CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (News10)-There has been plenty of reaction to a judge’s decision to reject an earlier plea deal in the Schoharie limousine crash case. The owner of Prestige Limousine faces 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide for failing to properly maintain the vehicle, while the defense blames the business where it was serviced. So, where do things go from here?
News10’s Anya Tucker reached out to all the parties involved for their perspective on the ruling.
The decision in the Schoharie County Court was certainly a bombshell. On the day limo company owner Nauman Hussain was all set to accept his sentence for the 2018 crash which killed 20 people, the judge took another road. “I would like to talk about the nature of the plea agreement,” said Hon. Judge Peter Lynch.
Lynch said the deal of just 5 years’ probation struck by the prosecution and defense under another previous judge was unacceptable. “I will tell you this. I am not going to abide by the plea agreement,” he added. That is when applause erupted from the victims’ loved ones observing the proceedings inside the courtroom.
“First thing I thought of was, ‘Wow. This is a home run for the families of the victims,” said attorney Jason Frament of Lafave, Wein & Frament PLLC who represents the estate of some of the victims. “This is something that they [loved ones] wanted. This is something that I think the judge, the new judge Lynch understood. And while it may affect the civil case, you know, they want justice both criminally and civilly.”
Longtime Capital Region attorney and former prosecutor Paul DerOhannesian says judges do have discretion to vacate a plea deal. But it is rare. “When you switch judges on a case the opportunity more likely presents to have a different viewpoint,” he said.
As for the defense, Lynch offered them two options: Accept a plea deal for a different sentence of 16 months to four years or take the case to trial. “We gave them the best advice we could, and the client made the decision to withdraw the plea and go to trial,” said Hussain’s Attorney Lee Kindlon who added that the legal team is now preparing for trial while at the same time looking at other options such as filing for a change of venue.
Anya called District Attorney Susan Mallery several times offering her an opportunity to comment on Judge Lynch’s decision, Mallery has so far not responded to those calls.