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Opening statements were held Thursday in the trial of Merritt Rahn, the former Greece police chief.
Defense Attorney John Parrinello addressed the jury Thursday morning in State Supreme Court, after Prosecutor Sandra Doorley finished with her opening.
Defense Attorney Addresses Jurors
Parrinello began by saying that nothing the prosecutor said is evidence of any nature, and that he intends to give the jury something to think about.
Parrinello said that Prosecutor Doorley listed the events date by date, but that he will tell "The rest of the story." He said proof will prove that Rahn served as Greece PD chief for a very long time, and made changes and provided leadership so well that Greece was once ranked "The safest place in the U.S."
He said Merritt Rahn had nothing to do with the hiring of Gary Pignato, that it was Supervisor Auberger and the town board who made the decision. Parrinello also inferred that those who worked under Rahn, namely Shatterton and Schamerhorn, didn't like him.
Switching topics slightly, Parrinello said that Nick Joseph was tried and convicted, then started to speak on Auberger's re-election, when the prosecutor objected and Judge Affronti told Parrinello to stay on the subject of Rahn.
Parrinello says the charges against Rahn were a political witch hunt.
Once again, the prosecutor objected, and Parrinello was once more reminded to stay on subject, and not to get personal.
Parrinello told the jury to listen closely to witnesses and determine if they are pro-prosecution, if they have a 'motive.' He said the case is not about quantity, but quality, and brought up that the prosecution may call more than 30-witnesses; he asked the jury not to judge Rahn on whether or not he chooses to testify.
He reminded jurors that Rahn did not hire Pignato and Rahn did not lie in any of his summations regarding Joseph and a stolen gun. It is not the juries' job to connect the dots or fill gaps, Parinello said.
Nothing Merritt Rahn did regarding Nick Joseph was a coverup. Parrinello called it "poppycock; pure fiction." Joseph was indicted and convicted. Bringing victim Sharp into this, along with the premature birth, is just to play on jury's emotions.
Rahn helped write the warrant to search the car, which Sgt. Schamerhorn failed to impound. Rahn was not responsible for photos or accident reconstruction; that was Officer Brandon White's responsibility. Rahn did not hinder the State Police investigation of Joseph; he supported it.
Regarding the hiring of Pignato, Parrinello said that Supervisor Auberger will testify to Greece's hiring practices. The background check was the responsibility of Sgt. Trowbridge, and the requests sent were to Pignato's most recent employers, Clyde and Palmyra.
Parrinello also said the police union sent a letter to Auberger, suggesting he not hire Pignato.
About a missing department-issued gun of Rahn's which was stolen by a crack addict, Rahn thought the gun had been put away by his wife; he didn't know it was missing. (It was stolen in 1999.) Parrinello called the charge 'vindictive' three times, and Judge Affronti warned him about stating his personal feelings. Parrinello questioned why these charges are being brought against a man who served as chief since 1993, and who served in the intelligence unit with RPD.
Following Parrinello's opening arguments, the jury was recessed for lunch. The first witness is scheduled to take the stand at 2 p.m.
Prosecutor Speaks First
In her opening statement, Prosecutor Sandra Doorley asked the jury to "Keep in the back of your mind, as tryers of fact, if Merritt Rahn was not trying to cover up that crash, why wouldn't you tell Ken Hyland the truth, unless you were intending to cover for you own?"
She then gave a recap of the events of June 7, 2008, stating that Nick Joseph left a bar driving his brother's car. Going north on I-390, Joseph crashed in a stalled vehicle operated by Alexis Sharp, who was pregnant.
Doorley said that Greece Police were not dispatched, but Greece officer Brandon White happened upon the scene. White then called in the crash report to the department and Greece Police Sgt. Tom Schamerhorn.
The plates were run and came back to David Joseph, an Rochester Police Department officer and brother of Nick Joseph. At this time, the Greece police did not know that Nick was the driver.
Doorley said the crash ruptured Alexis Sharp's placenta, forcing her to deliver early.
Merritt Rahn was not notified by Greece Police until 1 pm the next day, although phone records show that Nick Joseph and Rahn spoke three times that morning. When the officer called Rahn at 1 p.m. he asked if CID should investigate, and Doorley says Rahn said to leave it alone.
Doorley said Rahn called ADA Ken Hyland, and told him there was an accident. He said he (Joseph) hit the back of a car and was dazed and confused. He called his wife, then the next day called Greece Police. When Rahn spoke with Hyland, he said Nick Joseph was the only one in the car, and no one else was hurt. Rahn told Hyland he would not treat his officer any different than anyone else.
Doorley added that two days later, Rahn said the case was closed.
According to Doorley, Greece Police held a staff meeting with Rahn, retired Deputy Chief William Mackin, former acting Police Chief Brian Urmacher, Sgt. Brian Ball and Lt. Steve Chatterton. Chatterton questioned Sharp's injuries and Rahn insisted she was treated and released, and Joseph was exonerated.
Chatterton said something had to be done. Mackin said he heard that coke, drinking and women were involved. He called Rahn about this, and Rahn said he was meaning to call. Hyland recommended the DA investigate and Rahn said no, but did agree to call State Police. By this time, 4 days had passed since the crash and Rahn had failed to order crash reconstruction, photos or vehicle impounding.
Doorley says at another staff meeting, Rahn said 'This looks like a coverup, but isn't.'
Also, in June, Doorley said Rahn hindered the investigation and tampered with records, and falsified business records with intent to defraud.
Defense attorney John Parrinello objected twice during these statements, but Judge Francis Affronti allowed Doorley to proceed.
Doorley said when Gary Pignato applied for a job in March, 2002, Merritt Rahn allegedly told the sergeant doing the check (Robert Trowbridge) not to contact Bob Duffy (Pignato was a former RPD officer) and said, "If you can't get positive response, put in whatever you want."
Before handing the background check over to Supervisor John Auberger, Rahn wrote an allegedly false statement regarding Pignato's background check, saying the reports all gave Pignato high recommendations. But the only people Trowbridge interviewed were RPD Lt. Jim Sheppard and Palmyra PD Chief David Dalton.
Rahn faces nine felony and three misdemeanor charges for allegedly falsifying a background check for former Greece Police Officer Gary Pignato.
Pignato was convicted of coercing a woman into having sex and is serving prison time.
Rahn was also indicted in October on charges stemming from his department's handling of a hit and run crash involving former Greece Police Sergeant Nick Joseph.
Rahn has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.