died in prison.

Under legal precedent, the state appellate court said since the appeal was interrupted, Iannettoni's convicted should be dismissed and the records sealed. For members of Vincent Russo's family, like his brother Paul, the justices had gone too far.

“Look us in the eye and tell us justice has been served,” Paul Russo said.

Now, comes a victory for the Russos. Backed by the District Attorney's office, they fought against sealing of records in the case. Judge Joseph Fahey has now agreed the records will remain open.

The Russo family says the story doesn't end with this ruling. They'll be going to the state legislature to seek action there, so that no other family faces this type of situation in the future.

Russo said, “It's case law that they made their decision on. There should be a statute to make a decision in a case like this. So I will be talking to legislators about enacting some law to prevent this from happening in the future”

“Perhaps, and I can only guess, that the judge would like the legislature to examine the facts of this case when they make their decisions on what the proper thing to do is, with the current DWI laws,” said Chris Bednarski, Senior Assistant Onondaga County District Attorney.

And the Russos won't stop there. They're also proposing harsher penalties for repeat DWI offenders, something they call "Vincent's Law." And they plan further legal action to make sure the name of Michael Iannettoni isn't cleared.

Russo said, “We're just beginning here to continue with this case. We're probably going to do what we can, within the legal system, to turn it back to where the conviction stands.”

At that point, they say, they will finally have justice in the case.

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