Editor’s Note: This story contains details of domestic abuse. If you or someone you know has been the victim of domestic or sexual abuse, contact The Advocacy Center here.
ITHACA, N.Y. — After nearly two and a half days on the stand, the woman who accused Tompkins County Deputy Jeremy Vann of attacking her and destroying evidence, among other charges, is done giving her testimony.
Vann is facing 14 charges for a series of crimes that reportedly happened from December 2014 to March 2015.
One thing has been made clear throughout the testimony: nobody seems to be telling the whole truth.
The physical evidence at the scene, grand jury testimony, the testimony of multiple witnesses and court paperwork detailing exactly what happened from December 20, 2014, to March 30, 2015, is not consistent.
But it might be a stretch to say that people are lying — lying implies intent.
More than 23,000 text messages
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia has said multiple times that there are more than 23,000 text messages submitted to the court as evidence.
On the stand, the complainant couldn’t always attest to what some text messages mean, what she and Vann were referring to in conversations, where she was when she sent the texts or who might have been with her.
She remembers some parts of conversations and not others.
Many of the texts involve the same group of people, the same bars, and arguments about the same things — and these conversations happened about two years ago, something the woman clearly pointed out multiple times.
For instance, while defense attorney Ray Schlather was asking the woman about an instance where she said she took a walk to cool down after arguing with Vann, she said couldn’t remember anything about their texts.
“I don’t remember. I don’t even remember this conversation,” she said, frustrated as Schlather kept asking her to review the texts to see if they’d refresh her memory about the conversation.
Some people would say that there is no way a person could remember the details of so many texts messages two years after they were sent. For the defense, the memory lapse is convenient to the woman’s story.
The texts are printed out and stapled or clipped together. When stacked on top of each other, the print-outs of conversations relevant to this case are inches thick and are like a diary of the tumultuous relationship between Vann and the woman.
Motion to adjourn
The text messages also play another important role in the case.
Schlather has twice asked the court for a motion to adjourn the proceedings for up to three weeks because, he says, the prosecution is missing text messages relevant to the case.
Bonavia has vigorously denied these allegations, saying the defense has all the same information the prosecution has.
Bonavia said last summer, Schlather sent the prosecution an email stating that he believed text messages were missing from the case.
Bonavia said Schlather was asked to be specific about what he thought was missing and given the opportunity to compare his own documents with what the prosecution has. The defense did not take the prosecution up on the offer.
Schlather said in court that he was not provided with a “data dump” of the information from cell phones. He says a “data dump” is a series of numbers or codes that most people can’t decipher but that experts can decode.
However, the prosecution says they were not asked for the “data dump” until recently, and they have, in fact, provided the defense with the information requested.
But Schlather said it will take his expert up to three weeks to interpret the information.
It should be noted that it is not unusual for the prosecution to not provide the “data dump” the defense is asking for — this kind of information is rarely provided to attornies or even requested.
(Note: Unlike in movies or television, the prosecution and defense must share evidence and information with each other in advance of a trial. Nobody can suddenly pull a piece of incredible evidence out of his or her pocket that cracks the whole case open– that just doesn’t happen in real life.)
This argument has been brought before the Tompkins County court twice — once the day before the trial was set to begin and again on Tuesday.
The argument is incredibly important, in part, because of what it means for the defense’s attempt to get two pieces of information submitted to the court as evidence. The information seems to be either texts or photos that are labeled C28.1 and C28.2.
Schlather said the information was gathered, either from the “cloud” or an old cell phone Vann had — it’s unclear which one. He says he believes the information provided is, in fact, a series of screenshots taken from conversations Vann had with the complainant.
Bonavia argued that there is no way to prove the legitimacy of the images — which prompted Schlather to say that the inability to prove the legitimacy of the images is the exact reason why the trial should be delayed for 2 to 3 weeks while experts analyze the data dump.
“If the texts are missing, the question 1 is, is there maleficence here or is it some kind of glitch…,” said Judge Joseph Cassidy. “If this was done purposefully, it would be extraordinary that these would be taken out but not so many others…”
It remains unclear whether text messages are actually missing from the official court record.
Cassidy denied the adjournment but will allow Schlather to present witnesses about the authenticity of the messages, which were not admitted into evidence.
This exchange about the adjournment did not take place in front of the jury.
The devil is in the details
In this case, the devil is in the details and the details don’t line up.
For instance, the complainant previously said that Vann physically picked up a large coffee table and broke it because he was mad. The defense claims that Vann accidentally broke the table when he was rushing to stop the woman from self-harming herself in the bathroom. A police officer previously testified that four indentations were found on the floor of the apartment where the woman lived. The indentations seem to match where four legs of the coffee table would have rested. It seems to indicated that something or someone heavy fell on the coffee table.
In another instance, the woman says Vann kept her official New York State ID when he allegedly stole her purse on Feb. 28, 2015. But she reported her ID missing to the Ithaca Police Department on March 8, 2015, saying she lost her purse on the Ithaca Commons — this is days after she says Vann took her purse and ID. She said on the stand that she didn’t have her NYS ID at the time and was using her driver’s learner’s permit for identification, not a NYS ID, as she reported at the time. She indicated that the report of her purse being lost on the Commons did not mean Vann didn’t steal her NYS ID, something the defense insinuates.
Testimony about details like this go tediously on and on, but is incredibly important because, as previously reported, the woman says Vann kept her NYS ID.
That’s the reason Undersheriff Brian Robison eventually told Vann he could no longer have contact with the woman. It’s being decided in arbitration whether Robison told Vann not to see the woman as a direct order or if he was offering the younger deputy good advice.
If it’s the former, Vann could lose his job — regardless of the outcome of the trial — because of insubordination.
Small inconsistencies like this are found throughout the trial.
Testimony continued Wednesday, including a video shown in court where Vann is interviewed by police hours after the March 30 incident, when charges were filed against him.