Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella blames New York Bail Reform Law for man’s death before trial for Mennonite burglaries

UPDATE: This article has been corrected to state that Hearn was released from the jail Dec. 23, not New Year’s Eve as originally reported.


PENN YAN — A man accused of a string of burglaries in Yates County who was released from jail and awaiting trial, has died of an apparent drug overdose. And Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella is laying the blame squarely at the feet of the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration for enacting the law that let him out of jail.


CHRISTOPHER R. HEARN, 35, of Avis St., Rochester, along with codefendant MICHAEL J. CARR, 34, of Quaker Road, Macedon, were charged in 13-count sealed indictment filed Oct. 8, 2019. Both are charged with three counts of 2nd degree burglary (class C violent felony), four counts of 3rd degree burglary (class D felony), three counts of 4th degree grand larceny (class E felony), two counts of petit larceny, and one count of possession of burglars’ tools (class A misdemeanors).


Hearn and Carr are accused of breaking into two homes on Briggs Road, one on Middle Road, and one on Rte. 364, all on Sunday, Jan. 13 while the Mennonite families who are the victims were attending church services. Casella says the pair stole cash and property valued between $4,000 to $5,000, including four long guns. Hearn had previously fled from Yates County Investigators by vehicle when they attempted to arrest him earlier last year. Officers broke off the chase due to the City of Rochester’s "no pursuit" policy.


There were two more warrants for his arrest for similar crimes in other Rochester area jurisdictions. Hearn later turned himself in at the Greece Police Dept. and was transferred to Yates County. With nine prior misdemeanor convictions plus multiple failures to appear and probation revocations, at his Oct. 8 arraignment before Judge Jason Cook, Hearn pled not guilty, and was remanded to jail in lieu of $35,000 bail or $70,000 bond.


That all changed Dec. 23, 2019 when Casella says Hearn was released from the Yates County Jail under the new state bail reform that mandates those accused of non-violent crimes, even felony burglary, must be released without bail on their own recognizance and with only appearance tickets for court. Remaining within the county awaiting trial, Hearn did appear in Criminal Court Tuesday, Feb. 11 for argument of pre-trial motions. Newly appointed part-time Assistant Public Defender Karen Madsen was granted a Huntley hearing, a standard pretrial hearing to review the manner in which police obtained statements from the defendant, scheduled for April 9. But that was the last contact the court was to have with Hearn.


Yates County Sheriff’s Deputies were called Thursday, Feb. 13 to Hearn’s current residence on Vine St. in Dundee where he was found dead of a drug overdose. Investigators believe he had died within the previous 24 hours, and while lab results are still pending, they know Hearn’s drug of choice was heroin. It was the need to fund that drug addiction that compelled him to embark on his burglaries, and it was that addiction that ultimately took his life.


"This is an absolutely foreseeable consequence of the State’s bail reform law," says Casella. "He was safe in jail, clean from early October, but because he was released, now he’s dead. He was in court just days before his death, but now there is no justice for his victims or him, and his family is planning a funeral."


Bail reform was prompted by examples of neglect and abuse in jails like New York City’s notorious Riker’s Island. But Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike says that smaller jails like Yates County’s offer treatment programs to inmates and are often a drug user’s first clean time and contact with rehabilitation programs. Casella says the state specifically added 2nd degree burglary, a violent felony, to the list of bail exempt crimes.