It’s not that the crime with which William Payne is charged will make him particularly sympathetic, even with the usual caveat that the guy is innocent because he has yet to be proven guilty. Yes, we all adore the innocent, but the $25,000 bail was good enough to keep him coming back for more.
That is, until the assistant district attorney claimed he tried to run her down. From the Buffalo News:
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.
[Judge Kenneth] 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.
Lock him up! Revoke his bail! Protect the prosecutor! Scuttle the trial!!! After all, she got a “clear look at the driver’s face,” and it was PAYNE!!!
Except it wasn’t.
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.
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.
Oops. But the good news is that it only took seven days of Payne’s life to figure out that he had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any car driving too close to the baby prosecutor.
“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.”
But hey, this wasn’t some bum off the street making the accusation which would be duly investigated. Eventually. This was a prosecutor, and the last thing we can tolerate is a baby prosecutor getting rattled. Of course, there is no way to know whether the incident happened at all, or whether it was just your basic car came closer to the prosecutrix than she would have preferred. Just like the Dersh, who would have demanded Payne be indicted for attempted murder before the sun set.
So who was this assistant who was so very certain that the attempt to run her down was perpetrated by the perpetrator? Well, that’s hard to say:
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.
Defense lawyers in Buffalo should keep this in mind, and request that they similarly withhold the names of defendants because they’re fearful for her safety. Then again, it’s a little unclear why she would be fearful, given that her fantasy attack by the defendant was just that, a fantasy.
But what it was not was intentional, as Judge Case concluded:
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.
Mistaken identity can happen, you know. It tends to happen most when there is video. And ironically, there was video in this case.
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.
That’s one seriously mistaken prosecutor, they have up there in Buffalo. No wonder she’s fearful. And so what if she misidentified by mistake the face of the defendant she was prosecuting, a face she could “clearly see,” even if it was during an incident that didn’t really happen. It only cost William Payne seven days sitting in the Erie County jail.
H/T Our hinterlands correspondent, Kathleen Casey