Family Maintains Charges In High-Profile Case Rooted In Politics; State’s Attorney’s Election Foe To Help Defense

Family Maintains Charges In High-Profile Case Rooted In Politics; State’s Attorney’s Election Foe To Help Defense

OCEAN CITY — More details emerged this week in the manslaughter case against two local men charged for their roles in the death of a Pennsylvania man, including video that chronicles the events leading up to the alleged confrontation and allegations the charges are politically motivated in an election year.

Around 3 a.m. on Aug. 24, Ocean City Police were called to assist paramedics who discovered Justin D. Cancelliere, 37, of North Whitehall, Pa., unconscious and unresponsive in a hotel parking on 2nd Street. First responders initiated emergency lifesaving procedures on the victim and transported him to AGH where he was later pronounced deceased. An autopsy concluded the nature of Cancelliere’s injuries as head and neck trauma and the cause of death a homicide.

After an investigation, OCPD detectives determined the assault occurred during an altercation in the area of Talbot Street and Baltimore Ave. The two suspects, identified as Caleb Edwin-Earl Ochse, 27, of Ocean City, and Christopher Blake Kendall, 22, of Ocean City, have been charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and affray for their alleged roles in the confrontation.

The Ochse family was able to acquire the surveillance video from Fat Daddy’s restaurant where the defendants and the decedent and his friends had gathered just prior to the fateful encounter. In a somewhat unconventional defense strategy, the family shared the video with The Dispatch this week. While the video is not particularly damning for any of the parties involved, it does paint a picture of the events leading up to the altercation that resulted in Cancelliere’s death. The video shows the typical bustle of a late-night eatery in the early morning hours in the height of the summer season with people, including the defendants and the deceased, coming and going, ordering food and interacting with others in the establishment.

According to a statement released this week, the Ochse family contends the video illustrates Cancelliere and his friends were the aggressors and the seeds for the fateful confrontation were planted during their loose interaction inside the restaurant. The Ochse family said they were able to obtain the video through the support of the community following the incident.

“Thanks to this support, we have been able to obtain the videotape from Fat Daddy’s,” the family statement reads. “We have reviewed the tape, and now are even more angered and puzzled at how the State’s Attorney could charge Caleb.”

It’s important to note the incident resulted in the death of a husband and father of two and regardless of what transpired leading up to the altercation, there must be some accountability. The State’s Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the OCPD is doing its due diligence and has charged Ocshe and Kendall based on their investigation. However, the Ochse family is alleging the arrests and pending prosecution are somehow politically motivated in an election year with the State’s Attorney’s seat up for grabs in November.

“The unfortunate conclusion we have drawn is that the State’s Attorney is posturing because of the upcoming election,” the statement reads. “Consequently, we are taking the following two actions: first, we have asked Mike Farlow to join our legal team to assist in Caleb’s defense. We believe Mike brings fairness and integrity to the judicial process.”

For the record, Farlow is a local defense attorney who served as a deputy state’s attorney under former Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd. Farlow, a Democrat, is challenging Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby, a Republican, for the seat in the November election.

It’s also important to note Farlow was the defense attorney in a similar manslaughter case recently adjudicated involving a defendant and his friend in a physical altercation outside a downtown Ocean City bar that turned deadly. In that case, the defendant was found guilty of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and affray, the very charges Ochse and Kendall now face, and was sentenced to seven years in jail.

In addition to adding Farlow to the defense team, the Ochse family this week embarked on a second prong of an unconventional approach of working with the media in advance of the case being tried in court.

“… we are releasing the Fat Daddy videotape to the media with the assurance that viewers will be as convinced as we are that Caleb is not only innocent, he and his friend were targeted for attack by the four Pennsylvania men. We ask the State’s Attorney to immediately release the autopsy and toxicology reports for the decedent so that the community may know whether he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We also ask the State’s Attorney to release Caleb on his personal recognizance while the facts are thoroughly investigated.”

While the state’s attorney’s office declined to go on the record regarding the allegations of political undertones in the case, unofficially it has dismissed any notion it’s motivated by anything other than finding out the facts of the case and prosecuting those responsible.

In terms of the video surveillance tape, the final frames show an apparently agitated Cancielliere and his friends following closely behind Ochse, Kendall and a female companion as they left the restaurant. What is shown prior to the exit, however, is a mishmash of interactions between the defendants and others in the restaurant. What is not shown in the video is any actual interaction between the decedent and the defendants other than some obvious staring by Cancelliere and his group in the direction of Ochse and Kendall.

The video shows Ochse enter Fat Daddy’s around 2:30 a.m. followed by Kendall a short time later. Ochse is shown horsing around with an alleged old friend he had not seen for a while. The video shows Ochse go over to a booth with an unidentified man and woman and begin to talk with them. The other man appears agitated during the encounter and at one point gets up from his seat. Words were exchanged between Ochse and the man with Ochse pointing outside at one point.

A short time later, Cancelliere enters Fat Daddy’s followed by his three companions, one of whom is reportedly his cousin. The four men apparently order food and sit down in a booth somewhat across from Ochse’s and Kendall’s table. What follows is a long sequence of comings and goings, although the tape clearly shows Cancelliere staring in the direction of Ochse and Kendall.

The video shows a larger group in the booth behind Cancelliere and his friends continually looking back over their shoulders at the group although it is unclear from the tape what caused them to repeatedly look at the decedent and his party. About a half an hour after Ochse and Kendall first entered the restaurant, they get up and leave through the front door along with an unidentified female.

Cancelliere and his group get up from their booth immediately after Ochse and Kendall leave and essentially follow them out the door. The video clearly shows Ochse, Kendall and the female pass by the restaurant’s front windows with Cancelliere and his friends following closely behind.

The video ends at that point and it is uncertain what happened next, although according to police reports, there was a physical confrontation between Ochse and Kendall and Cancelliere and his group on Talbot Street between Baltimore Ave. and the Boardwalk. According to police reports, the altercation turned violent with Cancelliere on the ground and the two defendants beating him. However, there is apparently no video surveillance available of the altercation and the details are largely ferreted from witness testimony. What is not certain is how two men were able to inflict significant injuries on the victim who was with three other men.

At any rate, after the physical confrontation, Cancilliere’s cousin and friends were able to get him into a taxi, which took him to the Plim Plaza Hotel a few blocks away where they were staying. Inexplicably, the group did not call 911 until getting back to the hotel parking lot. In fact, it is not certain if Cancilliere’s group called 911 or if the call for Emergency Services came from an unattached third party or witness.

There are unconfirmed reports that EMS was called first and then first responders called the OCPD. Ocean City Police and EMS arrived on the scene and after initiating emergency lifesaving measures transported Cancelliere to AGH where he was pronounced dead shortly before 7 a.m.

Last Tuesday, Ocean City Police arrested Ochse and Kendall, charging them with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and affray. During a bond review last Wednesday, prosecutors went to great lengths to point out Ochse’s criminal history, including multiple arrests for assault, disorderly conduct and drugs. Ochse’s bond was set at $400,000 despite the state’s attempt to have it raised to $1 million.

This week it came to light the decedent had a criminal history of his own, including a nearly 20-year-old incident dating back to 1995 during which he allegedly purposely caused an automobile accident in a dispute over a girl. According to the arrest report from Pennsylvania, Cancelliere allegedly drove in front of a vehicle and locked up his brakes, causing the vehicle to swerve to avoid a collision. When the other vehicle swerved, Cancelliere also swerved and purposely caused a collision. Cancelliere was charged with numerous crimes including operating a motor vehicle in such a manner that it placed another in danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Again, it’s important to note much of Ochse’s criminal background will not be admissible at trial and the prosecution will likely be based on the facts specific to the Aug. 24 incident. It is relevant, however, to point out both Osche and Cancelliere have episodes of violent incidents in their pasts.

A preliminary hearing has been set for Sept. 25 in District Court in Ocean City.