A Batavia resident accused of menacing a police officer with a knife nearly a year ago has until Tuesday to decide if he will withdraw his guilty plea on a weapons charge and take his case to trial.
Bill A. Thomas, 57, first entered a guilty plea to criminal possession of a weapon, 3rd, on July 21. When he was supposed to be sentenced in November, he tried to withdraw his guilty plea and asked for a new attorney.
While Thomas wasn't allowed then to change his plea, he was given time to find a new attorney.
Today, with Michael Mohun, normally the judge in Wyoming County, presiding in County Court for this case and one other, the case took another twist.
After hearing Officer Peter Flanigan read a victim's statement, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman argue for a harsh sentence and Jamie Welch, representing Thomas, advocate for a probationary sentence, Mohun summoned both attorneys to the bench.
There was a short conversation, then Mohun said he and the attorneys would meet in chambers to discuss a procedural issue.
Nearly two hours later, the attorneys, judge, defendant and his family members were all back in court after several private discussions involving all parties.
Mohun announced that when Thomas entered his guilty plea there was a procedural error related to what he admitted to and what was stated in the SCI (Special Court Information, a document used in lieu of a Grand Jury indictment). The procedural error could potentially invalidate the guilty plea, and that is why Thomas now has a chance to reconsider his plea.
Since Welch is new to the case, joining only after Thomas entered his guilty plea in July, Welch said he hasn't reviewed all of the evidence. Also, Thomas would like more time to think through his decision and confer with his family.
In his statement, Flanigan recalled a potentially catastrophic confrontation at 4 a.m., March 16, when he entered the Thomas home on State Street. He said Thomas moved aggressively toward him with a knife, and after Thomas failed to obey his verbal commands to drop the knife, Flanigan said he realized he would have to shoot Thomas to protect himself. As he reached for his pistol, the brother of Thomas entered the hallway in an attempt to leave the house, and he came between Flanigan and Thomas. Flanigan said he no longer had a clear shot at Thomas and the situation defused at that point.
The confrontation -- in which Flanigan said he both knew he might have to kill Thomas and that his own life was in danger, causing thoughts of his family and coworkers to flash through his mind -- left him shaken and he described having times of trouble sleeping and displaying other symptoms of stress, he said.
Friedman spoke next and said that Thomas was prepared to go to trial until Interim Judge Micheal Pietruszka proposed a plea settlement, which both sides then accepted. Friedman said Thomas was a lucky man -- lucky to be alive, lucky that he wasn't charged with a more serious crime, lucky to get the plea offer he did and given his good fortune, but the serious nature of the crime, he should be given no leniency in sentencing.
Welch noted that his client never had a prior violent felony charge and it had been nearly two decades since his last criminal conviction, a misdemeanor, and it's been since 1996 that he was convicted of a felony, a DWI. Therefore, he said, he deserved a probationary sentence with credit for time served (he's been in jail for 11 months).
While Flanigan noted that Thomas hasn't admitted to threatening the officer, Welch said when a blood sample was taken from Thomas at 8 a.m., four hours after the alleged confrontation, Thomas had a BAC of .22 and has said he doesn't remember much about that morning and doesn't believe he would have threatened a police officer with a knife.
The defense attorney also noted that even though police had control of the crime scene from the time they arrived until the investigation was completed, there was never a knife found on Thomas or at the scene.