District attorney’s office cites lack of evidence
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Despite the swearing in of 19 potential jurors for a trial, the long-running local drama known as the People v. Ray DiFrancesco ended Monday morning (May 18) with the withdrawal of all charges against DiFrancesco, who operates Whistling Willie’s American Grill in Cold Spring.
DiFrancesco had been accused of assault, reckless endangerment and making a false statement in an incident that allegedly occurred on Jan. 1, 2014, not long after New Year’s Eve became New Year’s Day. Two weeks ago, Judge Thomas Costello of Cold Spring Justice Court agreed to scrap the first two charges but scheduled a jury trial on the third, the claim of a false statement. All the allegations involved the purported mistreatment, outside the restaurant, of an unnamed man — the “complainant.”
On May 13, Assistant District Attorney David Bishop had told the judge that the Office of Putnam County District Attorney (DA) Adam Levy wanted all the charges dismissed, but Costello responded that he wished to have the recommendation in writing. The next day, Levy’s office provided the requisite statement.
In Monday’s proceedings, Costello amended the DA office’s document, changing the wording from a “dismissal” to a “withdrawal” of charges, and accepted it.
“The People cannot make out a prima facie case that the defendant [DiFrancesco], acting alone or with others, caused the complainant’s injuries and further finds the defendant’s statement does not warrant prosecution for making a false statement. Therefore the People withdraw the charges,” the document declared in part.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Chana Krauss told the court that “a careful review of the facts” had ensued in the approximately 16 months since the case began. That scrutiny revealed “that there did not exist a legal or factual basis” for continuing and hence the determination for a withdrawal, she said.
Costello said that while amenable last week to the move, he and the lawyers for DiFrancesco and the DA’s office differed “on how that was to be accomplished.”
“This has been in front of the court since February 2014,” he observed. If the DA’s office were intent on dropping the matter, the case “should have been withdrawn a long time ago,” he said from the bench.
As the session closed, Costello dismissed the jury pool, giving each person a certificate excusing him or her from further jury duty for two years.
DiFrancesco’s lawyer, Laurence Silverman, told Philipstown.info outside the court that delays occurred in part because “there were multiple offers by the DA” for a resolution earlier and counter suggestions from him, and the two sides went back and forth but were willing to wrap up the case, only to have the judge intervene and carry the proceedings onward.
“This is just … ,” Silverman began, sounding highly exasperated. “I will never appear in this court again. It was a year-and-a-half ordeal. It’s beyond comment. It was a saga. But it’s over.”
Asked why it took months for the DA’s office to pursue a withdrawal of charges, Krauss said that in some instances it takes time to review all the materials, sift through the presumed evidence, talk to witnesses, track down a caller to the police 911 emergency line and so on. “You want to put in the work,” she said. “Sometimes it just takes a while, to make sure you’re not missing anything.”
John Zarcone Jr., another DiFrancesco attorney, Monday afternoon commended Bishop, Krauss and Levy “for their professionalism and tenacity during the proceedings but more so their ethics in how the case was handled. It shows how a prosecutor’s office can and does do the right thing. …”