Going To Trial

Public?Defender Discusses Reasons For Turning Down Plea Offer

Jonathan Young pictured in Chautauqua County Court in Mayville in December 2018. P-J photo by Jordan Patterson

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone said the decision to reject a plea offer in the case of Jonathan Young, the 21-year-old Jamestown-area man accused of setting a dozen fires last year, came from Young himself.

Barone, who is representing Young, said Friday he could not talk specifically about the case, but said accepting or rejecting offers by the District Attorney’s Office is ultimately decided by the client.

“It’s not unusual to try and resolve things,” Barone said. “We get that all the time, and there’s nothing wrong to accepting them to resolve certain cases. When there is an offer, we have to take into account a number of different things. My concern is forfeiting constitutional rights or waiving those rights. That right is inherited. It’s a right, and you better be damn sure you’re not going to waive that right.”

“Mr. Young rejected the offer,” Barone continued. “I can’t get into the specifics, but it’s ultimately up to the client.”

As their attorney, it’s our job to give them a recommendation whether to accept or turn it down — give them an option, but the decision was Mr. Young’s.”

Young is facing a 25-count indictment that includes 13 felony arson charges after police say he intentionally set a dozen fires in Jamestown and Falconer between March 2 and March 25 of last year. The Jamestown-area man pleaded not guilty to the charges when he was arraigned in August.

On Thursday, the DA’s Office offered 10 years to run concurrently if Young were to plead guilty to the most serious charges: two counts of second-degree arson. The offer was made in Chautauqua County Court in Mayville shortly before a Huntley Hearing to discuss statements made by Young to police in Pennsylvania and New York.

Young rejected the offer, at which time the DA’s Office withdrew it and the hearing took place.

Barone said the hearing was important because Young made statements to police while he was in custody in Butler County, Pa. Those statements were discussed during Thursday’s hearing and will likely play an important role in Young’s trial scheduled to begin in January in front of County Court Judge David Foley.

“Everyone is entitled to certain constitutional rights,” Barone said. “We have the presumption of innocence, and during the trial and before, there are a number of issues the defense needs to look at. And with Mr. Young, it isn’t any different. … With a lot of these pre-trial hearings, typically we discuss the suppression of certain types of evidence. We have to be careful with any case to make sure you’re protecting those rights for your client.”

Barone was not in court for the plea offer or Huntley Hearing; Young was represented by Philip Cala of the Public Defender’s Office.

Throughout the case, Barone said Young’s family has been extremely supportive. Many of them were in court Thursday.

“That’s huge,” the public defender of his support system. “That can really make the difference in a lot of ways. Clients face a lot of things, so it’s very helpful to the client to have a family that’s supportive, which also helps the defense by providing a number of different things that you wouldn’t get without a great family.”

Barone declined to get into specifics on how he plans to handle Young’s defense. During Thursday’s hearing, Cala questioned several of the officers who interviewed Young during the case on Young’s state of mind and their awareness of mental health.

“As in every case, we make sure to explore any mental health issues that may affect a client’s understanding of what they’re doing,” Barone said.