Trial Carries On Despite Defense Request For Mistrial, Dismissal

Justin Haffa

MAYVILLE — The Justin Haffa attempted murder trial resumed Tuesday afternoon after the defense’s tries in the morning for a dismissal of charges and mistrial were denied.

While jurors reported for 9:30 a.m., they weren’t let into the courtroom until 1 p.m. as the Hon. David Foley examined and ruled on the matter.

The trial, which began last week, saw Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Deputy Sara Cunningham testifying on her encounter with Haffa during the morning of Sept. 11, 2016 on Route 60 in the town of Pomfret. During the defense’s cross-examination, Cunningham indicated that she had a follow-up visit with a physician.

Public Defender Ned Barone told Foley in court Tuesday morning that the District Attorney’s Office was aware of a follow-up physician visit by Cunningham after the September 2016 incident, but never provided information to the defense. Barone alleged that the prosecution violated the Brady rule, which requires the prosecution to turn over all exculpatory evidence. District Attorney Patrick Swanson acknowledged that he wasn’t aware of the visit.

Barone said the prosecution is “effectively denying the constitutional rights and due process for his client.” In his statements, Barone said it would be a “travesty of justice” if the trial continues. Barone motioned for a dismissal of charges as well as a mistrial.

The Haffa case was deemed a mistrial in September after the prosecution failed to hand over DNA report after resting its case.

The report contained finger nail clippings and a T-shirt from Haffa and a swab from Cunningham.

“I ask my client be afforded his constitutional rights,” Barone said. “This has gone on long enough. It raises the question what else do we not have? They knew about the information. The question is why we didn’t get it previously.”

Prosecutor Christopher Belling told the judge the allegation is “ludicrous.” Belling reiterated the prosecution wasn’t aware of the follow-up visit.

In denying the defense’s requests, Foley said the issue didn’t impact the integrity of the jury since it was outside their presence. Foley went on to say there was no Brady information contained in the medical record regarding the follow-up visit.

Foley said he doesn’t know whether Swanson had knowledge of the visit before Cunningham testified, but he said it’s the prosecution’s obligation to notify the defense if they have such information.

Barone also noted in his explanation that Cunningham’s recent testimony is inconsistent with the one she gave in the first trial. Cunningham was checked out by an EMT at the State Police barracks in Fredonia following the incident. However, she never acknowledged receiving any other care after that.

Upon Foley’s ruling, the trial continued as the prosecution called former Sheriff’s Lt. James Quattrone to the stand followed by Sheriff Joe Gerace. Both were traveling together in an unmarked vehicle during the morning when they came upon and placed Haffa in custody on Putnam Road.

Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Beichner discussed his role in the search for Haffa and assistance in the apprehension with Quattrone.

A statement by Haffa from Sept. 11, 2016, was read by Sheriff’s Sgt. Randy Boland to jurors to conclude the day. In his statement, Haffa stated his struggles with mental health, his drug addiction since he was a teenager and the incident with Cunningham in which he says he believes he held a knife in front of her.

Trial will resume today in Chautauqua County Court as jurors will hear an interview Boland performed with Haffa at the Sheriff’s Office after his apprehension.

Haffa, of Cheektowaga, is facing three felony charges stemming from the incident in which he allegedly attacked Cunningham after she conducted a field sobriety test on Route 60. Charges include first-degree attempted murder, first-degree robbery and aggravated assault on a police officer.