Sign
For the People
These newsworthy events, among others, show that DA Mark Suben has kept his promise to send serious criminals to prison while using common sense to deal with youthful indiscretion, as well as provide leadership for the criminal justice system in this county. They demonstrate the two things, in addition to the obviously necessary experience and skill, that a District Attorney should have in order to be successful, effective and fair: good judgment, and the ability to communicate.

RANDY THIBEAULT SENTENCED TO 25 YEARS-TO-LIFE FOR WIFE’S MURDER
PATRICT WEST SENTENCED TO 21 YEARS FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY KILLING
DEREK JONES SENTENCED TO 25 YEARS-TO-LIFE FOR ST. MARY’S ARMED ROBBERY
WILLIE DANFORD SENTENCED TO 14 YEARS FOR DRUG SALE
DA TAKES OVER ADMINISTRATION OF CHILD ADVOCACY CENTER
DA DECLINES TO PROSECUTE CHS LACROSSE TEAM LOCKER ROOM INCIDENT
DA PROMOTES LOCAL SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA LAW TO PROTECT KIDS

April 2009:
RANDY THIBEAULT SENTENCED TO 25 YEARS-TO-LIFE FOR WIFE’S MURDER


Wendy Thibeault, a popular and gentle woman of our community, was brutally murdered on Memorial Day 2008. Her husband, from whom she was estranged and was in the process of divorcing after a domestic violence incident at their home over a month earlier, immediately became the prime suspect. The case was promptly and thoroughly investigated by both the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department and the New York State Police, particularly involving the crack Forensic Investigation Unit of the State Police. Several months later Randy Thibeault was indicted by the former District Attorney’s Office for the murder of his wife. Thereafter, Mark Suben was elected District Attorney, and it fell to him to prosecute one of the most significant murder cases in the county’s history.

Immediately upon his election, Mark arranged to be appointed special prosecutor, without pay, so he could begin to prepare his case in the period between his election and his swearing-in as DA. He was thus able to review the huge investigative file and meet with the excellent team of police investigators, before he ever took office. This also enabled him to be ready for hearings in the case, which began in the first week of his term.

One of the first things Mark did was to provide to the defense a complete copy of all documents in the case, regardless of whether they had requested them, which amounted ultimately to well over 8,000 pieces of paper. That was the first implementation of Mark’s open file policy on which he had campaigned, and it had immediate positive results for the prosecution. The defense was unable to claim surprise as to any facts in issue, and was unsuccessful in attempts to delay the trial.

At the trial, which lasted nearly three weeks, the prosecution put in over 40 witnesses and over 275 exhibits, using state-of-the-art audio/visual aids which helped the jury to understand this massive case. It was a “circumstantial” case, which means that, because there was no living witness to the crime (other than the defendant), the case had to be proved by many small circumstantial facts leading to the conclusion that the defendant killed his wife. Ultimately, the case turned on the presence of DNA evidence of the victim’s blood in a truck that Wendy Thibeault had never been in, a fact established by the testimony of the defendant’s and victim’s son, who was uncooperative with the prosecution.

The defendant was convicted on all counts, and was sentenced to the maximum term of 25 years-to-life in state prison, meaning that he must serve 25 years of his sentence before he is eligible to petition for parole, which is by no means a certainty in a case involving this kind of senseless brutality. The defendant appealed his conviction in state and federal appellate courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and the conviction was unanimously affirmed in each court; not a single judge in any appellate court voted to overturn the conviction. Mark personally drafted and successfully argued each appeal.

Because of DA Mark Suben’s capable handling of this case at trial and on appeal (which of course relied on the excellent police work that had gone before), “Justice for Wendy” was swift and sure and permanent.

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December 2009:
PATRICT WEST SENTENCED TO 21 YEARS FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY KILLING


Less than 5 hours after Mark Suben took office as DA at midnight January 1, 2009, a critically injured young man, James Adams, was found lying in the street in the City of Cortland. Through outstanding police work by the Cortland Police Department, a suspect, Patrick West, was located and, when the victim died a day later, was charged with manslaughter, for striking and kicking the victim without provocation, eventually causing his death.

The newly elected DA personally presented the case to a grand jury, handled all pretrial proceedings and motions, prosecuted the case successfully at trial, and drafted and argued all the appeals, also successfully. Pat West was convicted of the violent felony of Manslaughter 1st Degree and sentenced to 21 years in state prison. The defense attorney at trial was then-Public Defender Keith Dayton.

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September 2010:
DEREK JONES SENTENCED TO 25 YEARS-TO-LIFE FOR ST. MARY’S ARMED ROBBERY


Less than 6 months after Mark Suben took office as DA, a downstate man named Derek Jones, who had a long and violent criminal history, accompanied by a local woman, robbed a young woman of our community who was on her way home from work, threatening to stab her with a knife if she resisted, in front of St. Mary’s Church on North Main Street in the City.

Again, outstanding police work by the Cortland Police Department assisted by the Cortland County Sheriff’s K-9 unit resulted in the immediate capture of both suspects, who were charged with armed robbery and other serious crimes. Again, the newly-elected DA personally presented the case to the grand jury, handled all pretrial proceedings and motions, and prosecuted the case successfully at trial. Derek Jones was sentenced to 25 years-to-life as a persistent violent felony offender, based on his previous violent felony convictions for armed robbery in New York City and upstate. Because of delays in filing an appeal, Jones is still pending appeal. If and when an appeal is filed, Mark will personally draft and argue the People’s position.

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WILLIE DANFORD SENTENCED TO 14 YEARS FOR DRUG SALE

DA Mark Suben has made it a priority to prosecute drug felonies particularly involving drug dealers coming into our community from urban crime centers like Syracuse and New York City. So, when Willie Danford, a drug dealer from Syracuse with a lengthy criminal history, came here to sell 2 ounces of cocaine (which is a significant amount of that controlled substance, and would have been broken down into smaller packages and distributed to many of our local addicts), he was captured and charged with an A-level drug felony through the capable efforts of our local Drug Task Force.

The case was successfully prosecuted from arrest to trial and on appeal by the DA’s hand-picked Chief Assistant DA, Karen Howe. After his conviction, Willie Danford was sentenced to 14 years in state prison as a second felony offender, all of which was upheld on appeal.

After his conviction, the DA’s Office also sought and was granted the forfeiture of the vehicle Danford was driving when he came here to deal drugs. When the DA took title to that drug dealer’s car, Mark promptly gave it to the Drug Task Force to use in fighting the drug criminals that still threaten our community.

Because of this and other successful drug prosecutions, many drug dealers now plead guilty and agree to go to prison without trial to avoid lengthier sentences, which saves taxpayers the significant cost of trials, and many more now steer clear of Cortland because of our growing reputation as a tough place if you are caught.

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August 2011:
DA TAKES OVER ADMINISTRATION OF CHILD ADVOCACY CENTER


For several years, Cortland County has had a Child Advocacy Center, whose mission is to coordinate the investigation of sexual and serious physical abuse of children, with the goal of reducing the trauma of such investigations on the child victims while simultaneously developing a tighter case against the perpetrators. The idea is to get all the various agencies responsible for investigating such child abuse together from the very beginning of the case – police agencies, Department of Social Services through its Child Protective Unit, emergency medical responders, mental health providers, Aid to Victims of Violence personnel who provide support for the young victims, and others – to choose one professional well-trained in the best way to interview the victim in such cases to represent all the agencies and get all the necessary information though one interview. That way, the child is spared the multiple interviews formerly needed, and spared the continued trauma that such tag-team interviews unavoidably inflicted on the child. The idea, further, is to locate the interview in a specially designed center that is child-friendly and allows all investigating agencies to monitor the interview in real time. The Center also coordinates and promotes the specialized forensic training of numerous members of the investigating agencies as well as local medical and mental health providers, to enhance the services available to support and heal the child, and make a strong case against the perpetrator.

The county Child Advocacy Center is funded entirely by the state through the Office of Child and Family Services, which has established rigorous standards to assure that each local Center is operating effectively to achieve the forgoing goals.

In 2011, after several years in operation, for a variety of reasons Cortland’s Child Advocacy Center was not performing as well as it needed to, nor was it meeting the state’s standards, and our funding was in immediate danger of being pulled, which would have killed this vitally important program in our community. It seemed that the Center would function better if it were administered either by a social services or law enforcement agency with greater knowledge of investigative methods, and DA Mark Suben volunteered to take on the responsibility of administering the Child Advocacy Center through the DA’s Office, which happened in August 2011.

Since then, under DA Suben’s guidance, the Center named a new director, Jamie Wheeler, who has a strong background in Child Protective Services and has demonstrated strong organizational and communication skills and an ability to get things done. Under Jamie’s leadership, the Center was moved to a location in the County Office Building, which was renovated to be a cheerful child-friendly place complete with bright colors and a fish tank, with work space for various agencies, and electronic equipment permitting efficient forensic interviews. In less than one year under its new administration, the Center has gone from near closure to a Tier-1 rating, the highest possible, which will bring with it even more state funding than it had before. Furthermore, the newly-invigorated Center has been performing as it was designed to, reducing the initial trauma on the child victims and helping to make strong cases against the perpetrators that will result in convictions and prison sentences without the need for trials, thus further reducing the trauma to the children.

This result has been accomplished without spending a single dollar of Cortland County budget funds. Future plans for the Center include developing a way to fundraise, to supplement the state funding to increase even more the benefits of having this Center in our community, all without spending any local taxpayer dollars.

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May 2012:
DA DECLINES TO PROSECUTE CHS LACROSSE TEAM LOCKER ROOM INCIDENT


Last May, an incident that occurred in the locker room of the Cortland High School varsity boys lacrosse team was referred to the Cortland Police Department and the District Attorney for investigation and possible criminal prosecution. It was alleged that some senior members of the team had forcefully engaged in some inappropriate physical hazing of younger members, with a coach looking on. CPD thoroughly investigated the allegations, took many statements from all relevant witnesses, and referred the case to DA Mark Suben for review and authorization to make arrests.

After careful review, Mark declined to prosecute, based on the fact that the alleged victim did not want it prosecuted, and also and perhaps more importantly, because the evidence did not support criminal charges against any person, student or coach. There were no physical injuries, it was not clear who might have done what, and the coach appeared to have acted properly in breaking up what he believed, from his vantage point, was simply roughhousing. Moreover, the boys involved were heavily disciplined following an internal school proceeding, and some received the additional sanction of losing anticipated college scholarships.

DA Suben, applying judgment and common sense, realized that the boys’ inappropriate behavior was appropriately addressed by the school sufficiently to correct their behavior, and that criminal penalties on top of that would have been excessively punitive for boys with clean records and bright futures not yet out of high school. In bygone times, this incident would probably not have been referred to the police. When it was referred, DA Suben applied the common sense he promised he would.

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May 2012:
DA PROMOTES LOCAL SYNTHETIC MARIJUANA LAW TO PROTECT KIDS


In the past year, police and public health authorities have been dealing with various chemical compounds manufactured to replicate the effects of marijuana but not governed by any existing drug law because it didn’t fit the definition of real marijuana or any other controlled substance defined under current drug laws. The effects of these synthetic substances were devastating and dangerous, with immediate and often irreversible negative physiological and emotional reactions, and even death. Despite the evidence that these products were dangerous, unscrupulous merchants in smoke shops and head shops continued marketing the synthetic marijuana under various exotic names, always on the theory that it was legal to do so, usually targeting young purchasers. Because these compounds were not covered by existing drug laws, police were powerless to remove them from store shelves or even to confiscate them when found on kids.

Legislation introduced to make synthetic marijuana compounds illegal, to give police and public health officials the tools to address this growing public health emergency, stalled in the State Assembly. While waiting for the political problems to sort themselves out, Governor Cuomo’s State Department of Health issued an executive ban on these substances, which authorized a civil proceeding to remove them from store shelves under threat of fines. As well-intentioned as this stop-gap measure was, the process would be slow, and in the end the sanctions would not be very burdensome to the unscrupulous merchants. In the meantime, kids would still have uncontrolled access to a product that they had no idea was so dangerous until it was too late.

DA Suben took the initiative as one of the first District Attorneys in the state to develop a local law to criminalize the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana compounds, presented it to Cortland County Legislature, which in May 2012 made Cortland one of the first counties in New York State to give its police agencies the tools to remove these dangerous substances wherever they found them, thus giving this community a weapon to address this urgent and dangerous public health emergency affecting the kids. Mark has been frank to say that he probably will not prosecute most kids caught simply possessing the substances, but rather will save such prosecutions for those distributing these poisons. Recently, Governor Cuomo strengthened the state enforcement powers and penalties for synthetic compounds and bath salts by executive order. Whenever the state passes legislation controlling such substances, the county law will cease to have effect. In the meantime, DA Suben has taken the initiative to protect our kids and fight the dealers to whatever extent we can.

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