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Attorneys in Odom case wrangle over jury instructions before deliberations begin

By Howard B. Owens
Oct 3, 2019, 2:27pm

A jury of nine women and three men are sitting in a private room at the Genesee County Courthouse right now and debating, not just the merits of a legal case against a 19-year-old man, but what kind of future he might have in society.

Of course, jurors are instructed not to consider any potential sentence a defendant might receive, but for Antwan Odom that is what the deliberations come down to because a conviction on assault in the first degree, a Class B violent felony, carries a mandatory minimum of five years in state prison.

The Batavia High School grad and former basketball star passed up a chance, on the advice of his attorney Frank Housh, for a plea deal that could have meant no jail time and adjudication as a youthful offender.

If Odom is convicted, Judge Charles Zambito will have no choice under the law than sending him to prison for anything less than five years.

Housh expressed in court in May, when the plea deal was offered, that he thought Zambito and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman were somehow colluding against his client. It's a theory Housh reiterated today in a conversation with Odom while a reporter was sitting nearby -- which Housh knew -- and that reporter could easily hear him tell Odom, "The judge isn't going to do it because he's going to do what the DA tells him to do."

Housh made the statement while discussing with Odom that he would ask Zambito to include in jury instructions on what constituted a serious physical injury. He also said he would object to the jury being instructed on the options for conviction on lesser-included offense. That's because Housh believes that if the evidence doesn't support the indicted charge, it doesn't support either potential lesser-included offenses.

In fact, Housh made that motion and also said the lesser-included offense should not be part of the jury form because Friedman, in his closing argument, told jurors they shouldn't even consider the lesser-included offense because Odom should be found guilty on the original count of the indictment.

Housh also argued that prior legal precedent meant that Zambito should instruct the jury that Leach didn't receive a serious injury because protracted pain that is only subjectively reported is not a serious injury.

Friedman's response to the assertion that he asked the jury not to consider a lesser-included offense was that he was on the record, and the record was clear, that he did call for the lesser-included offense to be part of the jury's charge. That was done before summations so that the attorneys would know what instructions the jury would receive so they could fashion their arguments accordingly.

"Just because I asked the jury not to consider the lesser-included offenses means nothing," Friedman said. "It's common practice and there is nothing inappropriate about it. Our summations are based on rulings made prior to the summations."

Zambito agreed that Friedman was on the record seeking to include the lesser offenses.

Housh also made a motion for a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct because, he said, Friedman knowingly introduced into evidence a fact that was not relevant to the alleged serious physical injuries of Ray Leach. Housh said Dr. Lori Ferris testified that hand numbness reported to her by Leach was not the result of the Aug. 4, 2018 incident that led to Odom's arrest.

"He had to have known (before she took the stand)," Housh said "For a prosecutor of Mr. Friedman's high level of skill and experience not to know which injury is related to my client's prosecution is not believable. He asked Ray Leach (on the witness stand) about his hand, knowing it was unrelated (to the incident) and asked the jury to consider it as evidence."

Friedman responded, "as for the claim of prosecutorial misconduct, it's absurd. As a representative of the office of the court, I did not know that the doctor would testify that the hand injury was potentially unrelated to these crimes."

Housh reiterated his contention that for a prosecutor of Friedman's skill, expertise and experience not to know isn't believable.

"While I always appreciate compliments coming my way from Mr. Housh, I'm telling you, I did not know," Friedman said.

Zambito denied Housh's application for mistrial.

The judge and two attorneys then continued going over jury instructions.

Once they were done, the jury was brought in and Zambito read to them several pages of jury instructions about the law, the charges and how to apply the law and the evidence to the charges.

When Zambito finished, Friedman asked to approach the bench. The jurors were asked to leave the room but admonished to not start talking about the case yet.

The attorneys and Zambito conferred for a few minutes and then the attorneys returned to their tables, at which point Housh complained that Friedman did not follow proper procedure by raising an objection in front of the jury.

Friedman's concern was that Zambito neglected to include instructions on how to consider an agreement to mutual combat in a justification defense.

After much back and forth discussion, the attorneys all agreed that the jury would be brought back, Friedman would make his objection on the record, and then Zambito would read again the entire section on the justification defense, this time including information on mutual combat.

The jury started deliberations at about 11:30 and have reportedly sent out at least one note asking for a copy of the charging document and the evidence.

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