They Don’t Show, May Never Show, Prosecutor Asserts
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
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.