New York Judge Declares Mistrial After Prosecutor Claims Defendant Tried To Run Her Down . . . Later Video Disputes Account And Defendant Was Not In The Car

gavel2Erie-County-SealErie County District Attorney’s Special Victim’s Bureau Chief Roseanne Johnson appeared recently in court with an alarming report. She told the judge in the midst of jury selection for a rape trial that she had a statement to read from Assistant District Attorney Kristi Ahlstrom. Ahlstrom informed that court that the defendant, William Payne, 48, had tried to kill her by running her over in the street. Johnson denounced the attack as an effort to intimidate the prosecutors who were in the jury selection process for the rape trial. A mistrial was declared. The problem is that Payne was not in the car and a video tape of the street contradicts the account of Ahlstrom. Yet, the trial was halted, Payne was held in jail for seven days pending investigation, and there is no indication of any discipline for the prosecutor.

Ahlstrom claimed that she was crossing Delaware Avenue at West Eagle in Buffalo after the first day of jury selection in Payne’s trial when she spotted a black sedan at a green light. She said that she took two steps into the street and the car sped directly at her. She said that the car came within feet of her. She said that she was splashed by a puddle and almost hit. She identified Payne as the driver.

The allegation led the court to halt the proceedings, declare a mistrial, revoke Payne’s bail, and investigate him for a serious criminal act. Seven days later however his defense counsel produced a video showing another person getting into an SUV and the car never came within two feet as claimed by Ahlstrom. It appeared 10 feet away. Moreover, Payne does not have a license, does not own a car, and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority security camera footage shows he was taking a train and a bus home at the time of the alleged incident.

The judge acted in a worthy sense of precaution given the written account and identification by Ahlstrom. However, he clearly agreed with the defense since he reinstated the bail order for Payne.

A new trial has been scheduled and the earlier selection jurors released. Payne is charged with third-degree rape and third-degree incest and will now be tried in August.

One curious aspect was that a story yesterday declined to name the prosecutor, which appears in other articles. This was done according to the article to protect her safety. However, her name is part of the record. More importantly, it was not Payne in the car and the video, according to defense counsel, does not show a car coming within two feet of Ahlstrom. Moreover, there is no charge against the driver to attempted assault. The question is who is threatening Ahlstrom. The alternative explanation is that it is an effort to protect the prosecutor from being named in a case of false or mistaken identification. We have previously discussed the general approach of courts not to name prosecutors in opinions in alleged cases of prosecutorial misconduct or trial errors. In this case, Ahlstrom accused a person of what amounts to criminal conduct and was the reason for his incarceration for seven days and a mistrial. I do not understand the basis for the Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita or his staff in asking for the name not to appear in media coverage.

Ahlstrom previously worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. District Court for the Northern District and was made a prosecutor in 2009.

By the way, defense counsel is constantly trying to get in overwhelming data showing that eye witness testimony, even by victims, is notoriously unreliable. In this case, the prosecutor herself reportedly said that she had a clear facial identification on the defendant only a few feet away. Go figure.

37 thoughts on “New York Judge Declares Mistrial After Prosecutor Claims Defendant Tried To Run Her Down . . . Later Video Disputes Account And Defendant Was Not In The Car”

  1. The prosecutor should be brought up on charges of lying and making a false ID of the defendant. Without the prosecutors being controlled along with the police, the rest of us don’t have a chance.

  2. Perhaps she can be called as a witness to establish how easy it is to misidentify this defendant in particular, even by someone who is presumably aware of the potential for mistaken identification? The error in identification does not establish misconduct to me, in that such errors are common among people acting in good will with a genuine desire to be truthful. The invention of the “attempt to kill her” cannot be so easily explained.

  3. Considering some of the recent problems with state evidence labs, and prosecutors perhaps we should consider testimony by LE exculpatory. Seems like we would have about as good a chance at getting to the truth of the matter.

  4. “This is a Caucasian incompetent.. There, I had the courage to point out the person’s race and incompetence.”

    So why is race relevant here? And what makes this about competence rather than honesty? And doesn’t it seem likely that individual characteristics or perhaps something about social environment is a more likely explanation for the behavior?

    BTW, the social environment that first comes to my mind, assuming that environment is relevant, would be the isolated environment of the prosecutors office and LE in that county.

  5. It seems to me the prosecutor’s office’s decision to withhold her name for purposes of her safety was really about protecting her or her office from embarassment.

  6. This is a Caucasian incompetent.. There, I had the courage to point out the person’s race and incompetence. Am I a racist for doing that,

  7. For those of us who don’t know much about the mentality of the typical high ranking prosecutor, this may come as a surprise. But the thing that separates the average run of the mill prosecutor from those that rise to the top, the cream of the crop if you will, is a hatred of those who have allegedly committed crimes and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win convictions. And where the vast majority of judges are former prosecutors, the system is rampant with corruption. One possible exception, white collar crime$.

    Couple this with socioeconomic problems, and you begin to understand why minority populations are imprisoned in far greater numbers than their proportion of the population from which they spring would seem to explain.

  8. Ms. Ahlstrom is either so incompetent as to be unable to be a prosecutor, or so corrupt…

    How come the citizenry doesn’t rise up in outrage>

  9. Paul, I agree totally! I have long believed that no one should be convicted solely on eyewitness testimony. There is a rule of evidence that no one can be convicted solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a co-defendant. I think that should be the same standard for eyewitness testimony. That said, there are those who would like to make eyewitness testimony valueless. That is not right either. Paul, I have learned so much about how people see the world from interviewing 10’s of thousands of witnesses. It is fascinating.

    1. Nick wrote: “I have long believed that no one should be convicted solely on eyewitness testimony. There is a rule of evidence that no one can be convicted solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a co-defendant.”

      When a case comes down to purely eyewitness testimony, one person’s testimony against another, I have always thought that our justice system should require at least two eyewitnesses that are in agreement. Lacking that, the case should be dismissed. Unfortunately, this is not part of our judicial system. Many people are convicted solely upon the word of a policeman against the word of the defendant.

  10. Having worked for a prosecutors office, I agree eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. But, it can also be reliable. Any reasonable person can understand this simple concept,

    1. Nick – having worked with witnesses, you are surely aware that any eyewitness testimony should be suspect from the beginning. Even trained observers can screw things up and do.
      Any reasonable person knows that identification across races is even more suspect. Some people are very accurate regardless and some are close to worthless, they can identify race and sex and sometimes neither. It was human is about as close as they can get. 🙂

    1. Laser – I am thinking the prosecutor did not like the jury pool. This gets her a new one.

  11. Gotta love security cameras. Just in case they aren’t around,
    I bought a dash cam and one for the rear SUV (W/motion detectors).
    Easy install. $20 – $40. Low tech computer forensics works.

    1. david – that could be a legitimate defense. Some studies of identification of people of a different race have shown that they do all look alike. It is much harder to identify someone of a different race. When you look at your own race, you have a specific set of markers that you use to help you differentiate people. Those markers don’t work for other races. Since teachers spend a lot of time in mixed race classrooms, they have different sets of markers for each race and are better at making identifications and giving descriptions based on that particular race.

  12. A damn disgrace. Hopefully someone will complain to the bar. At the very least the Judge in whose court this happened should refer this to the state bar for investigation. Better if the Judge scheduled a contempt hearing for both Ahlstrom and Johnson.

  13. Do you really think anything is going to happen to the prosecutor? She is probably going to get a raise.

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