Photo and Story by Rick Hiduk
Thursday was a busy day at the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda with numerous board meetings and sentencings. The three that follow are random examples of the types of incidents for which people were sentenced on Jan. 9 and have no bearing on the relative severity of the crimes with which they were associated.
A Tennessee gas worker who shot his girlfriend’s pit bull in Tuscarora Township during an argument in the Spring of 2013 walked away from the Bradford County Courthouse unencumbered on Jan. 9 after being sentenced to at least 30 days in prison by Judge David Grine.
Attorney Art Agnellino entered a plea agreement on behalf of Michael Vetetoe and maintained that the elevation of the disorderly conduct charges against his client based on the involvement of a gun were unwarranted because a dog is not an “individual.”
District Attorney Dan Barrett referred to the “tortured history” of the case, including a no-show by Vetetoe for a continuation hearing last summer.
Agnellino said that his client missed the hearing because he resides in Tennessee and was confused by the dates that he had been given. He asked for probation for Vetetoe and noted that, other than a DUI in 2011 and other driving offenses, his client had no prior criminal history.
Though his conversation with his attorney was inaudible, Vetetoe was visibly agitated and animated while he was in front of the judge and during a pre-sentencing consultation at the back of the courtroom.
“I won’t consider probation,” Judge Grine stated, prompting Agnellino to ask for more time.
Barrett objected, remarking, “I have had too much trouble getting him here for sentencing.” The district attorney was pushing for a six-month mandatory sentencing, citing a “firearms enhancement of a misdemeanor” for the use of a gun in the presence of other people.
Grine agreed, in part, but offered a compromise, sentencing Vetetoe to a 30-day minimum prison sentence, a $500 fine, mandatory anger management counseling, and 40 hours of community service.
The fact that Vetetoe fired the weapon more than twice prompted Grine to remark, “There was extreme danger to the individuals in the vicinity, and you shot the family pet in front of them.”
Vetetoe immediately appealed the conviction however and was set free.
Agnellino dismissed the judge’s assertion that there were people in close proximity to the shooting, suggesting that the dog had bitten Vetetoe, and the man then retaliated by shooting the animal.
Barrett countered that the involvement of the gun justified the judge’s decision. “We don’t want guns in arguments,” he said, adding that “due process” has been challenged by the transitory nature of gas workers. “Six months later, you don’t have witnesses.”
Agnellino agreed in that the whereabouts of Vetetoe’s former girlfriend are not currently known either. He said that the appeal process could take another year.
In another case that came to a closure in courtroom one, Theodore Hayes’ DUI netted him 72 hours to six months in prison, loss of his drivers license for a year, a $1,000 fine, and two years of probation.
In what his lawyer referred to as an “unfortunate incident,” Hayes was driving a car that rolled over on Route 220 in Ulster Township on July 6, 2013. His passenger and son-in-law, Michael Blakeman, was seriously injured when the vehicle landed on its roof.
“He has always been a productive member of society,” Hayes’ legal counsel advised Judge Grine, noting that the 68-year-old defendant had since moved into the home of his daughter and son-in-law and had done extensive renovations to make the house handicap-accessible for Blakeman.
Despite the fact that Hayes was likely to be in jail for no more than three days, he was led away by a sheriff’s deputy in handcuffs.
In courtroom two, a technology that is being employed at the courthouse with more frequency allowed for defendant Janelle Swingle of Athens to be re-sentenced without moving from her confines in a state penitentiary.
Judge Maureen Beirne presided as Swingle appeared on a television monitor under the counsel of Public Defender Helen Stolinas who was present in the courtroom with the judge and District Attorney Barrett.
Swingle had been jailed on charges of delivery of a controlled substance, to which she had plead guilty.
Stolinas conceded that Swingle has a long-standing problem with abusing substances but maintained that the State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) program, in which she is already enrolled, was the defendant’s best hope for rehabilitation. .
“It is in Ms. Swingle’s best interest and that of the community that she participate in the program and complete it successfully,” Stolinas told the judge.
In her own defense, the slight brunette said, “I do believe that it would be beneficial on my behalf. I’m getting too old to be participating in this lifestyle.”
Barrett also agreed that SIP would give Swingle “the opportunity to turn her life around” and prevent future problems.
Judge Beirne subsequently re-sentenced Swingle to 24 months, participation in SIP, and $180 restitution and waived a personal injury claim of harassment against her.
Barrett explained afterward that the SIP program was designed especially for criminals dealing with substance abuse and addiction. Swingle will likely spend another year at the state correctional facility while receiving counseling, followed by approximately six months in a community-based therapeutic community and another six months of outpatient treatment that includes supervised reintegration into society.
Swingle thanked the judge for her decision.