News of Otsego County

Otsego County Court

Arrest Made In NBT Bank Robbery

Arrest Made In NBT Bank Robbery

The City of Oneonta Police Department announced this afternoon they had made an arrest in connection to the December 29th, 2021, robbery of the NBT bank on Wall Street.

Elijah Vergari, 29, of Oneonta was arraigned in Otsego County Court on Monday February 14th, for third degree robbery. Bail was set at $10,000 due to an existing pending felony charge in Delaware County.

Vergari was remanded to the custody of the Otsego County Sheriff.

Meridy Gets 22 Years In Worcester Slaying

First Defendant

Receives 22 Years

In Worcester Death

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Nicolas Meridy

COOPERSTOWN – Nicholas Meridy, who plead guilty to second-degree murder in the October 2019 death of Kenneth Robinson at his home in Worcester, was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison during a hearing in Otsego County Court this morning.

“I’m satisfied with it,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “After speaking with the family, that was the offer I made so we didn’t have to put them through a trial.”

6 GOP Lawyers Surface To Run For County Court

6 GOP Lawyers

Surface To Run

For County Court

First, Burns Must Win Nod

For State Supreme Vacancy

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Six lawyer have come forward to succeed County Judge Brian D. Burns.

COOPERSTOWN – Attorney Michael E. Trosset, Cooperstown, who announced Friday afternoon he is seeking to succeed Brian D. Burns of Oneonta as Otsego County judge, has a lot of company.

County Republican Chair Vince Casale said a few minutes ago that, in addition to Trosset, five other lawyers have contacted him about succeeding Burns.

They are, in alphabetical order:

Jury Selection Begins In Deaths Of 2 Twins


Jury Selection Begins

In 2 Deaths Of Twins

A reflective Kimberly Steeley, 27, facing two counts of second-degree manslaughter in the 2018 deaths of her twin babies, listens to County Judge John Lambert instruct a panel of 60 potential jurors this morning in Courtroom #1 in Cooperstown. Lambert asked that jurors be able to serve through March 12, although he said the trial could be over as soon as the middle of next week.  The deaths of Bonde and Liam, 16 days apart, were caused by asphyxiation, autopsies found; the woman had been sleeping with the babies.  District Attorney John Muehl is prosecuting; the defense attorney is Andrew Van Buren, Hobart.  Testimony is expected to begin Monday.  (Jim Kevlin/
‘I Had To Do It For John’ Fiancee Recalls At Guilty Verdict

Truitt Guilty Of Arson, Murder

‘I Had To Do It For John,’

Fiancee Declares At Verdict

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Erika Heller, left, embraces Amber Roe, fiancee of the late John Heller, who died rescuing her and Erika’s four sons from a fire that Gabriel Truitt was found guilty of setting this afternoon. (Libby Cudmore/

COOPERSTOWN – It took just over two hours for the jury to find Gabriel Trutt, 33, guilty of arson and murder in the Dec. 29, 2018, fatal fire at 5 Walling Ave., Oneonta, that killed John Heller.

Heller, a former Oneonta fireman, got his four nephews and fiancée to safety before he was trapped in the third-floor apartment and succumbed to the smoke.  He was hailed as a hero.

“I’m thrilled, but this isn’t about whether I won or lost,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “This really is justice. He was guilty and the evidence was overwhelming. We can’t bring John back, but we did as much as we could for him.”





Gabriel Truitt, right, stands as the jury reads the “guilty” verdict on the charges of arson in the first degree, murder in the first degree, and two counts of murder in the second degree. (Libby Cudmore/

COOPERSTOWN – Shortly after noon today, a jury found Gabriel Truitt guilty on all four counts of arson and murder charges in the Dec. 29, 2018, early morning fire at 5 Whalling Ave., Oneonta, where former Oneonta firefighter John Heller died.

This is a developing story; please check back this afternoon for details.


Proceedings Underway in Truitt Case

Investigator Testimony: Accelerant Under Door

Accelerant Isopropyl Alcohol, Arson Expert Testifies

Girlfriend: Suspect Fought Before Fatal Fire Set

Brother Disavows Testimony To Grand Jury, Police

District Attorney Challenges Truitt’s Brother

In Closing Statements, Attorneys Debate Timeline

Jury Selection Starts In Fatal Oneonta Fire

Jury Selection Starts

In Fatal Oneonta Fire

Truitt Brother, Girlfriend May Testify

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Gabriel Truitt

ONEONTA – The brother and the ex-girlfriend of Gabriel Truitt, 33, may be called to testify in the trial now underway in Otsego County Court.

They are Terrence Truitt and Heather Engler, and Gabriel is the Oneonta man charged with arson and first-degree murder in the death of former Oneonta firefighter John Heller on Dec. 30, 2018.

Jury selection began Tuesday, Jan 21, with County Judge Brian Burns presiding. District Attorney John Muehl is prosecuting; Truitt is represented by Public Defender Michael Trossett.

City, Oneonta Hotel To Face Judge Lambert




City Attorney: ‘We Want Everyone Out

For Own Safety, As Soon As Possible’

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

A shower stall with peeling paint and missing tiles was one of the images contained in a report that followed the city’s Code Enforce Office report on 195 Main St. after a Tuesday, Jan. 15, inspection.

ONEONTA – The waiting game is coming to an end.


City Attorney David Merzig and building owner Melania Pervu met with County Judge John F. Lambert’s law clerk in Cooperstown this morning, following the release of the inspection report into the former Oneonta Hotel at 195 Main St. that showed filthy bathrooms, holes in walls and ceilings and tiles covering the sprinkler system.

According to Merzig, the clerk recommended that the city bring an Order to Show Cause to the judge, recommending punishment for the Pervus – Melania and her husband Nicolae – for failing to comply with Lambert’s September order that the building be brought up to code by Jan. 11. The order will then be presented to the judge for his ruling.




The former Oneonta Hotel was declared “unsafe” by City Hall in late 2017. A recent inspection found that enough violations still exist that the city wants County Judge John Lambert to enforce the Order to Vacate put in place at that time. (Ian Austin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to


ONEONTA – Citing missing kitchen appliances, holes in the ceiling and a blocked sprinkler system, among nearly a dozen pages of code violations, the City will argue that Melania Pervu, owner of the former Oneonta Hotel at 195 Main St., has failed to remedy the unsafe conditions of her building, as ordered by County Judge John Lambert last September.

“There are still considerable violations,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “We have an obligation to make sure everybody in the city lives in a building deemed safe.”

With the court-imposed deadline of Jan. 11 passed, Judge John F. Lambert has requested a meeting with the city and Pervu at 10 a.m Friday, Jan. 25. “We will present the fact that our inspection shows outstanding violations,” said Herzig. “We took a number of photographs to demonstrate our concern.”

Lambert Confirms Order: Oneonta Hotel Repairs Must Be Made By Jan. 11


Oneonta Hotel Repairs

Must Be Made By Jan. 11

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

The former Oneonta Hotel, 195 Main St., in its glory days during the first half of the 20th Century.

ONEONTA – In an order by county Judge John Lambert, owner Melania Pervu must make all repairs to the building at 195 Main St. before the Jan. 11, 2019 deadline or she could be held in contempt of court, according to a decision made Friday, Dec. 7.

“The city believes she violated the order, but understands the reluctance to issue a vacancy order before Christmas,” said City Attorney David Merzig.

Decision Due This Week On Oneonta Hotel’s Fate

Decision Due This Week

On Oneonta Hotel’s Fate

Oneonta Hotel owner Melania Pervu, above, was back in county court in Cooperstown this morning after City Hall declared she had not met an Oct. 15 deadline to apply for building permits for all the deficiencies building inspectors had identified in the five-story structure at 195 Main St.  County Judge John Lambert said he would issue a decision in this latest development by week’s end.  Lambert had also presided at a Sept. 7 hearing where he outlined a schedule of improvements the Pervus – the wife and husband Nicolae – must make to forestall condemnation in early January.    Inset, City Attorney David Merzig, left, waits as Lambert acts on a number of criminal cases before getting to the Oneonta Hotel.  (Libby Cudmore and Jim Kevlin,

Cameras Set Stage, Helped Solve Killing

Cameras Set Stage,

Helped Solve Killing

Joshua Underwood is led into Otsego County Court by Deputy Leigh Prostak ahead of a hearing last December. (Parker Fish/

By LIBBY CUDMORE  • Special to

ONEONTA – Otsego County’s first slaying of 2017 – on New Year’s morning – happened in an Oneonta apartment with a surveillance camera in every room.

The cameras helped put suspect Joshua Underwood, 25, in the victim’s room, and help convict the man, said District Attorney John Muehl.

Underwood was convicted Friday, March 30, to 20 years in jail.

“Witnesses said they got into a fight about Joshua Underwood having a girlfriend,” said Muehl. “Morrison went to bed, and on video, we have Underwood checking on Morrison. Shortly after that, the video went out, and that’s about the approximate time Morrison was killed.”

Underwood Gets 20, Perry Offered 25



Perry Offered 25 In Parents’ Slaying

By LIBBY CUDMORE  • Special to

Joshua Underwood plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter and will serve 20 years in prison.

ONEONTA – Joshua Underwood, 25, who plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the New Year’s Day death of his boyfriend, Mark Morrison, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Otsego County Court.

Officials say around 3:30 a.m. Jan. 1, 2017, Underwood called 911 and reported that he had killed his boyfriend, 52-year-old Mark Morrison of Oneonta. Police found Morrison dead in his Main Street apartment from what was later ruled to be blunt force trauma to the head. Police also alleged that Underwood tried to conceal the crime by stuffing the apartment doorway with newspapers and setting them on fire.

Though originally scheduled to be sentenced in mid-December, Underwood tried to withdraw his guilty plea for first-degree manslaughter, claiming he was coerced by the public defender’s assistant assigned to the case.

Althiser Pleads Guilty To Milford Church Arson

Althiser Pleads Guilty

To Milford Church Arson

Above, Gerald Althiser, 21, and his lawyer, David Taylor, listen as county Judge John F. Lambert reads the terms of Althiser’s guilty plea this morning. Althiser plead guilty to attempted arson, third degree, for the fire that destroyed the Milford United Methodist Church last March. At right, Rev. Sylvia Barrett, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, read a statement on behalf of the church, telling Althiser that although they forgave him and were praying for him, they hoped the court would sentence him to a facility where he could receive mental health treatment.  Lambert sentenced Althiser to five years probation, to be served at the Homer Folks Facility, a supervised institution for the developmentally disabled, where he will receive counseling. Should he attempt to leave the facility, he will be arrested and sent to state prison for up to seven years. A judgement of $1 million was also placed against him.  (Ian Austin/


Underwood Murder Case Goes To County Court

Oneonta Murder Case Goes To County Court

ONEONTA – The Otsego County grand jury has indicted Joshua P. Underwood, 25, on charges of murder, second degree, and attempted arson, District Attorney John Muehl confirmed this afternoon.

Underwood was charged in the death of Mark J. Morrison, 52, on New Year’s Day in Oneonta. The case will now be tried in Otsego County Court.

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