Hung jury means new trial for accused arsonist

John Christensen
Police officers carry Greg Garno from the Main Street house on Nov. 27, 2012.

With a hung jury of 11 to one, Greg Garno, the Penn Yan man who is accused of setting fire to his own house in November 2012 in a standoff with Penn Yan Police, has been granted a new trial. In Yates County Criminal Court Aug. 14, Judge W. Patrick Falvey received final word from the jury that they could not reach a unanimous verdict. The tally was 11 for guilty on all charges and one for not guilty on all charges.

According to a source close to the case, the jury knew within one hour of entering deliberation Wednesday afternoon, they were deadlocked with a single juror refusing to even consider changing that vote. Falvey received another note before lunch Thursday morning that the situation remained unchanged. The judge sent them back into deliberation, ordering that they take their lunch in the jury chamber. At approximately 1:40 p.m., the jury foreperson reported the the impasse remained unchanged. Falvey dismissed the jury and scheduled a new trial for Dec. 8 when assigned counsel Robert Zimmerman of Shortsville will defend Garno again against special prosecutor Robert Jeffries from the Ontario County Assistant District Attorney's Office. Garno remains in the custody of the Yates County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail or $50,000 bond.

Garno, 50, is charged with one count of 3rd degree arson (class C felony), five counts of menacing police (class D violent felony), one count of 1st degree criminal mischief, and one of 2nd degree reckless endangerment in connection with the Nov. 27, 2012 incident on Main Street in the village of Penn Yan. He has 18 prior convictions, six of them felonies.

Garno was previously represented by David Mashewske who was later appointed an assistant district attorney for the county. That appointment necessitated both the assigned counsel and the special prosecutor. While represented by Mashewske, Garno was ready to accept a plea agreement to reduced charges in Yates County Criminal Court June 18, 2013, but his guilty plea was refused by Judge W. Patrick Falvey when Garno could not recall the events of that day with sufficient detail.

The plea agreement would have allowed Garno to plead guilty to one count of 3rd degree arson and one of menacing police in exchange for a promised sentence of 3 to 9 years in prison for the arson and 6 years plus 3 years of post-release supervision for the menacing and payment of $101,639 in restitution for the damage done by the fire, plus mandatory surcharge and DNA registry fee.

Saying he was high on prescription medication and synthetic marijuana at the time, Garno replied to Falvey's allocution questions about the arson by looking at the police report and saying, "Apparently I did. I don't remember." Yet when asked about the menacing, Garno claimed to recall clearly that he never threatened the police with the butcher knife he was holding, saying he only held it to his own throat in a suicide threat, and said only "Come and get me," when police ordered him to drop the knife and come out.

In an interview after the arrest, Penn Yan Police Chief Mark Hulse said the incident began after police were contacted by a family member (Garno's estranged wife) who said he was threatening to burn down the house at 348 Main St. When police arrived to interview him, he barricaded the door and allegedly started the fire. He then smashed windows in the house. For several minutes, Garno broke windows and yelled at police before a group of officers rammed down the door, entered the house and took him into custody with the aid of a taser. Already restrained, Garno was then put on an ambulance backboard, loaded into the back of a DEC officer's pick up truck and transported to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital.