This case isn’t over easy

A petty crime landed a local man in jail for two weeks, including Thanksgiving day, because of his criminal past and New York State law. Karl B. Wilcox, 52, of Dundee, was arrested Nov. 17 by N.Y. State Police responding to a reported burglary at Highland Apartments in Dundee.

He was charged with 3rd-degree burglary (class D felony) and petit larceny (class A misdemeanor). Under the bail reform act that goes into effect at the end of the month, Wilcox would be released with an appearance ticket for Dundee Village Court for these non-violent offenses. However, because of two low-level non-violent felonies in his past (one in 1987 and one in 2006), Wilcox could not be released, nor could he even be bailed by Justice Helen Halbritter in the local court. By law, any person with two felony convictions, however distant in time, must be held without bail and brought before the county judge to set bail.That is what occurred Tuesday, Dec. 3 in Yates County Criminal Court; Wilcox appeared before Judge Jason L. Cook, and that’s when the case began to sound strange.

Citing the bail reform act, Public Defender Katie Gosper asked the judge to release her client on his own recognizance. “We’re talking about two eggs here,” said Gosper. It seems Wilcox had a friendly relationship with a female neighbor at the apartment complex, and they often borrowed items from each other freely. But something changed in that relationship, and when Wilcox borrowed two eggs while she was not at home, the woman called the police and is pressing charges for their theft and for burglary, said Gosper.At one point in the lower court appearance, Wilcox had said in frustration that he would rather “go back to Ukraine.” Halbritter made a note of that comment and handed it over to Cook for this appearance. Through Gosper, Wilcox said he had traveled there in the past and was only comparing his current situation as a joke. Nevertheless, Cook ordered Wilcox to surrender his passport as a condition of his release. He is set to appear back before Halbritter Dec. 11.Though Wilcox is certainly no angel, and has a widely varied criminal history, the case does highlight how hastily the reform act was crafted, says Assistant District Attorney Michael Tantillo, himself the retired DA of Ontario County. “It’s the craziest thing,” Tantillo said. Even under the new law where Troopers would have released Wilcox with an appearance ticket, Halbritter’s hands would still be tied and she would still have to remand Wilcox without bail, despite his non-violent offense and his non-violent past offenses. Tantillo expects there will be changes made to the law after the flaws in it are exposed in cases like this, but that is little comfort to a man jailed for weeks for the sake of two eggs.

The Chronicle-Express was unable to contact Wilcox for a comment. The neighbor has moved from the complex.