No new trial, yet, for Thibodeau: Matt's Memo

Kidnapped Heidi Allen.

Gary Thibodeau's attorney tonight told us she could not say whether she expects the convicted kidnapper to remain healthy enough to see through his next in a series of legal challenges. He is serving time in Mohawk Correctional in Rome. His first date of parole eligibility is May of 2020. One question among many: which will come first a parole date or a resolution in the courts of his appeals of a first degree kidnapping conviction.

A jury in August of 1995 convicted Thibodeau of the kidnapping of Heidi Allen on Easter Sunday 1994. A different jury acquitted his brother Richard of the same charge. Making it matters more interesting, Richard was the one who called police that morning to tell them he had bought cigarettes at the convenience store where Heidi was last known to be alive.

A quickly escalating series of events in twenty years later led to his latest round of appeals over the last two years. New witness statements surfaced. Potentially incriminating conversations were recorded. New suspects emerged. The defense team theorized the real kidnappers began to feel like they had gotten away with kidnapping and murder and would never be caught.

A lengthy hearing in 2015 led to an Oswego County court decision in March of 2016. Thibodeau lost again. This past January the defense had another chance by taking the case to the 4th Appellate Division in Rochester. That court ruled against Thibodeau late this afternoon. It was a 3 to 1 decision. Some of the most interesting case analysis came in the 15 page dissent written by Judge John Centra.

Actually, Centra agreed with most of the majority decision, but not one key point. Judge Centra agreed with Gary Thibodeau, “that he established his entitlement to a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.” Centra wrote that he feels Thibodeau’s conviction should be vacated and he be granted a new trial.

Centra criticized the Oswego County court writing that it “abused its discretion” in denying the motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.

Judge Centra ruled a witness at the New Haven convenience store the day of the kidnapping was credible and his new testimony should be allowed. That witness identified another man as Heidi Allen’s kidnapper. He also said the van he saw that morning was not Gary Thibodeau’s brothers van.

Centra also gave credence to the new testimony of three other men disposing of Heidi’s body in a van in Murtaugh’s junkyard in Oswego County.

He also ruled the recorded statement of Jennifer Wescott should be admissible in a new trial. Wescott is the one who was recorded saying Heidi was out in the van at her house after the abduction on that Easter Sunday.

Judge Centra concluded, “I believe a new trial should be granted based simply on the totality of the new evidence introduced at the hearing.” Centra wrote, “This is not a case where there was just one off-hand remark about Heidi’s abduction.”

There was not one remark there were many. The challenge for any legitimate defense of a person who proclaims their innocence is skillfully utilizing the law. It's not enough to make a case that the public buys as convincing for a new trial. The case must impress legal minds who do not buy into emotional narrative.

That premise will be even more important if the case ultimately is heard at the State Court of Appeals. Similar to the U.S. Supreme Court that is serious business. There is no tolerance for a flimsy poorly considered argument. The defense team for Gary Thibodeau welcomes the challenge and hopes that it comes soon.

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