New York took a big step toward opening its first licensed retail marijuana dispensaries when the Office of Cannabis Management adopted regulations on March 10 that could see some stores up and running by the end of the calendar year.
The proposed rules place ‘justice-involved’ individuals at the head of the line for winning the right to open a storefront dispensary – a priority in the 2021 law paving the way for recreational marijuana sales in New York State.
The newly issued regulations would require a person seeking a dispensary license to show proof of conviction for a pot-related offense in New York State prior to March 31, 2021, or have a family member convicted prior to March 31, 2021 on a pot charge.
The agency says it will evaluate license applicants based on criteria including whether the justice-involved individual had as his or her primary residence a home in an area with “historically high rates of arrest, conviction, or incarceration” for marijuana-related offenses, lived in an area with historically low median income, or lived in public housing. And, they promise, OCM will “actively promote applicants from communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, and promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity when issuing licenses for adult-use cannabis related activities.”
Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl was critical of the state’s plans for start-up licenses.
“We want criminals running a business like this?” he said. Sarcastically, he added, “What a fantastic idea. Here we are rewarding people who couldn’t follow the law in the first place.”
“We’re treating them like victims,” he said of those with prior convictions. “It’s like it’s no big deal that they broke the law. It’s an unfortunate situation.”
In an interview on WAMC radio last week, Albany County District Attorney David Soares, a Democrat, said, “It’s not the marijuana that’s been the cause of violence, it’s the protection of the
Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl is stark and passionate about New York State’s criminal justice reform to the point where — absent modification to the new laws — he won’t seek reelection in 2023. He’s on the record with that pronouncement from late last year, frustrated that from his point of view, New York’s bail and discovery statutes don’t let him do his job.
“With the combination of bail and discovery reform, for all practical purposes, they’ve legalized drug sales,” Mr. Muehl said in a conversation with The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta. “Every night I think about the drug dealers that we’re just not doing anything with and all the drugs they’re pushing on kids in the city and around the county.”
The discovery law requires prosecutors to disclose their evidence earlier in case proceedings and eliminates the need for defense attorneys to make written demands to obtain and review evidence. The prosecution must allow the defendant to “discover, inspect, copy, photograph and test” all materials relating to the subject of the case, including the names and contact information for any person with relevant information regarding the case. In some cases, the law requires prosecutors to disclose the name and contact information of confidential informants.
COOPERSTOWN — Now that the trial of Dylan Robinson has ended in conviction, Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl said he is considering restarting the process against Robinson’s accomplice, Alexander Borggreen, for refusing to testify against Robinson despite making a plea deal.
Muehl said he was satisfied with the conviction, which the jury returned Wednesday, June 23, although he said he was surprised they didn’t convict Robinson of arson.
Robinson was convicted of second degree murder in the Oct. 10, 2019, shooting death of his father, Kenneth Robinson, as well as robbery in the third degree and first degree burglary.
“You have a 15-year-old who killed his father. Nobody takes pleasure in putting a 15-year-old in prison,” Muehl said, calling what Robinson did a “pretty violent crime.”
Muehl said he anticipates a harsh sentence because of the nature of the crime.
Muehl said he hasn’t made a decision on what is going to happen to Borggreen.
“I can make a motion to vacate his plea and his sentence and start over again. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” Muehl said. “But once again, we’re dealing with a 17-year-old. They don’t make the greatest decisions, and in reality, him not testifying, other than the fact that he could’ve established for certain for the jury that Dylan Robinson was the one who shot Kenneth Robinson, was almost as good as him testifying.”
The defense attorney for Robinson, Thomas Hegeman, said that the trial “was a tough case.”
“The bottom line is we were offered a plea bargain, my client didn’t like it so we went to trial,” Hegeman said.
The plea deal would’ve been for murder one, with a sentence of 22 to life.
Muehl said the crime was unusual in Otsego. “The last young person I had killed his parents when he was 19,” he said. “In my career I’ve never had anything like this with a 15-year-old.”
Casey Callahan pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the second degree Monday, May 3, in Otsego County Court, ending, for the second time, the criminal proceeding concerning the 2000 death of Callahan’s wife Elizabeth Welsh Callahan.
Callahan, 54, admitted Monday that he backed over his wife with his truck in Sayre, Pennsylvania in 2000, killing her. He told Judge John Lambert, “I intended to cause the death of Elizabeth Callahan and I did so with my actions. I am sorry that it happened. I apologize to her and her family.”
Callahan will serve four to 12 years in state prison, but the term is consecutive, or in addition, to 12.5 year sentence he is currently serving in a state facility for a 2013 sexual assault of a minor.
The 2A Sanctuary Movement’s effort to banish all gun laws from Otsego County appears at a standstill, at least for now.
“The county board has no real authority or jurisdiction,” county Rep. Dan Wilber, last week, told the county board’s Public Safety & Legal Affairs Committee, which he chairs. “Enforcement is left to the district attorney and the sheriff’s office.”
Wilber said he’s conferring with District Attorney John Muehl and county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. about what comes next.
Meanwhile, he delayed further discussion until the February PSLA meeting, and – picking up on the suggestion of county Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Fly Creek – said he will consider a public forum on the matter for 2021.
For his part, Muehl said later, “I think the county should stay out of it. The courts have found it unconstitutional. I can’t enforce a law that’s been found unconstitutional.”
Devlin said the PSLA Committee is “trying to put this off on John and myself. They don’t know what to do.”
Some PSLA members were expecting a legal opinion from County Attorney Ellen Coccoma on a draft resolution when it met Thursday, Dec. 10, but received a verbal report instead.
“The way I read it now,” she said, the proposed resolution “poses to make a declaration of unconstitutionality about particular laws. That is not an authority that the county board has. Under separation of powers, that decision is given to the courts.”
Muehl and Devlin take an oath “to uphold all the laws of the state,” she added, “which does not allow them to spend money that infringes on their oath of office.”
COOPERSTOWN – District Attorney John Muehl doesn’t see how overturning Casey Callahan’s guilty verdict is in the interest of justice.
“This ruling was made ‘in the interest of justice,’” he said. “But their interest of justice is for a murderer, not a victim, who was a loving mother and a member of a close-knit family.”
The Appellate Division, Third Department, overturned
Callahan’s 2017 conviction for murder in the second degree in the 2000 killing of his wife, Elizabeth Welsh, on the grounds that not enough evidence was presented at trial.
“Because the evidence of the defendant’s guilt was not overwhelming, there must be a new trial,” the decision read.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Muehl.
Callahan was found guilty of the murder of Elizabeth after a four-day trial, where Muehl laid out the case that Callahan deliberately ran his wife over with his 18 wheeler in the parking lot of the Dandy Mart #19 in Sayre, Penn, just over the state line from Binghamton.
“I can kill someone and get away with it,” Muehl said in his opening remarks at trial, using what he described as the exact words of Callahan to Elizabeth’s brother, Patrick Welsh, just four months before her death. “I’d take somebody for a ride, stop at the Dandy Mart just off Route 17, just inside Pennsylvania, and run them over. They’ve got a Mayberry police department. They’re understaffed. They wouldn’t investigate an accident. That’s what they’d call it – an accident.”
At the trial, multiple witnesses testified to Callahan’s abuse of his wife, including her psychiatrist, Dr. Joan Bachorik, who said that the day before Elizabeth’s death, she told her that she was afraid Callahan would kill her.
But in the ruling, the defendant, Callahan, challenged Amanda Travis’ testimony that she saw him abuse her aunt as “beyond the scope of the Molineux application” because the prosecution requested to offer proof of verbal and emotional abuse by Callahan, but Travis also testified to witnessing him kick Elizabeth in the stomach.
“As such, the niece’s testimony, some of which was hearsay, exceeded the scope of the People’s Molineux application and deprived the defendant of a fair trial,” the ruling read.
Although no objections were made to Travis’ testimony by the defense during the trial, the judges still acknowledged that her testimony was unfair to Callahan. “Despite this infirmity, we deem it appropriate under the particular circumstances of this case to exercise in the interest of justice jurisdiction and reverse the judgment.”
“Was I supposed to object to myself?” said Muehl. “The defense didn’t object and had no reason to.”
The judges upheld two of the challenges, including the jurisdiction issue. Callahan picked up Elizabeth at their home in Goodyear Lake before he drove her to XXX, where he ran her over with his truck as she tied her shoe.
“The jury correctly concluded that the People established beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants ‘conduct in New York…manifested [his] intent to commit the crime.”
Muehl blamed “unqualified people” on the appellate bench. “The problem is that the governor has appointed judges who have never tried a jury trial,” he said. “How are you supposed to review proceedings if you’ve never been involved with one?”
Callahan had been sentenced to 25-to-life for Elizabeth’s murder. In addition to the murder charge, Callahan is already serving a 12 ½-year sentence in Attica for molesting a child in 2013. With his case now overturned, he will be released in 2025.
Muehl has not yet decided whether he will seek a new trial.
“At this point, we’re still looking at options,” he said. “But due to the potential loss of witnesses, I may not be able to retry.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series on New York State’s justice reforms, which go into effect Jan. 1.
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN –Fifteen days is nowhere near enough time to marshall all evidence in a criminal case, argued District Attorney John Muehl.
But that’s what the justice reforms that came out of Albany during the state Legislature’s last session will require. They go into effect Jan. 1.
“The new ‘discovery requirements’ mean the prosecution has to get everything from the police within 15 days of arraignment so that we can turn it over to the defense,” he said during a presentation to local police officers on the state’s new discovery requirements on Thursday, Nov. 21.
The crowd include sheriff’s deputies, Oneonta police, village police, state troopers. Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner was among attendees.
Muehl gave an example. “So let’s say you pull over someone on I-88 for speeding and you find five pounds of heroin in their trunk. You have to test it, but those lab results aren’t under our control, so we can’t comply with those 15 days.”
In that case, he said, police would have no choice but to take the heroin as evidence, but let the defendant go. The defendant could only be indicted and arrested after the lab results came back proving the substance was heroin. That could take 6-8 months.
“The governor thinks we should have no problem finding them,” Muehl said sarcastically.
Failure to comply, he said, means the case could be dismissed. “Why would the defense need to see our evidence in 15 days?” he said. “No one goes to trial in 15 days.”
And from the day of arraignment, he added, the new regulations mean the prosecution has six months to take the case to trial.
“We’re going to have a lot of people who commit serious crimes, but are never prosecuted, because we have to wait to get evidence,” he said. “And when we do get the evidence, we’re never going to find the criminal to arrest them.”
Chief among his concerns are making arrests of drug dealers. “We can indict them, but we might never find them,” he said. “And even if we do find them, now we can’t put bail on them.”
He also worries about the impact on the county’s Drug Court system. “When people go to Drug Court, it’s usually because they’re in jail, they’re finally sober and they realize that they need to make a change,” he said. “If we can’t arrest them, if we can’t put them in jail, they’re out there using.”
In addition to the tightened schedule for turning over evidence, Muehl said that the defense council has expanded rights to look at the evidence with the defendant present – even if it is the crime scene.
“I’m sure it’s very comforting to the victim of a break-in to have someone that same person come back in and look around,” he said.
Additionally, Muehl would have to make a motion to redact the names of undercover informants and witnesses. “How many confidential informants will we have if they know the defense can see them?” he said. “And if we’ve got someone who’s the victim of a stranger rape, we have to turn over the name and address of the victim so the defense can contact her.”
Since April, Muehl has been upgrading the DA’s office with electronic discovery programs, including the Digital Evidence Management System, to assist law enforcement with filing their evidence within the 15 days.
“You need to give me everything in your case file,” he said. “That means all of that has to be converted to an electronic format and filed in DEMS.”
The new regulations go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
“We just have to all work together and we’ll get through it,” Muehl said. “But I see a lot of fallout coming. The state doesn’t see that there’s any difference between a speeding ticket and a triple homicide.”
COOPERSTOWN – Kimberly Steeley, the woman accused of smothering her twins Bonde and Liam in 2018, did so by falling asleep while in bed with the children, District Attorney John Muehl told Judge John Lambert during a suppression hearing in Otsego County Court on Monday.
“She told police she nodded off in bed with them,” he said. “She was reckless, and there is evidence that she was abusing prescription medication to the point of intoxication while she was caring for them.”
Muehl also asked that Steeley’s three DUI convictions, including one in the Town of Maryland in January 2018, five months before the twins’ deaths, should be used as evidence to her recklessness in her upcoming trial.
COOPERSTOWN – A Cherry Valley woman was charged with fraud after several out-of-state models claimed they paid her to help them book photo shoots and interviews, but never received any of the services promised.
Victoria Pressly, 53, owner of Victoria Pressly PR Celebrity Agency, was indicted and charged with Grand Larceny, third degree and Scheme to Defraud, first degree, following an investigation by the Otsego County District Attorney’s office.
COOPERSTOWN – In county court today, District Attorney John L. Muehl offered Gabriel Truitt, 33, a chance to plead guilty to one of two counts – second-degree murder – in the Dec. 29 arson death in Oneonta of former city firefighter John Heller.
“I offered that on the record,” said Muehl, “to try to save the (Heller) family from going through a trial.”
DECATUR – On Saturday, May 4, Kimberly Nicole Steeley wrote a poem on her Facebook page, titled, “If I knew x Two,”
“If I knew it was the last time I would hold you x2, If I knew it would be the last time I kissed you x2…If I knew love that Deeply x2, If I knew I would
Have tried to save you x2,” she wrote.
On Wednesday, May 8, Steeley, 27, Decatur, was arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter in the 2018 deaths of her twin infant children, Liam and Bonde Steeley, barely a month old whey they were found dead in their bassinettes, 16 days apart.
“At first, everyone thought Bonde died of SIDS,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “Then 11 days later, Liam died of the same condition.”
According to Rob O’Brien, Otsego County 911 director, the first call came into the county’s 911 center at 6:28 a.m. on Tuesday, June 5, to a house at 185 Skinner Hill Road in the Town of Decatur, where they found the female child unresponsive.
COOPERSTOWN – The Susquehanna SPCA will partner with the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office to look at creating a task force dedicated to combating animal cruelty in the county.
“In addition to having a system in place for when we do have animal cruelty cases involving animal seizures, we plan to educate and empower law enforcement and the public about the humane treatment of animals and what we can do if we suspect cruelty,” said Stacie Haynes, executive director of the Susquehanna SPCA, in a statement.
COOPERSTOWN – With a total 22 witnesses called, including suspect Casey Callahan, the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments in the murder trial against Callahan, who was charged with killing his wife, Elizabeth Welsh Callahan, at a truck stop on January 19, 2000.
“Four tires ran directly down the center of her body,” said District Attorney John Muehl in his closing statement. “I submit you can’t do that by accident. This plan was tailor-made for Elizabeth.”
But Callahan’s defense argued that the jury is tasked with deciding if jurisdiction allowed Elizabeth’s death in Pennsylvania, which Callahan maintained was an accident, could be prosecuted in New York. “There is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this case belongs in New York State,” said William Schebaum, Callahan’s attorney. “I urge you not to allow speculation, emotion, or even a dislike of the defendant to be a substitute to fact.”