DONALD C. CAMPOLO, Acting Essex County Prosecutor

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Appellate Division Upholds Conviction in Voodoo Case
Acting Prosecutor Donald C. Campolo announced today that the Superior Court Appellate Division has affirmed
the 2000 conviction of Pierrot Charles on charges of simple assault, negligently causing bodily injury with a
deadly weapon, and criminal restraint stemming from a 1997 burn incident during a voodoo temple ceremony in
Irvington. The defendant was convicted of these charges by Superior Court Judge Paul J. Vichness after a bench trial,
and was sentenced to concurrent three year probationary terms for the simple assault and criminal restraint charges.
Defendant Charles contended upon appeal that his conviction was against the weight of the evidence, and that the
sentence imposed was manifestly excessive. Appellate Division Judges Collester and Alley rejected both claims
after reviewing the evidence submitted during the trial. The State was represented during the appeal by ECPO
Assistant Prosecutor Debra G. Lynch.

The facts adduced at trial showed that the burn victim, Sheila DeGraff, was introduced to defendant Pierrot Charles
by her boyfriend, Jean Valme, after DeGraff complained of hearing strange noises at her home in Long Island. The
defendant operated a "botanica" store in Irvington and represented himself as a voodoo priest. The defendant
convinced the victim to participate in a series of eight ceremonies meant to purge her of a spirit. On the evening of
October 7, 1997, the victim, together with her boyfriend, defendant Charles, a friend of the defendant named Linda
Germain, and another individual went to the defendant's "temple" located in a garage adjacent to his store. The
victim and Valme testified that the defendant sprinkled a bottle of "Florida Water", a substance with an alcohol
content of seventy-five percent, over the victim's head and then held a lit candle close to her face, igniting the liquid
and causing severe burns. After the fire was extinguished, the defendant continued the ceremony and then brought
the victim to his house, after deciding with the other participants not to hospitalize DeGraff for fear of police
investigation. On the following afternoon, during a visit by Linda Germain, it was decided to call an ambulance for
DeGraff. She consequently underwent surgery and skin grafts, but delayed telling the police for fear of the
defendant. Linda Germain testified at trial that the victim herself had provided the Florida Water, that she rubbed
her neck with it after complaining of pains there, and that she caught fire when standing to say a prayer. Germain
also contended that the victim refused hospitalization following the incident and was never threatened. Another
witness said that he did not recall the defendant pouring any liquid over the victim, and that the defendant was not
near her when she burned. He also said that the victim refused hospitalization and denied that any threats were

Upon review, the Appellate Division found that Judge Vichness carefully reviewed the evidence and made credible
determinations to support his verdicts. Therefore, the Appellate Division concluded that the defendant did not
establish a miscarriage of justice, as required by law to support a reversal of a lower court's conclusions of fact.
Likewise, the Appellate Division found there to be no abuse of discretion with regard to sentencing, and thus
refused to reduce the lower court's sentence.
CONTACT: CHARLOTTE L. SMITH, Executive Assistant Prosecutor (973) 621-4623

Essex County Prosecutor's Office (973) 621-4700

Essex County Courts Building

Newark, New Jersey 07102