Haffa Acquitted

Cheektowaga Man Found Not Guilty Of Attempted Murder, Assault

Justin S. Haffa, 23, reacts as verdicts are read Wednesday in Chautauqua County Court in Mayville. Haffa was found not guilty of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree robbery and aggravated assault stemming from a September 2016 incident. Photo by Jimmy McCarthy

MAYVILLE — A Chautauqua County jury acquitted a Cheektowaga man Wednesday of attempted murder of a sheriff’s deputy stemming from a September 2016 incident in the town of Pomfret.

A jury of six men and six women returned verdicts of not guilty against Justin S. Haffa on charges of first-degree attempted murder, first-degree robbery and aggravated assault on a police officer following four hours of deliberation Wednesday. Haffa, 23, was found guilty of a lesser charge in third-degree robbery.

Sentencing is scheduled for April, and Haffa could get anywhere from 2 1/2 to 7 years in state prison.

Families on both sides exuded emotion as the verdicts were announced inside the Mayville courtroom. Haffa could be seen smiling as the not guilty verdicts were announced in front of Judge David Foley.

Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone, who represented Haffa during trial, expressed elation with the outcome. Since his arrest in September 2016, Barone said Haffa maintained his innocence and that he never tried to hurt the deputy.

“Certainly, we couldn’t be any happier with the outcome,” Barone said. “We were truly lucky to have 12 members of that jury who really were committed to listening to evidence.”

Overall, Barone said evidence lacked on the part of the District Attorney’s Office. In particular, Barone noted that there were no medical records that corroborated an alleged choking or a knife used in the alleged attack against Deputy Sara Cunningham. Nail clippings were taken from Haffa following the incident and sent for testing to see whether he had his hands on Cunningham’s throat.

Results from that test were never acknowledged in court.

“There were certain things that this jury wasn’t able to see. I think that played a big part of it,” Barone said.

Through the third-degree robbery verdict, the jury concluded there was no forcible taking of property through the use of a dangerous instrument like a knife, which would have been first-degree robbery. Barone said he intends to file motions asking the court to set aside the robbery in the third-degree verdict since Haffa only took the gun after he was shot at twice.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson said he was disappointed in the result between the work put forth in the case and what they believed happened that morning.

“We put in front of them all the proof that we were permitted to put in front of them,” Swanson said. “But the jurors did their job and that’s the way our system functions.”

In speaking to jurors after the verdict, Swanson said they felt there wasn’t a knife and would have needed to see it. No knife was recovered at the Route 60 scene in the town of Pomfret where Haffa allegedly attacked Cunningham or on Putnam Road where Haffa was apprehended.

“Sometimes you don’t have enough to give them what they want,” he said.

Wednesday’s verdicts came after a mistrial was declared in September after Barone said his office never received evidence discussed by the DA’s office.

Sheriff Joe Gerace, who testified at trial, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the outcome.

“I think it sends the wrong message about what kind of dangers that we face and what the outcome should have been,” Gerace told The Post-Journal. “It’s been a difficult process for all of us here.”