William Payne is free again on $25,000 bail after his attorney proved Monday in Erie County Court that an assistant district attorney was mistaken in her claim that he tried to threaten her by driving a car dangerously close to her outside a downtown Buffalo courthouse last week.
Defense attorney Joseph A. Agro provided County Judge Kenneth F. Case with still photographs from Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority surveillance cameras showing the 48-year-old Payne utilizing public transportation at different points on his way home from court to the East Side.
The Erie County assistant district attorney prosecuting Payne had claimed that he drove within a couple feet of her following the first day of his rape trial.
Photographs and surveillance video from cameras at the intersection where the alleged incident occurred at West Eagle Street and Delaware Avenue, Agro argued, proved that his client could not possibly be the man behind the wheel of a dark sedan the prosecutor said nearly struck her.
The judge, after reviewing the evidence, approved Agro’s motion that the bail be reinstated.
“I told them this guy does not have a driver’s license and has an NFTA bus pass. But my client sat for seven days at the Erie County Holding Center,” Agro said. “We think the next time an accusation like that is going to be made, they should get it right and not leave it up to us to get it right. This guy’s liberty was taken from him for seven days.”
Case revoked Payne’s bail and declared a mistrial last Tuesday after prospective jurors waiting to be screened for possible selection in Payne’s rape trial overheard discussions at the Erie County Courthouse that the assistant district attorney was involved in some sort of traffic incident on Monday evening.
The assistant prosecutor said she had gotten a clear look at the driver’s face and identified him as Payne.
A subsequent review of a surveillance camera on the Delaware Avenue side of the courthouse, however, showed an individual parking the dark colored car at 5:20 p.m. that Monday.
The same video later showed the driver returning to the car at 6:52 p.m., about the same time the assistant district attorney left work.
“Mr. Payne and I left the courthouse building right around 5 p.m. that Monday. He went to the Church Street Metro Rail Station and we have a still photograph from an NFTA surveillance camera showing him there at 5:08 p.m. He got on Metro Rail and continued to the underground Delavan Station at 5:28 p.m.
“He then went above ground and took NFTA Metro Bus 26 at 5:29 p.m. and we have a photo of him getting on the bus at 5:29. He got off on East Delavan Avenue around Humber Avenue at 5:39 p.m. and went home. What pushed this over the top today was that we asked what time this car originally parked on West Eagle. The car parked at 5:20 p.m.,” Agro said in making a case of how improbable it would be for his client to be the driver since he was in transit with the NFTA.
Roseanne Johnson, chief of the Erie County District Attorney’s Special Victims Bureau, did not object when Case restored bail for Payne. Last week, she had requested the bail revocation after interviewing the assistant prosecutor who works in her bureau.
The Buffalo News has withheld the name of the assistant prosecutor at the request of the District Attorney’s Office because they were fearful for her safety.
The judge, in restoring bail, said he did not believe the assistant district attorney intentionally sought to blame Payne for the incident, but rather it was the result of a case of mistaken identity.
Agro said his client is glad to be free, but questioned the assistant prosecutor’s account of what happened at the intersection after he watched the courthouse surveillance video several times.
“In my humble estimation, the car was nowhere near the assistant DA,” Agro said.
Payne will continue free on bail and his new trial is set for Aug. 11. He was charged Jan. 19, 2013, with third-degree rape and third-degree incest for allegedly raping a young woman in his apartment the previous fall.