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ITHACA, N.Y. — After more than a three-week trial, defense attorney Ray Schlather called for a mistrial in the case against Tompkins County Deputy Jeremy Vann, saying that prosecutors had launched a “witch-hunt” against his client.
Schlather said Assistant District Attorney Dan Johnson made repeated inappropriate comments during his closing statements to jurors, which would prohibit the jury from adequately making a judgment on the case.
Vann is facing 14 charges after a woman accused him of robbery, assault, and grand larceny, among other things. The crimes are alleged to have taken place over the course of about five months.
“This has become, clearly, a witch-hunt. It has become — the prosecution, I think, had finally shown its true colors in the summation where they basically are saying, ‘We don’t like the fact that he’s carrying on with three different women, two different women. At the same time, that he’s lied to them….They want to talk about the use of his position as an officer.”
Schlather also said that evidence and testimony about incidents that happened in between the alleged charges against Vann — spanning from December 20014 to April 2015 — were being used inappropriately.
The prosecution and defense previously agreed to allow evidence and testimony to be submitted about events that do not directly relate to the charges in the indictment, which is not often permitted.
During a previously conducted Molineux Hearing, it was decided that the additional information be allowed into the trial as necessary background and to help jurors understand the narrative of events that unfolded.
During the trial, this included text messages, phone calls, photos, and social media posts.
The information was not intended to imply that Vann had “the propensity or predisposition to commit the crimes charged in this case.”
Schlather argued that the prosecution violated the latter terms of how the additional information was supposed to be used, referring to comments made by Johnson during closing statements.
“That again is suggestive…that this material was not offered simply to move the narrative along but was offered in an effort to smear the defendant and impeach his credibility,” he said. “They are attempting to prosecute him for things that happened in January — for things that aren’t in the indictment…”
Schlather argued several more points, for instance, that Johnson was unfairly placing judgment on Vann for not testifying during the trial and for asking New York State Police investigators to get a warrant to search his phone.
“That’s a constitutional right and counsel’s effort to spin that in some other way…is absolutely inappropriate…,” Schlather said.
However, the prosecution argued against those claims, and Judge Joseph Cassidy denied the motion for a mistrial.
Cassidy said that, among other reasons, he did not believe the jury would be confused about whether Johnson’s statements should be considered evidence in the case. They’d previously been instructed to only use evidence and testimony presented during the trial while deliberating, and Johnson reminded them during closing statements that Vann’s lack of testimony shouldn’t be used against him.
Around 12:40 p.m., the jury was given instructions to consider before going into deliberation. No verdict was reached Tuesday afternoon. Deliberation is expected to continue Wednesday morning.
Defense closing statements: ‘She is simply not a credible witness’
Schlather said that the case against Vann is like a beautiful home built on a foundation of “shifting sands” — it will fall apart no matter what.
“We all walk into this courtroom cloaked with this thing called the presumption of innocence,” he said. “You must give the benefit of that doubt to the defendant.”
He said that throughout the trial, the jury heard from what he’s calling people evidence — testimony from people about things they say they saw, heard or experienced — and objective evidence, which he said is more aligned with the physical evidence of the case.
The people evidence, he says, has changed multiple times since the charges were filed against Vann. And while some of the minor changes could be attributed to the passage of time or flawed memory, he said some of the changes were because people were lying.
For instance, Schlather said the woman who is accusing Vann of attacking her said multiple times that she never scratched Vann. However, she sends Vann a text referring to scratching him “again” after a New Year’s Eve incident where they argued.
The defense also showed photo evidence of Vann with a severely scratched face, and the woman’s grandmother testified that during a conversation with Vann, he told her that the woman scratched his face.
“It’s lies, made up. It’s not credible… it’s shifting sands,” Schlather said.
The defense also reiterated points made during the trial — that the woman had a history of mental illness and Vann was doing his best to help her; that the woman lied about a pregnancy and abortion to manipulate Vann; that the woman changed details and timelines of parts of her story when she told it to police and when she testified at grand jury and the trial.
Schlather did not shy away from Vann’s infidelities.
He highlighted a series of texts sent on March 25, 2015, where Vann texts the two woman he’s dating and his wife — who he is separated from — professing his affection for each one.
“My, God! Three minutes — this man is professing love to three different women,” Schlather said. “It’s offensive. It’s stupid. It’s betrayal of trust…but it’s not criminal.”
He said, however, that the multiple relationships are what sparks the blow-out argument between Vann and the complainant.
“It’s just a lot of stuff happening — that it’s two people who, as Ms. (Redacted) said, they were toxic…they were toxic for each other. They shouldn’t have been together. But somehow or another, they were called back, pulled back. But that’s the stuff of soap operas, and that’s the stuff of melodrama. It is not the stuff of criminal charges,” Schlather said.
Featured image: Jeremy Vann listens to his attorney give closing statements late Monday afternoon. Photo by Alyvia Covert/ The Ithaca Voice