Judge To Rule On Mistrial Motion In Haffa Case

P-J file photo

MAYVILLE — The Justin Haffa attempted murder trial took a turn Friday after it was learned the prosecution provided incorrect statements earlier in the week regarding its awareness of follow-up treatment Sheriff’s Deputy Sara Cunningham received.

A cross-examination by Public Defender Ned Barone on Cunningham last week revealed that she visited her physician after the Sept. 11, 2016, incident with Haffa on Route 60 in the town of Pomfret. District Attorney Patrick Swanson acknowledged at the time of her testimony that he was unaware. But Cunningham claimed she told him sometime between the mistrial and commencement of the second trial.

On Tuesday, Barone filed several motions claiming a Brady violation occurred since information on the visit wasn’t turned over to the defense. The Hon. David Foley denied the motions as he said the records contained no information favorable to the defense. However, he said the prosecution should have handed information before jury selection if they were aware of the visit.

Before Foley denied the motion Tuesday, Prosecutor Christopher Belling spoke on the matter. Belling said the prosecution, including himself, had no knowledge of the visit.

On Friday, however, Belling told the judge that Swanson and Cunningham met Monday — the day before Barone filed motions. Belling said it was during that meeting when Swanson recalled the discussion they had between the first and second trials on her follow-up visit. Belling acknowledged the context of the Monday conversation was over concern she made a mistake during testimony.

Belling said he didn’t know about the conversation they had Monday. Barone asked for a 20-minute recess that was granted by Foley to discuss the matter with his client and attorneys.

After the recess, Foley came back with questions and concerns of his own for Belling and the prosecution.

“On Tuesday, Jan. 30, we had arguments after Barone renewed application for mistrial,” Foley said. “When asked whether you had knowledge of the conversation between Cunningham and Swanson, you (Belling) denied it. He (Swanson) indicates this morning that (he) didn’t notify you the day before when she refreshed his recollections.”

Foley added that Swanson was sitting 5 feet away from Belling, who relayed to the court that the district attorney lacked knowledge of follow-up treatment Tuesday.

“He could have informed you,” Foley said. “You responded denying, ‘I don’t know judge, I don’t have any knowledge judge.”

Belling responded by saying the statement was “erroneous.” Swanson never spoke to the judge on the matter during proceedings Tuesday and Friday.

Jurors reported for 9:30 a.m. but weren’t let inside the courtroom for long due to the dispute. Jurors entered a little after 10:30 a.m. when the defense decided to rest its case. Foley then let jurors out for the day and told them there’s “some things to do to get to summations.”

Upon the jury’s exit, Barone again moved to dismiss the three-count indictment against Haffa. Foley denied the motion. Barone then motioned for mistrial based on reasons previous explained and what was brought to the court Friday.

“It amplifies our concerns as previously stated,” Barone said.

Foley reserved his ruling on Barone’s motion for a mistrial until Monday.