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Hearings set for 2 alleged car dealership vandals

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Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 10:26 am

WATERLOO — Suppression hearings will be held for at least two of the four men accused of vandalizing dozens of vehicles at a Seneca Falls dealership last year, while the attorney for another defendant is hinting at a mental health defense.

Charles Covert, Andrew Graves and Jonathan Taylor were all in Seneca County Court Monday afternoon. They are being represented by Rome Canzano (Covert), Robert Baska (Graves) and Steven Getman (Taylor).

Covert, Graves and Taylor, along with another man, Jonathan Klingensmith, are accused of damaging more than 50 vehicles during the overnight hours of March 23 and 24 at Bill Cram Chevrolet on Routes 5&20. They were arrested last May by Seneca Falls police after an investigation of nearly two months.

All have been charged with second-degree criminal mischief, a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Last fall, Covert and Graves turned down plea deals from the district attorney’s office that would have seen them sentenced by Judge Dennis Bender to 1 1⁄3 to 4 years in prison, as well as pay about $90,000 in restitution with the other co-defendants.

In court Monday, Bender authorized Huntley hearings for Covert and Graves. The pretrial hearing reviews the manner in which police obtain statements from a defendant.

Canzano and Baska indicated they plan to contest statements made by their clients to police, as well as statements from others implicating their clients.

“I do have issues whether or not these statements were given voluntarily,” Baska said.

Police said the four men, after a night of drinking, walked several miles to the dealership and carved straight lines or X shapes into vehicles. They were also charged with fifth-degree conspiracy, a misdemeanor, although Bender has since dismissed that charge.

Getman indicated he may use a mental health defense for Taylor and questioned his client’s competence to stand trial, but Bender expressed skepticism at that argument. Getman said his client’s memory of the incident was impaired by a combination of alcohol use and prescription drugs, which caused him to black out.

“The law is very clear on this,” Bender said. “Drug and alcohol use does not rise to the level of mental disease or defect.”

However, Bender did authorize a mental health evaluation for Taylor and said he would schedule a Huntley hearing for Taylor if he is deemed competent to stand trial.

Klingensmith, who is being represented by attorney Michael Conroy, is due in court later this month. All four men are free on the county’s pretrial release program.

State police assisted Seneca Falls police in the investigation. The dealership offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to a successful arrest and prosecution, but police handled the investigation on their own.

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