Juror says evidence not convincing

Gwen Chamberlain

Robert Hawley, the Penn Yan man who was the lone hold-out on the jury for the Greg Garno trial last week (related article), says he was not convinced that Garno was guilty of setting his house on fire Nov. 27, 2012.

Hawley says he felt pressure from other jurors to say Garno was guilty, but he could not because of two major factors. The first: that a fire investigation was never conducted at the scene where police officers say they witnessed Garno set fire to curtains in the Main Street Penn Yan home.

The second: That the testimony of Police Investigator Michael Donovan did not convince him that Garno had set the fires.

But Lindy Reeve, who was the jury fore person, said all 11 other jurors agreed that the evidence and testimony that was given supported the law. “This juror (Hawley) just couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t see it,” she said, later adding, “It was a nightmare, a ridiculous travesty of the judicial system.”

Hawley says the doubts he had about the arson charges led him to question the other charges against Garno — menacing police, criminal mischief, and reckless endangerment — so he did not feel confident about agreeing Garno was guilty of any of the charges.

Since the jury announced it was unable to reach a unanimous decision, and Hawley’s role in the trial has become public, he has been confronted by questions and comments about the impact his past interactions with local law enforcement and fire department officials might have had on the case.

“I don’t want people to think I held out because I have something against the police department or fire department,” he says.

Hawley says he was surprised that other members of the jury wanted to declare Garno guilty within 10 minutes of starting deliberations. “I wanted to go over the material,” he said.

Reeve says the case itself was uncomplicated, and that the jury members tried to clear the slate three times by making lists of the evidence, the testimony and the points of law given to them by the judge, and all 11 still agreed on a guilty verdict, but Hawley did not agree.

This experience was Hawley’s first as a member of jury, and it’s a role he had hoped to avoid this summer. His brother-in-law’s funeral service was the night of jury selection last Monday, and he is re-building his family’s flood-damaged home.

Another question about his role on the jury arises from the attorneys involved in the case.

When Garno was arrested in 2012, David Mashewske was assigned as his public defender. When Valerie Gardner campaigned for Yates County District Attorney in 2013, and declared she would name Mashewske as one of her assistants, Hawley was among those who were critical of the arrangement, saying conflicts would arise when the DA’s office had to prosecute a case against someone Mashewske had previously represented as a defender.

In this case, that conflict resulted in the appointment of both a special prosecutor and an assigned counsel, both from Ontario County, who had no knowledge of the local jury pool. Hawley says his previous criticism of the DA’s office did not have an impact on his ability to consider this particular case.

“I didn’t think about it (special prosecutor). I knew it was the law,” he said, adding, “I had no vendetta.”

Hawley says he stands by his contention that the prosecution did not prove Garno’s guilt, but he also feels the court should have accepted the guilty plea Garno attempted to enter in June 2013. Hawley says during the trial he was not aware of that attempt, which was denied by Judge W. Patrick Falvey after Garno said he wasn’t able to remember certain acts he allegedly performed Nov. 27, 2012.

Includes reporting by John Christensen