ITHACA, N.Y. — In 2018, there were several major trials and crimes, as well as some important criminal justice system reforms.
As far as views go, crime and courts stories always draw the most eyes on The Ithaca Voice’s website. Though people read that coverage most, when we survey our readers, many people say they would like to see less focus on crime and courts. So, for the 2018 list, we took a look at what stories were most read and combined those with important criminal justice stories that maybe didn’t get the most views.
Closure in the Justin Barkley case
On Jan. 11, 2018, Justin Barkley pleaded guilty to manslaughter and in February he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a man in the parking lot of Walmart in Ithaca. In December 2016, Barkley shot and killed 52-year-old William Schumacher, who was a UPS driver from Candor. After shooting Schumacher, Barkley fled, shot at police officers and barricaded himself in his home for nearly eight hours. Barkley did not know the man and when he first appeared in court after being arrested, he claimed he shot and killed Donald Trump. However, later, he said he did not actually think he shot Trump, but he did believe the person was from the government and trying to hurt him. Further court proceedings and documents would show that Barkley killed Schumacher during a drug- and alcohol-fueled psychotic break.
At Barkley’s sentencing, Schumacher’s family shared their anger and despair, but also offered forgiveness and described him as a kind man who wouldn’t want anybody to hate Barkley. His son said his father was the kind of person that would have talked about farm life and “told you about Jesus.” Barkley expressed remorse at his sentencing, saying, “I think about that every day and it will be in my thoughts for a long time.”
Man gets maximum sentence for murdering woman in Collegetown
In another case that shook the community, Michael Davis, of Dryden, received the maximum sentence for the murder of Josie Berrios, an Ithaca woman who was found dead at a construction site in Collegetown in June 2017. According to the District Attorney’s Office, Davis was responsible for starting a fire at the scene, which ultimately killed Berrios. In court, Davis attributed the murder to “relationship dysfunctions” between himself and Berrios, which led to the deterioration of his mental health. Davis pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February and was sentenced by Judge John Rowley to 25 years to life.
Shortly after her death, more than 100 people attended a vigil to remember her and celebrate her life. At the vigil, her mother said, “I do not want you to remember her as the girl who died in Cornell. You will remember her as the girl who accepted everyone and everyone was family.”
Former Cornell student found with cache of weapons in Collegetown apartment
A tip from a Walmart employee, who was concerned about firearms, ammunition and a number of items being purchased, ultimately turned into a federal investigation that revealed what police called an “alarming discovery” of weapons, explosive materials and other items in former Cornell student Maximilien Reynolds’ apartment.
After the weapons were found, police said the items collectively, “certainly suggest a specific recipe for large-scale destruction.” Reynolds recently pleaded guilty to two federal charges, including possessing unregistered weapons and willfully causing false statements to a firearms dealer. He admitted to giving another student money in November 2017 to purchase a rifle and later cut down the barrel of the rifle, which made it illegal to possess.
Reynolds’ attorney Ray Schlather said there was no intent to cause harm to himself or anyone else in this case. “At all times, due to his emerging mental illness, Mr. Reynolds was acting defensively and in protection of his family and self. Fortunately, Mr. Reynolds now is able to understand and to accept his responsibility. He, his family and his many sympathetic friends and supporters, look forward to appropriate treatment under Court supervision. The Court will consider all of these factors at the time of sentencing,” Schlather said.
Mental Health Court in the works for Tompkins County
A Mental Health Court that will divert people with mental health issues to treatment instead of jail is launching soon. Ithaca City Court Judge Scott Miller has been working with Judge Richard Wallace for years to bring the court to Ithaca.
Discussing plans for the court in a June article, Miller said “The expense for the taxpayers and the overcrowding of the jail for a non-violent mentally ill person, that doesn’t make any sense. The jail is not a hospital. We can just keep re-sentencing people to 15 days in jail for disorderly conduct but all that happens is they get out, they’re still homeless, they still have a serious mental illness that’s untreated and it’s just a revolving door.”
New sheriff in Tompkins County
After a heated race with three candidates for Tompkins County Sheriff, Derek Osborne secured 68 percent of the vote to become the next sheriff. Now that it’s 2019, Osborne has officially taken the helm of the department. The race was between former sheriff Ken Lansing and independent journalist Josh Brokaw. There were several forums and debates before the election, including a live one co-hosted by The Ithaca Voice and WRFI. During the debate, the community sent in questions about policing, budget management, diversity in hiring and experience.
Osborne was born and raised in Cortland, where he worked in the Cortland Police Department for six years before transferring to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. He worked at the sheriff’s office until 2015, when he retired as undersheriff. Osborne’s undersheriff is Jennifer Olin, who was a SUNY-Cortland police lieutenant.
When asked before the election why he thinks people should vote for him, Osborne responded, “Honestly, if I’m lucky enough to get in this position, I’m going to give 120 percent. I want the community to know that. I want to make the sheriff’s office something everybody is proud of in this community and that’s my goal. And I will do it.”
After a retrial, Jeffrey Horton was again found guilty of rape
Jeffrey Horton was previously found guilty of rape and several other charges in June 2016. However, the conviction was overturned over an issue with a potential juror (read the full background on the issue here). After another trial in September 2018, a jury again found Horton guilty of raping and beating a woman in her home in March 2015. The trial came down to the credibility of Horton and the victim. Horton did not testify in the second trial, but in the previous trial, he admitted to slapping the woman for 10 to 15 seconds but denied raping her. Instead, he said they had consensual make-up sex. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, Assistant District Attorney Diane Lama said she hopes the verdict “brings some level of hope to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Horton was sentenced in November to 12 years in prison. You can read full coverage from the trial here.
Bus traveling from Ithaca to New York City crashes
A woman was killed and several others were injured when a Big Red Bullet bus traveling from Ithaca to New York City crashed on I-380 near Covington Township Pennsylvania in October. Rebecca Blanco, a 2017 graduate of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, died in the crash. An Ithaca resident was also airlifted from the scene and several passengers were treated for injuries.
Before the crash, police had received a 911 call reporting that the bus was driving erratically. Troopers were dispatched to investigate, but when they arrived they found the bus had crashed off the side of the highway. Initially, the bus driver told police he fell asleep at the wheel but when charges were filed later in November, the driver Charles Dixon was charged with 33 crimes, including homicide by vehicle and driving under the influence. Court records state a blood sample was drawn from Dixon and cocaine was found in Dixon’s system at the time of the crash. Dixon was recently arraigned in Lackawanna County Central Court and is due to appear for a preliminary hearing Jan. 10.
Three youth charged with stabbing man near Ithaca Commons; police and prosecutors navigate new Raise the Age laws
In October, Raise the Age legislation officially went into effect. The new law impacts several steps in the legal process, including how youth are charged, housed and rehabilitated and encompasses a comprehensive approach to raising the age of criminal responsibility for 16- and 17-year-olds. Currently, Raise the Age only affects 16-year-olds. On Oct. 1, 2019, the law will take effect for 17-year-olds. Several departments in Tompkins County have been working out the details of how to navigate the new law. One of the biggest concerns has been where to house youth.
When the bill was signed Cuomo said, “Raising the age of criminal responsibility is an essential pillar to social justice reform and critical in allowing New Yorkers the chance to reach their full potential.”
A brutal stabbing by three youth near the Ithaca Commons in early December was the first time police and prosecutors had to work within the new law. The defendants were ages 13, 15 and 16. According to police, they stabbed a 24-year-old Ithaca resident they had “some familiarity” with on the 100 block of North Cayuga Street. Read more about Raise the Age and how it is impacting the case here.
Looking ahead to 2019
Moving into 2019, there are several stories we will be watching, like the Mental Health Court getting started. Another issue that has been a big topic for the past few years is the Tompkins County Jail, which needs infrastructure improvements and also had its 18-bed variance revoked, which puts pressure on reducing the number of people in the jail. That will continue to be an issue in 2019. What do you think needs coverage in 2019? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.