A judge Monday granted a new trial to a Cattaraugus County deer hunter who was convicted of accidentally firing a shot that struck a school bus full of children in November 2011.
The prosecutor in the case misled jurors by telling them during a closing argument that “nobody’s going to jail because of this,” when, in fact, William D. Squire was later sentenced to a year in prison.
“Not only was this comment inappropriate, it was incorrect,” Cattaraugus County Judge Ronald D. Ploetz wrote, deciding an appeal in Squire’s favor. “The comment wrongly suggests that the jury could be more lax in its review and application of legal principles than it must be.”
Ploetz ruled that several other errors took place during the July 2012 trial that led to Squire’s conviction on misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and discharging a firearm.
“We’re very happy, and Mr. Squire is very happy,” said Barry N. Covert, a Buffalo lawyer who represented Squire in the appeals case with co-counsel Timothy P. Murphy. “There were many improprieties during the trial, capped by the prosecutor telling the jury that this whole thing was no big deal and that nobody would go to jail. Then, my client was sentenced to jail.”
Squire, a Randolph resident who was 58 at the time of the shooting, was hunting that day, but he does not believe that a slug from his rifle was the slug that struck the school bus, said Covert.
Thirty-five students and a driver were in the bus that was traveling on Route 241 in Randolph when the slug hit the vehicle, police said. The slug hit close to the driver’s seat, but no one was injured.
“There were a lot of people hunting for deer in Randolph that day, and we do not believe Mr. Squire’s slug hit the school bus,” Covert said. “He did fire some shots that day, and he was in a tree stand about 700 yards from where the bus was hit. There was no conclusive proof that it was a slug from his gun that struck the bus. We do not believe he fired that shot.”
Covert emphasized that he and Murphy did not represent Squire at his jury trial. A public defender represented Squire.
Erich S. Weyand, assistant Cattaraugus County district attorney, prosecuted the case and made the “nobody’s going to jail” remark that was criticized by Ploetz. Weyand could not be reached to comment.