Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III is criticizing what he called the “costly and frivolous” appellate court work done for four admitted criminals, each of whom had waived appeals efforts on two occasions after having pleaded guilty.
An appellate court unanimously rejected the belated appeals of a Buffalo killer, a convicted child molester, a city man who helped attack another motorist with a baseball bat and an admitted Buffalo burglar.
“While it is important that financially poor defendants have competent legal representation,” Sedita said, “it is troubling when such appeals are being repeatedly brought on behalf of admitted violent felons, especially when they are being repeatedly financed by the law-abiding taxpayers of Erie County.”
Sedita described the losing appeals as “costly and frivolous.” The cases include former Buffalo street gang member Kasiem Williams’ manslaughter conviction by plea; Christopher Scott’s first-degree rape conviction by plea in repeated sexual assaults on an 8-year-old Buffalo girl; Stanley McCarty Sr.’s assault conviction by plea in a 2010 baseball bat attack; and Tyler J. Morford’s burglary conviction by plea in a 2010 house burglary.
The five-judge Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester unanimously upheld all four convictions in very brief decisions.
Sedita said all four convictions resulted from “two appeal waivers” from each of those defendants, including a verbal waiver made under oath by each and a written waiver of appeal signed by each defendant.
“Despite having twice waived their right to appeal in exchange for sentencing considerations by the court, the defendants appealed, which caused the District Attorney’s Office to devote substantial resources to fight the appeals and uphold the conviction,” Sedita said.
“All these defendants were represented by lawyers who were paid for their legal representation from public funds,” Sedita stressed.
But Paul J. Cambria, a prominent Buffalo defense attorney, feels it is frequently appropriate for defendants to pursue appeals.
“I am very much opposed to allowing the prosecution to bargain away appeal rights,” Cambria said. “The sides are not even. It’s not a fair fight. Many people plea bargain because they don’t have the funds or the stomach for a trial.
“Some are given advice that is less than competent and, indeed, the United States Supreme Court recently recognized the right to competent counsel during the plea-bargaining process. Many times, prosecutors not only demand that they control what someone can plead to but what their sentence will be as well, which now invades the judge’s role.”
Williams, 23, an inmate at the state’s Upstate Correctional Facility, was sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller on June 3, 2011, to serve a prison term of up to 25 years on his reduced plea to first-degree manslaughter in the drug-related murder of Virgil Page, 32, on 19th Street on June 5, 2010.
Scott, 29, an inmate at the state’s Wende Correctional Facility, was ordered by State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia on May 25, 2011, to serve a prison term of up to 15 years on his first-degree rape plea for repeatedly molesting a girl.
McCarty, 48, an inmate at the state’s MidState Correctional Facility, is serving a five-year term for his first-degree assault conviction in a 2010 Buffalo baseball attack on another motorist.
Morford, 22, an inmate at the state’s Groveland Correctional Facility, has been serving a five-year term since May 2011.