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News of Otsego County

District Attorney John Meuhl

Bail-Free, 2 Skip Trials
They Don’t Show, May Never Show, Prosecutor Asserts

With No Bail,

2 Skip Trials

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

D.A. Muehl

COOPERSTOWN – If Monday, Oct. 19, was a test-run on whether the accused would show up for trial under the state’s new bail reform, Otsego County failed.

“We’re two-for-two on no-shows,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “I knew this is exactly what was going to happen.”

Neither Joseph Mitchell, 36, New York City, or Eddie Holton, 35, Binghamton, showed up for trials due to begin in Otsego County Court.

These were the first two trials scheduled since COVID shut down the courthouse in March.

Mitchell was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, a pistol, in the third degree, as well as criminal possession of a controlled substance, crack cocaine, stemming from a May 2019 narcotics investigation.

At a traffic stop, Oneonta police said, Mitchell ran away. A pistol, reported stolen, was discarded along the chase route, police said.

As for Holton, he was charged with possession of a controlled substance, cocaine, in an October 2019 arrest, also in Oneonta.

Both men were released on their own recognizance, with no bail set, as required under the state’s new bail reform.

“The problem with bail reform is that people like this are committing serious crimes, getting released, and then not showing up,” said Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner.

“It doesn’t bode well for someone who is carrying a weapon and selling dangerous narcotics,” the chief said. “Who knows how many overdoses these guys have caused?”

Under bail reform, the court is tasked with notifying defendants of their upcoming trials. “We have to babysit them,” said Muehl.

Holton, he noted, had failed to appear in court five times, and had two prior felony convictions.

“Neither of them has ties to the area and both of them have failed to appear in court before,” said the district attorney. “But we can’t take that into consideration.”

Muehl estimated the aborted trials – 60 jurors had already seated – cost county taxpayers $2,700.
“The prosecution got everything together and no one showed,” said Brenner.

“By the time they catch the guy, it could be another year before trial. Memories fade, reports get old, officers retire or leave, so a case just gets weaker and weaker,” he said.

Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, has announced he will unveil Bill A11067 that, if passed, would “completely” repeal last year’s bail reform, at a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at the Madison County Courthouse.

“I have spoken with district attorneys, with law enforcement officers and they are so frustrated watching the people they arrest walk free before the paperwork is even finished,” he said. “In many cases, these people go on to re-offend and cause real pain in these communities.”

He also wants to give judges back their ability to set bail in cases where they believe it’s warranted. “That’s what we elect judges to do,” he said.

His challenger, Dan Buttermann, Oneonta, said amendments to the original bill have already been made.

“We don’t need to repeal it, we need to fix it,” he said. “We have to be continually looking for ways to make our communities safe, but also make sure the justice system is fair and balanced for all.”

Warrants for the arrests of Mitchell and Holton have been issued, and Muehl is confident they will be quickly located and arrested.

D.A. Expecting 50% Dip In Prosecutions

D.A. Expecting 50%

Dip In Prosecutions

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com

COOPERSTOWN

Muehl

Under bail reform, county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. worried dangerous suspects would be freed – and, locally, one stole a truck a day after he was released.

Now, under new rules of evidence, also part of the state’s criminal justice reforms, District Attorney John Muehl worries he’ll be unable to prosecute as many suspected criminals.

“Arrests are way down already,” said Muehl. “Hopefully things will get better, but my prosecutions could go down 50 percent.”

New discovery requirements as part of Governor Cuomo’s criminal justice reforms require that all evidence be turned over to the defense within 15 days of arrest.

“For instance, a speeding ticket now takes two hours for police to process paperwork,” the D.A. said. “Then it’s another hour for me to get everything together, and if the defense objects to my statement of compliance, that’s another two hours.

“I’m not going to have time to do my job and prosecute cases. It’s almost impossible to comply with.”
As such, he said, he worries that he will have to prioritize which cases go before a jury. “I see a lot of people who have more ‘minor’ crimes – harassment, theft – getting passed over by the legal system because we have to triage our cases. Of course, those aren’t minor crimes to the person they’re committed against.”

And of those that do make it to his desk, many will turn into plea bargains. “Up to this point, I haven’t had to forgo prosecuting cases that I believed should be prosecuted as felonies, but now I may be offering pleas to a lesser charge because I just don’t have the time to prosecute. That’s what upsets me. That’s not what I signed up for.”

He also said that the reforms are turning defense attorneys and prosecutors against each other.

“We used to all get along,” he said. “But the level of animosity is up. A lot of them think they can get their guilty clients off on a technicality because they didn’t like how I wrote my certificate of compliance.”

If his statement of compliance is thrown out, he has to try again to comply. But failure to comply within the restricted time limits means the case is thrown out.

Muehl gave the example of a first-degree rape case he is working on. “I’ve always had a very open-file policy,” he said. “But I turned over every shred of evidence and certified that I had given them everything, but the defense doesn’t like my certificate of compliance, and is now saying that they didn’t like the format and that it should be invalidated.”

He will have to ask a judge to uphold that his compliance and statement of readiness are valid. “This is the first time it’s happened,” he said. “There’s no guidance.”

He also said that there are conflicting rules on the books about what evidence he can hand over. “Under the new discovery laws, I have to hand over grand jury minutes within those 15 days,” he said. “But the law says it’s a Class E felony to turn over Grand Jury minutes without a court order! So do I lose my case or am I guilty of a Class E felony?”

And he’s not the only one who’s worried. “I’ve talked to DA’s all across the state and they’re in the same boat,” he said. “We’re all hoping that judges see that and cut out the frivolous nit-picking of the form of the certification instead of looking at the content.”

“I knew it was going to be bad,” he continued. “But I had no idea how bad it would be.”

In Closing Statements, Attorneys Debate Timeline

Truitt Case Heads To Jury

In Closing Statements,

Attorneys Debate Timeline

Public Defender Michael Trosset calls the timeline of the fire into question during his closing statements in the trial of Gabriel Truitt. (Libby Cudmore/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to ALLOTSEGO.com

District Attorney John Muehl confers with John Heller’s family in the courtroom.

COOPERSTOWN – For two minutes, District Attorney John Muehl stood in complete silence.

“Gabriel Truitt is at 5 Walling Avenue for two minutes,” he told the jury. “You may think that’s not much time, but you can get a lot done in two minutes, especially if you’ve planned to.”

Muehl, along with Public Defender Michael Trosset, made their closing statements this afternoon in the case of Gabriel Truitt, who is charged with arson and murder in the death of former firefighter John Heller.

Brother Refutes Grand Jury, Police Testimony

TRUITT TRIAL: Day 3

Brother Disavows

Testimony He Gave

Grand Jury, Police

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

The accused, Gabriel Truitt, center, listens as his brother Terrence testifies this afternoon. With him are legal assistant Lisa Harvey and Attorney David Taylor. (Libby Cudmore/AllOTSEGO.com)

COOPERSTOWN – Gabriel Truitt’s defense lawyers this afternoon declared they hadn’t been provided a videotape of his brother Terrence speaking with OPD officers in February 2018 brought the fatal-arson trial to a temporary standstill this afternoon.

Terrence also told the court the testimony he would give would be at odds with the statements he gave to grand jury and police, further muddying the waters.  “He had a sworn affidavit saying he lied,” said District Attorney John Muehl.

County Judge Brian Burns advised the brother he may have already committed perjury and that he did have the right to remain silent, as well as a chance to get a lawyer.

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21 Railroad Ave. Cooperstown, New York 13326 • (607) 547-6103