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Jacquetta Simmons

Simmons case continued until May 25 so attorney can appear with her

By Howard B. Owens


After being among Batavia's wanted for 18 months, Jacquetta Simmons, 30, appeared in court today following her arrest in Rochester last night, to answer to a charge of harassment 2nd.

Simmons, out of jail on $300 bail, asked for an adjournment of her case because on short notice, her attorney, Ann Nichols, could not appear in Batavia today.

The case was docked for May 25. 

In the meantime, Judge Durin Rogers issued an order of protection, which Simmons signed, barring her from any contact with the alleged victim in the harassment case, a 54-year-old woman.

Simmons was allegedly in an altercation of some sort with the woman back in October during a meeting at the YWCA. A couple of weeks later, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Simmons on the harassment charge. The warrant was reported by local and regional media in January.

The former Batavia resident gained international notoriety after punching a 70-year-old Walmart cashier on Christmas Eve, 2011. In August, 2012, Simmons was found guilty of assault in the second degree by a jury and later sentenced to five years in state prison. The sentence was later ruled too harsh by an appeals court and Simmons was resentenced to one year in jail.

Also in City Court today, 54-year-old Darlene M. Callan, charged with arson, 3rd, for allegedly starting a fire inside her home Monday at 189 South Main St., Batavia. Callan is being held on $25,000 bail and her attorney asked for her to be released under supervision given her lack of criminal record and ties to the community. Citing a low score on a bail review worksheet and concerns over recent substance use issues, Rogers declined to reduce the bail.

Jacquetta Simmons taken into custody on 18-month-old harassment warrant

By Howard B. Owens
 Jacquetta Simmons

More than a year after a warrant was first issued for her arrest, Jacquetta Bernadine Simmons, who first made international news after punching a Walmart cashier on Christmas Eve in 2011, is back in custody.

Simmons was picked up by Rochester PD last night and turned over to Batavia PD on a warrant for an alleged incident at a church meeting in Batavia in October, 2014.

The warrant was issued Oct. 20, 2014, but information wasn't released until January. 

Simmons, 30, allegedly made some sort of physical contact with a 54-year-old woman.

She is charged with second-degree harassment.

The meeting reportedly involved church members at a business meeting being held at the YWCA, 301 North St., Batavia.

Simmons was convicted in August 2012 of assaulting a 70-year-old cashier at Walmart and later sentenced to five years in prison, but that sentence was later overturned on appeals and she was given a year in jail. She was also ordered to pay restitution, which became the subject of several court appearances as she appealed the amount and sought modifications to the payment plan.

Simmons, held on $300 bail, is scheduled to appear in City Court at 1 p.m. today to answer to the harassment charge.

Jacquetta Simmons ordered to pony up $100 in restitution montly starting Friday

By Billie Owens

Jacquetta Simmons appeared in Genesee County Court this afternoon on the matter of restitution for her victim, Grace Suozzi, a Walmart cashier who suffered fractured facial bones and other injuries following a Christmas Eve confrontation in the store in 2011.

The upshot is the same money Simmons had been ordered to pay in February -- $100 a month -- is the same amount she will have to pony up on the 26th of every month, beginning Friday, until the restitution of $2,000 is paid.

Her attorney at the time, Earl Keys, had argued that she was not able to make the payments because she'd just been released from jail for her crime and had been unable to find work.

The judge set another restitution hearing and asked for documentation about her efforts to find employment. There's been no progress as far as Noonan could determine.

Nothing much has changed, only months have passed.

Ann Nichols, who had also been one of the attorneys representing her at trial, was with her today and told the judge she had only met with her client on the matter yesterday, and just today was provided with a list of local places where her client has applied for jobs.

(Simmons is now married but her husband's income won't factor in much. His gross earnings are $793 a month.)

Suozzi has yet to see a penny, as far as Noonan knows.

"This victim is entitled to be paid restitution," Noonan said, "and all we've gotten so far are excuses, missed court appearances, and no restitution."

Nichols said one issue that has delayed matters is an appeal of the Jan. 13 restitution order of $100 monthly by Simmons's parents. That has now been withdrawn, and they "will be able to pay $100 as soon as Friday," the attorney said.

"We are moving toward paying restitution," Nichols said.

It was also noted that a payment of $100 was supposedly made in February, and maybe a second such payment, but no receipts were offered.

Noonan said he has no knowledge of any payments being made, but if the money was indeed received by the County Probation Department there will be a record of it and the sum(s) will be deducted from the total owed.

Simmons went to court last month by herself and had only a piece of notebook paper with some hand-written notes about her work search. Noonan told her she needed detailed, documentation of her employment search and inability to find work in order for him to decide whether to lower the amount of monthly restitution. He set another hearing for this afternoon and told her she could bring an attorney with her, or not, her choice.

Keys, it was noted, has moved to Washington State, where he is working in the State Attorney General's Office.

Jacquetta Simmons shows up in court without attorney or financial statements on restitution request

By Howard B. Owens

On a follow up to her request for smaller monthly restitution payments, Jacquetta Simmons showed up without the two things Judge Robert C. Noonan said she needed today: An attorney and a certified financial statement.

Noonan lectured her briefly on the need to have a proper financial statement, said that he wants to get restitution payments started in this case, and then gave her until Sept. 16 to get her documents together.

And perhaps show up with an attorney.

What Simmons arrived with in court today was a handwritten statement on a blue-lined piece of notebook paper.

"Ms. Simmons, what we need from you is a sworn statement of income and expenses for you and each person in your household," Noonan said. "We need an itemization of all the things you've done while looking for work, not just your conclusionary statement saying you can't find work."

When her case was called, Simmons ambled to the defense table dressed in faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt holding her piece of paper.

Asked about her attorney, Simmons told Noonan that she was under the impression that Key would be in court with her today, and that she spoke with Key after her Aug. 26 court appearance.

In June, the Buffalo News published a report about Key moving from the Buffalo area. His Web site says his office is located in Buffalo.

So when Simmons said she had spoke with him since August, Noonan expressed some surprise.

"Really?" Noonan said. "I thought he left town before that. Perhaps he kept the same cell phone."

Noonan told Simmons she could appear Sept. 16 with or without an attorney. "It's your choice," he said.

Simmons is under court order to make $100 monthly payments in restitution for $2,000 in medical expenses to Grace Souzzi, whom she punched in the face Christmas Eve 2011 after Souzzi asked for a receipt for items Simmons and her brother had purchased earlier at Walmart.

Because she's not working, Simmons has asked that the amount of monthly payments be reduced.

After the brief hearing, Simmons turned from the bench and walked away, mumbling something under her breath.

Jacquetta Simmons seeks modification of restitution order

By Howard B. Owens

Out of jail and out of work, Jacquetta Simmons, the young woman who punched an employee at Walmart on Christmas Eve 2011, is seeking a modification to the restitution order levied against her.

Her victim, Grace Suozzi, is entitled to reimbursement on $2,000 in medical expenses, Judge Robert C. Noonan has said. Simmons has been ordered to make monthly payments of $100.

According to statements made by Noonan from the bench today, Simmons is seeking a suspension of restitution payments.

While Simmons appeared in County Court today, she did so without her attorney.

She had written Noonan asking for the hearing, but her attorney, Earl Key, wasn't notified of today's court appearance in time for him to be in Genesee County Court.

Noonan rescheduled the appearance for Sept. 10.

Asked if she was looking for work, Simmons told Noonan she has applied for jobs.

Noonan told her that when she appears Sept. 10, she should have prepared an affidavit on her financial standing and outlining steps she's taken to find work.

For previous coverage of Jacquetta Simmons by The Batavian, click here.

Jacquetta Simmons sent to jail as defense plans appeal of restitution order

By Howard B. Owens

In nearly every respect, the re-sentencing today of Jacquetta Simmons was routine. Matter of fact, perfunctory, even.

Stripped of any discretion in sentencing by the the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, NYS Supreme Court, when the higher court threw out his previous five-year prison term for Simmons, Judge Robert C. Noonan had little to say in open court before sending Simmons to jail on a one-year term.

The 12-months in county lock-up, likely to be reduced to eight months on good time, was prescribed by the appellate division, which rendered mute in court both of the normally loquacious attorneys for the people and the defense, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and Buffalo-based private attorney Earl Key.

"The sentence imposed by me previously is obviously the sentence I thought appropriate for this case," Noonan said. "The appellate division has the authority to modify the sentence and has done so. As Mr. Friedman noted, I have no discretion to modify their sentence. Therefore, I sentence you to one year in the Genesee County Jail."

Because the local jail cannot house female inmates, Simmons has been transferred to the Allegany County Jail, one of a half-dozen other jails in neighboring counties that take Genesee County's female inmates.

The county will be billed $85 per day to house Simmons in the Allegany jail, meaning if she serves eight months, county taxpayers will pick up as much as a $20,000 tab for her incarceration.

Simmons, 27-years-old at the time of her crime, was convicted by a jury of peers in August of delivering a roundhouse punch to the face of 70-year-old Grace Suozzi, a Walmart cashier, on Christmas Eve 2011, after arguing with Suozzi about producing a receipt for her prior purchases.

Suozzi has not worked and reportedly rarely goes out of the house since the attack.

Defense attorney Key maintained at trial, and in the appeal, that the punch was accidental and that Simmons was merely pulling her arm away from another store employee as she tried to rush from the store.

The appellate division sided with the jury, with one dissenting vote, even as it decided Noonan's sentence rendered in November was too harsh.

Key and co-counsel Anne Nichols said after court that the justices made the right decision in overturning Noonan's original five-year prison term.

Key said Nichols did extensive research and found no case in the State of New York where a first-time offender who was employed and going to college was given such a harsh sentence on a Class D violent felony conviction.

"There's never been a case that we could find, and the District Attorney's Office sure didn't refute what we said in the paperwork, where anybody has ever gotten five years as a first-time offender," Key said.

Friedman did not want to comment following today's hearing. But after the decision was first announced last week, Friedman seemed to question an appeals process that had little regard for local community standards.

"Having gone through this and seeing the impact this had on Mrs. Suozzi, her family, a lot of people in the community who knew her and cared about her -- all of that is something that is lost in the appeal process," Friedman said. "It's one punch, but more than the physical harm is the emotional harm. It really affected her life as far as her ability to return to work and go out and about. She's a very nice lady and this sentence doesn't do her justice."

In overturning the sentence, Nichols said, the appellate division did apply community standards -- the standards of the entire community of the State of New York.

"That depends what community you're talking about," Nichols said.

"Genesee County," a reporter interjected.

"I think it accurately reflects what more diverse communities are in line with," she continued. "If you look across the state, as we did with the appellate division in getting the stay to begin with, it's very unusual for a first-time offender to receive a sentence of five years incarceration. I did the research myself. I looked at DOCS, and I would say that's almost unheard of. The original result was in line with community standards across the state, for sure."

Asked to respond to the notion that the local Genesee County community is offended by a reduced sentence for a person that viciously attacked an elderly woman who's highly regarded here, Key said the sentence should not be based on who the victim is.

"Should decisions be made based on the victim's character and who the victim is?" Key asked. "So somebody who is less popular in the community, or somebody who is less affluent in the community, then the sentence should have been less, and then because Grace is who she is, then the sentence should be harsher? That's absurd."

Nichols said all of the negative comments about Simmons during the course of this case have come from people who don't even know Simmons.

"Nobody has taken into account what we've been trying to get across from the beginning is that Jacquetta Simmons had absolutely no criminal history," Nichols said. "She worked. She wasn't on public assistance. She had no CPS cases. She is not what everybody in this community has painted her out to be in many comment sections and from the many people I've heard talking in the streets. They don't know who Jacquetta Simmons is and quite frankly they don't care to know who she is."

After the hearing, Simmons was led by a deputy from the court room (top photo) and toward a probable eight months in jail, but outside of court Key made clear the case is not over.

Noonan has awarded more than $2,000 in restitution be paid to Grace Suozzi. Today, Noonan ordered that Simmons begin paying the restitution at a rate of $100 per month beginning in 30 days.

Key said he's going to appeal Noonan's restitution ruling.

"She has to pay restitution for things like high blood-pressure medication and things of that nature," Key said. "For a woman who admittedly never went to the doctor for years prior, one of our arguments is you don't know if she had high-blood pressure before this incident. She wasn't seen by a medical professional, so we definitely plan to appeal the restitution."

The Batavian first broke the story of the Simmons case in 2011. For a complete archive of our coverage, click here.

Appeals court reduces sentence for Jacquetta Simmons to one year in jail

By Howard B. Owens
Jacquetta Simmons

Jacquetta Simmons need only serve one year in jail for punching a Walmart cashier on Christmas Eve, 2011, according to a ruling issued by the the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, NYS Supreme Court.

The court, in a unanimous decision, found that the five-year prison sentence handed down by Judge Robert C. Noonan on Nov. 14, 2012, was "unduly harsh and severe under the circumstances of this case."

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said he's disappointed in the decision.

"We felt Judge Noonan's sentence was appropriate," Friedman said. "I thought it was well reasoned. It may have happened before, but I don't recall a sentence of his being reversed in his 17 years of being a judge."

The ruling means Simmons, who became a mother to her first child shortly after an appellate judge stayed her sentence in 2012, is saved from serving any further state prison time. The one-year sentence, likely to be reduced to eight months on good behavior, will be served in a county jail.

That's disappointing, Friedman said, but most importantly, the court upheld the jury's conviction of Simmons.

Attorneys for Simmons argued to the court that the jury's verdict flew in the face of the evidence presented at trial. With a dissent from Justice Rose H. Sconiers, the court upheld the jury conviction.

The jury could reasonably conclude, ruled the majority upholding the conviction, that based on the testimony and video evidence presented, that Simmons did intentionally punch Grace Suozzi.

Sconiers wrote in her dissent that she didn't believe the evidence supported that conclusion, but rather the video supported the defense contention that somebody behind Simmons had grabbed her arm and that she swung away causing her to accidentally strike Suozzi.

Friedman said he was surprised by the dissent and found it baffling.

The Batavian has no means to contact attorneys for Simmons on a Saturday for comment.

In the majority on the conviction, and joining Sconiers in reducing the sentence, were justices Henry J. Scudder, John V. Centra, Stephen K. Lindley and Joseph D. Valentino.

The case is remitted to Noonan's court for formal sentencing. No date has been set yet for re-sentencing and Simmons remains free in the meantime.

The sentence reduction is a real disservice to the victim and her family and the community, Friedman said.

"Having gone through this and seeing the impact this had on Mrs. Suozzi, her family, a lot of people in the community who knew her and cared about her -- all of that is something that is lost in the appeal process," Friedman said. "It's one punch, but more than the physical harm is the emotional harm. It really affected her life as far as her ability to return to work and go out and about. She's a very nice lady and this sentence doesn't do her justice."

The Batavian first broke the story of the Simmons case in 2011. For a complete archive of our coverage, click here.

Briefs in Simmons appeal reveal very different views of facts and law for defense and prosecution

By Howard B. Owens
Jacquetta Simmons

In their vigorous effort to keep their client out of state prison, the attorneys for Jacquetta B. Simmons have presented arguments to the Appellate Division, Fourth District of the NY Supreme Court that challenge both her sentence and her conviction.

SImmons is the young woman who hit Grace Suozzi, then a 70-year-old cashier at Walmart on Christmas Eve 2011, and was later convicted of felony assault based on the injuries sustained by Suozzi and her age relative to Simmons, who was 26 at the time.

A year later, following a jury trial in Genesee County Court, Simmons was sentenced by Judge Robert C. Noonan to five years in prison and three years probation.

The defense contends that the sentence is harsh and excessive, that the evidence presented at trial doesn't support the finding of the jury, and even if it did, the law used to convict Simmons is unconstitutional.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman has a differing view of the facts and the law and filed an answering brief.

Friedman said the attorneys will likely make oral arguments before the appellate court sometime in September and a ruling isn't likely before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Simmons, now a mother, is out of prison with her sentence stayed until a decision is rendered.

Here's a summary of the defense's appeal:

The sentence is harsh and excessive.
The defense contends that under the current justice system, a judge is charged with selecting a sentence that will be best suited for rehabilitation of each defendant.

The judge should consider: 1) the nature of the offense; 2) the community's condemnation of the defendant's conduct; 3) the necessity of protection of the community; 4) the deterrent effect on others; 5) the potential for rehabilitation; and, 6) the defendant's previous record.

The defense leans heavily on the lack of criminal history for Simmons and her record of as a productive member of society, who had a job, an education and a history of volunteering in her community.

The defense contends that what Simmons did Dec. 24, 2011 -- whether it was a punch (as the prosecution maintains), a hit (the defense version) or an accident (the defense's argument at trial) -- it was "out of character" for a young woman admired by those who really know her.

While the prosecution maintained at sentencing and in its answering brief that Simmons has shown no remorse, the defense -- attorneys Earl Key and Anne Nichols -- are adamant in briefs that Simmons truly regrets her actions that busy shopping day in Walmart.

They state that at trial, Simmons admitted that she had opportunities to tone down the conflict at Walmart, but proceeded in a manner that eventually led to a harmful result.

"I still hold no hate or bitterness for Grace," Simmons said at trial. "I wish I had stop(ped) my movements before I pulled away then maybe there would have been no harm to her. I would take back that moment a million times."

The defense notes that the Probation Department, in its pre-sentence report, recommended a community-based (no jail time) sentence for Simmons.

The defense also cites several convictions in New York where defendants convicted of more serious crimes were given no more than five years in prison, or were given harsh sentences that were later reduced by the appellate court.

The verdict went against the weight of the evidence.
The defense has a different version of events and sees the testimony differently than the prosecution.

Whereas the prosecution argued at trial that Simmons planted her foot, swung back her arm and took a round-house punch that knocked Suozzi across the floor and caused facial fractures, the defense argues there is a different narrative that the jury did not fully consider.

The defense says the evidence presented at trial shows that Simmons was attempting to leave the store when Suozzi stepped in front of her and another Walmart employee grabbed the arm of Simmons, causing Simmons to swing it forward, striking Suozzi unintentionally.

According to the defense brief, Suozzi and other witnesses either forgot key facts or changed their testimony from their original statements to police in a manner that exaggerated events (Dylan Phillips, for example, was the only witness who testified that Simmons used the C-word at trial and was 15-20 feet away from the altercation).

On the other hand, according to the defense, Simmon's has remained consistent in her statements from the time of her arrest through her testimony.

"She maintained from day one that someone grabbed her arm from behind as she was pulling away as Ms. Suozzi came out from her register to confront her when she was struck," the defense states in its brief.

The defense contends also that Suozzi overstated the nature of her injuries at trial. The brief says that medical records provided to the jury show that her doctor wrote the month after the incident that her fractures were healed and that doctors' notes state that she said she wasn't taking pain medication (at trial, she said she took prescription pain pills for two weeks before switching to Tylenol).

The defense concludes, "... even in viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the People, that the verdict of guilt is against the weight of the evidence and should be overturned."

The statute is unconstitutional.
After the basic felony assault charge against Simmons was thrown out because Noonan ruled that the grand jury had not received sufficient evidence that Simmons intended to cause serious physical injury, the prosecution was left with only one felony count to try.

That count is a relatively new law that makes it a felony for a person much younger than a person over 65 to cause injury to an older person.

It's often referred to as an elder abuse law.

The dispute between the defense and the prosecution over the law hangs on an arcane legal term, "strict liability."

Think of getting a speeding ticket: If you are driving in Corfu, going 55 mph in a 35 mph zone, it's no defense that you didn't know the posted speed limit was 35. You were going 55 in a 35 mph zone. You're guilty. Period.

In the Simmons case, the prosecution -- and Noonan agreed -- that Simmons need not have knowledge of her victim's exact age to violate the law. That's strict liability.

The defense contends the Legislature, in passing the law, did not intend strict liability, that in order to violate the law, the defendant would need to have knowledge of the victim's age.

"The grammatical construction," the defense writes, "of the statute couples the culpable mental state with the requirement that the actor cause injury to 'such person' which literally reads as an intent element requiring the defendant to have intended to assault a person age 65 years or older, which thereby requires knowledge of the victim's age."

Also, the legislation was enacted, the brief states, to deal with predatory attacks on seniors.

"The case of Ms. Simmons and Ms. Suozzi is certainly not one of a predatory attack," the defense states.

That statute as written, the defense contends, denies a defendant due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments.

The prosecution answers.
The brief from the District Attorney's office, written by ADAs Will Zickl and Melissa Cianfrini, argues that the defense is wrong on both the law and the facts.

Key to the prosecution's case is what Simmons knew and when she knew it, and that isn't a matter of Suozzi's age, but whether Simmons intended to strike her.

While the defense has portrayed the act of Simmons hitting Suozzi as an accident, the prosecution states that in testimony and evidence, Simmons clearly knew what she was doing and why she did it, and has never shown remorse for her actions.

When Simmons was interviewed by Trooper James Baines the night of Dec. 11, 2011, Simmons waived her Miranda rights. Simmons asked to review the surveillance footage from Walmart.

Baines testified that Simmons then said, "someone grabbed her. She doesn't remember what happened. She just punched."

According to Baines, Simmons knew Suozzi was taken to a hospital, but never asked about her well being.

At trial, under cross-examination, Simmons admitted she was angry when a Walmart cashier asked her for a receipt for a prior purchase.

In a series of questions by Friedman, Simmons was asked about punching Suozzi, with Friedman repeatedly using to the word punch, and Simmons never corrected his use of that word.

At the end of the series of questions:

Q. She was a foot away from you, right in front of you, when you punched her, isn't that what you just said?
A. Yes.

Simmons also testified overhearing a woman in the Walmart parking lot after she and her brother ran out of the store saying, "You can't hit a white woman like that." 

Under questioning from Friedman, Simmons said that contrary to the testimony of Baines, she did ask if Suozzi was hurt.

Q. You asked how she was before he showed you the video?"
A. Yes, I did.
Q. So, before you ever knew you hit her, you asked Trooper Baines how she was, right?
A. Yes.

When it comes to the conviction, the prosecution states, "the testimony of the People's witnesses was essentially harmonious and, together with the video evidence offered by the People, painted a clear picture of the case. The defendant was hostile and increasingly aggressive during the incident, and the vicious punch the defendant administered evinced her intent to cause physical injury to the victim."

As for the constitutional question, the prosecution contends that the trial court ruled correctly that the Legislature intended strict liability under the law and that state of mind about the age of the victim was not necessary to win conviction.

As for the sentence, the prosecution continues to maintain that Simmons has never expressed sincere remorse or any real concern for the injuries inflicted on Grace Suozzi, therefore, the five-year prison sentence should stand.

"Despite the fact that the defendant's behavior would have justified an even greater sentence, the court demonstrated lenity by imposing considerably less than the maximum amount of incarceration available to it."

In response to the prosecution's brief, Nichols filed a response with the court that argues strenuously that Simmons expressed remorse.

"At sentencing," Nichols writes, "Ms. Simmons stood up in an open court and stated, 'I just want to say how truly sorry I am about the incident that happened. I hate that Grace and her family had to endure all the things that they are going through right now."

That's remorse, Nichols said.

"Plantiff-Respondent and the sentencing court have simply chosen to not accept Ms. Simmons' statements of remorse, which is different than Ms. Simmons not showing remorse at all."

It will be up to a group of justices in Rochester to sort through these contradictory views, decide which facts hold the most weight and how the law should be properly applied.

Whatever their decision, the case won't necessarily be over, with an appeal to the state's top appeals court possible.

For previous coverage of the Simmons case, click here.

State sends out notice that Jacquetta Simmons released from prison pending appeal

By Howard B. Owens

New York's VINE service has sent out a notification that Jacquetta Simmons, inmate ID 12G0988, was released from prison today.

Simmons was released under a court order signed by Associate Justice Rose Sconiers, Appellent Division, 4th Department. Sconiers ordered the release, on $50,000 bond, pending an appeal by Simmons that the five-year prison sentenced handed down by Judge Robert C. Noonan is overly harsh.

Representatives of Simmons posted the bond for Simmons yesterday and Noonan signed the release order.

Under the terms of Sconiers' order, attorneys for Simmons have until May 31 to "perfect" the appeal -- meaning produce a brief on all the points of law relative to the items under appeal, which includes both the term of her sentence and whether Simmons received a fair trial.

A three-judge panel of the NYS Supreme Court will conduct a hearing on the points of appeal and render a decision at a later date. What happens next for Simmons will depend on the outcome of the appeal.

Simmons was convicted by a jury following a weeklong trial Aug. 24 of second-degree assault under a section of the law that covers an assault by a much younger person hitting and injuring a person 65 or older.

At the time of the Christmas Eve confrontation last year between Simmons and Grace Suozzi, a Walmart cashier, Simmons was 27 and Suozzi was 70.

Jacquetta Simmons posts $50,000 bail

By Billie Owens

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman just announced that a $50,000 bail bond was posted today with the Genesee County Court on behalf of Jacquetta Simmons.

The 27-year-old Batavia resident was found guilty earlier this year of assaulting 70-year-old Wal Mart employee Grace Suozzi in the store last Christmas Eve.

On Nov. 30, New York Appellate Division Justice Rose Sconiers ordered that Simmons' sentence be stayed pending a hearing on her attorneys' appeal, which argues her sentence of five years in prison is overly harsh considering that Simmons is a first-time offender. This is what made it possible for Simmons' release this afternoon.

Judge Robert C. Noonan signed a release order and she'll be released from custody once it's received by Bedford Hills Correctional Facility where she is incarcerated.


BREAKING: Prison sentence for Jacquetta Simmons stayed pending appeal

By Howard B. Owens

UPDATED, 3:56 p.m.

A NYS Supreme Court Justice has stayed the five-year prison term of Jacquetta Simmons pending an appeal of her sentence. The 27-year-old Batavia woman was convicted of punching a 70-year-old Walmart cashier a year ago Christmas Eve.

Simmons can be released from prison on either $50,000 cash bail or $50,000 bond or other security.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman and ADA Melissa Cianfrini appeared in the chambers of Associate Justice Rose Sconiers, Appellent Division, 4th Department, this afternoon to argue against defense motions in the case.

Friedman said Sconiers isn't required to offer a reason for issuing the stay, but the argument that seem persuasive to her was the defense contention that Simmons' sentence was overly harsh.

Three attorneys represented Simmons, Friedman said, and argued that no other first-time felony offender convicted of second-degree assault in Genesee County since 2006 has received a prison term.

Two of the attorneys for Simmons said this afternoon that there were several reasons they believe the sentence was overly harsh, including all of the arguments raised by Attorney Ann Nichols in her statement to Judge Robert C. Noonan at the sentencing.

Among the factors -- she said she believes Noonan should have given more weight to Simmons' lack of documented encounters with the law, her college education, her steady employment, her volunteer work in the community and the broad range of support from "people who actually know her."

Attorney Earl Key added, "There are lots of things in our report that were raised at sentencing, but we put the law behind them and really detailed the law on what harsh and excessive is."

The defense team is also pursuing an appeal on the conviction of Simmons, and still believe they can get the conviction overturned, but Key said they led off today with the issue of the sentence.

Friedman said he and Cianfrini could have argued the case over the phone, but went to Buffalo to represent the people of Genesee County and the victim, Grace Suozzi, in person, rather than let only the defense appear in chambers.

The defense has until May 31 to finalize its motion and present its legal briefs.  Assuming Simmons makes bail, she could be out of prison until a ruling on the motion is issued.

Key said the actual order by Sconiers hasn't been signed yet, and until he has it in hand, he declined to discuss the process by which Simmons might be released from prison.

BREAKING: Jacquetta Simmons sentenced to five years in prison

By Howard B. Owens

NOTE: Final update to story posted at 3:19 p.m.

Jacquetta Simmons, who last Christmas Eve socked a 70-year-old Walmart cashier in the face, will spend this holiday in state prison, Judge Robert C. Noonan ruled in Genesee County Court this morning.

Simmons was given a five-year sentence and three years post-release supervision.

Noonan's decision came at the end of a tense and emotional 90-minute hearing.

Attorneys argued over the merits of the Probation Department's pre-sentence investigation. The victim, Grace Suozzi, spoke for five minutes and told Noonan about what she had been through and the toll the assault has taken on her life. And, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman asked for the maximum sentence while Anne Nichols, representing Simmons, asked for probation.

Through it all, Simmons, now eight months pregnant, and dressed in a white sweater and black skirt, sat motionless.

Her only statement in court was brief.

"I'm truly sorry, I am, and I feel bad about what Grace and her family have endured, all the things they've been going through right now," Simmons said.

Simmons was arrested Dec. 24 at Walmart after being asked for a receipt by Walmart cashier Grace Suozzi. Simmons was with her brother, who was holding a bag of items the siblings had just purchased to help their mother prepare Christmas Eve dinner.

Simmons refused to show Suozzi the receipt and engaged in a tirade of racial and vulgar epithets.

After arguing for several minutes, Simmons grabbed the bag of merchandise and tried to leave the store. Suozzi stepped around her register and walked toward Simmons. A video played at the trial shows Simmons delivering, as Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini put it, "a roundhouse punch" to Suozzi, sending her flying across the floor.

As Simmons and her brother tried to flee, a group of citizens intervened and kept them from driving away.

Simmons was subsequently arrested and charged with two felonies and was convicted by a jury on Aug. 24 of one of those assault charges.

Suozzi suffered fractures in her face and permanent nerve damage.

While some 100 people submitted letters through the defense to the judge telling him, Noonan said, what a good person Simmons is and that she has contributed much to the community, the prosecution painted a picture of a young woman who can't accept that she did anything wrong and has shown no remorse for her assault.

"This defendant has shown no remorse, no empathy, no acceptance of responsibility," Friedman said.

The DA then recited statements Simmons has made, mostly as part of the pre-sentence investigation, such as, "It was very unfortunate that Grace was hit," and "I hold not hate or bitterness toward Grace."

When asked to describe the crime she committed, Simmons wrote, according to Friedman, "Accidentally hitting a woman over 65."

"Your honor, this vicious, unprovoked assault on an innocent victim, more than two and a half times the age of the perpetrator makes this a crime that is, I suggest, one that needs to be taken very seriously by this court," Friedman said. "That coupled with the impact this crime has had on Grace Suozzi and those who care about her, I suggest your honor, fully indicates this defendant should now be sentenced to the maximum sentence permitted by law."

Sitting in the court to support Simmons, Nichols told Noonan, were several friends, her parents and her husband. They all knew, Nichols said, that Simmons is a good person. She said Simmons is college educated, has volunteered for literacy programs, youth programs and hopes someday to open a shelter for homeless people.

"She is not the person she's been painted to be in this courtroom," Nichols said. "In this courtroom she has been painted out to be a racist, someone who has no regard for others. That is simply not the case, Judge. As the people who are in this courtroom to support her here today, and the people in the community who submitted letters will tell you, that is not Jacquetta Simmons."

A prison term for Simmons would do nobody any good, Nichols said.

"Grace has suffered something horrible," Nichols said. "She suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. That's not going to resolve with Ms. Simmons sitting in a jail cell, nor is that going to do this community any good."

Before either Noonan or Friedman had their say, Suozzi spoke. In a five-minute statement, the petite grandmother explained the impact the assault had on her life and on her family.  She described ongoing pain and health issues, stress and distress and how her "golden years" have been taken from her.

"What she has taken away from me is irreplaceable," Suozzi said. "She took away my independence. Working at Walmart and at the Board of Elections helped me to pay my bills. She has taken my joy and replaced it with physical pain and emotional trauma.

"She felt OK to drive with a suspended license," Suozzi added. "She felt it was OK to park in a handicapped spot. She committed a horrible crime and has total disregard for laws, rules or policy, and won't even comply with a reasonable request."

At times, she said, she thought God was getting ready to take her home and so she placed all of her important documents on her dresser so everything would be ready, she said.

Suozzi said she was ashamed that Simmons claims to be a Christian but put her hand on a Bible and "lied under oath."

When asking for Simmons to get he maximum sentence, Suozzi said, "I pray that she too will seek and serve our Lord instead of Satan."

Following Suozzi's statement, her daughter, Teresa Wormley, spoke about the impact the attack has had on her and the entire Suozzi family. Melissa Cianfrini then read a letter from Joseph Suozzi, who is head of the FBI office in Cincinnati and was unable to attend the hearing.

Before pronouncing sentence, Noonan made a long statement, noting that prior to trial he ruled that there wasn't enough evidence presented to the grand jury to support one of the charges against Simmons for assault in the second degree.

While Simmons was tried under the statute for assault against a person age 65 or older while the assailant is more than 10 years younger, the other assault charge required proof that the defendant intended to cause serious physical injury.

Noonan didn't think that evidence was present in the grand jury transcript, but after sitting through the trial and seeing all of the evidence against Simmons, Noonan expressed some thought that Simmons may have intended serious physical injury.

"There were things not evident to the grand jury but were evident at trial, and they are astounding," Noonan said. "For one thing, the difference in size of Ms. Simmons and the size of Grace Suozzi. The defendant is two and half times the size and weight, a foot taller and 40 years younger than the victim. Boy, oh, boy, that’s a disproportionate bargaining position when it comes to an unusual display of anger."

Noonan said he can accept that Simmons is more like the person portrayed in the letters he received from supporters, and less like the portrayals in the media and court, but Dec. 24, he said, was a different matter.

“One of the factors in sentencing is considering the gravity of the act and this was a senseless, brutal act," Noonan said. "There is no other way to describe it.

"It took the jury," Noonan added, "after a fairly lengthy trial, it took the jury very little time to reject this defense ... that this was somehow an accidental pulling away of the defendant and when she was really just trying to get away and she accidently punched Grace Suozzi. That is clearly untrue. If it wasn’t clear enough through the many witnesses, it was certainly evident by watching the video over and over and over and over. It was a brutal, brutal assault."

Finally, Noonan said another key factor in sentencing is whether the defendant shows a sense of remorse.

“I think it’s kind of interesting that the defense counsel says that the defendant shows remorse because she’s sorry for something that happened to Grace," Noonan said. "Remorse is not being sorry something that happened to somebody. Remorse is being sorry for what you did. The defendant has never expressed anything close to being sorry for her own criminal conduct."

Outside of court, after the hearing, Friedman reiterated that Simmons at no point showed any remorse for her crime.

"The defense tried to characterize some things the defendant said in the pre-sentence investigation as indicating remorse, but I don’t think anything could be further from the truth," Friedman said. "She absolutely did not accept any responsibility for what she did."

Even though Friedman sought the full seven-year term Noonan could have handed down, he said he was satisfied with the results.

"Obviously, we meant what we said when we indicated that we felt a seven-year sentence was appropriate, but you know I certainly don’t question the wisdom of what Judge Noonan did," Friedman said.

Attorney Earl Key and co-counsel Nichols declined to speak with reporters after the sentencing. Key brushed past one reporter and said the case would be appealed.

Previously, Key has said Simmons did not receive a fair trial, primarily because of media coverage of the crime. Today, in her courtroom statement, Nichols said Simmons did receive a fair trial.

NOTE: The Batavian has provided the most comprehensive coverage in Western New York of this crime since it was first reported from scanner traffic Dec. 24, 2011. For our complete coverage dating back to the first report of the assault, click here.

Woman who hit Walmart employee on Christmas Eve scheduled for felony sentencing tomorrow

By Howard B. Owens

Jacquetta B. Simmons, the 27-year-old Batavia woman convicted Aug. 24 of assaulting a 70-year-old Walmart employee on Christmas Eve will find out tomorrow whether she will be going to prison for any amount of time.

Simmons is scheduled to appear in Judge Robert C. Noonan's courtroom at 9:15 a.m.

Following her conviction in a jury trial, Noonan ordered -- as standard procedure -- a pre-sentence report, which will help form his opinion on what he believes is appropriate punishment for Simmons.

The sentencing options for Noonan on the Class D felony are probation on up to eight seven years in prison.

Simmons will stand before Noonan with no prior criminal record, which will also be a factor in her sentencing.

Another factor will be the letters from community members and family members for both Simmons and the victim, Grace Suozzi, Noonan likely received prior to today.

Suozzi is expected to make a victim impact statement, which could also factor into Noonan's decision.

Court proceedings are open to the public and much of the local and regional media will likely be at the courthouse in the morning.

For previous coverage by The Batavian of this case, click here.

Simmons' attorney vows appeal, cites jurors' pre-trial media exposure

By Howard B. Owens

Earl Key (top photo, Jacquetta Simmons leaving court with Ann Nichols following the verdict).

Lawrence Friedman

Asked if his client, Jacquetta B. Simmons, got a fair trial, attorney Earl Key said, "I'm going to appeal that, so we'll see."

Earlier, as reporters walked with him as he left the courthouse, Key declined to say on what basis he might appeal the conviction.

Expanding on the fair trial thought, however, Key said it's possible intense local and regional media coverage made it much harder to ensure Simmons had her case heard before a fair and impartial jury.

"I think the media coverage -- no offense to you guys at all -- definitely hurt her chances of a fair trial," Key said. "As you heard during jury selection, we didn’t have one juror that said -- well, we had a couple, but not very many – who said they had not heard about this case.

"Even the ones who were on the panel had said they had formed an opinion, but they said they could set that aside and be fair and impartial, and the judge accepted their word at that."

Simmons, the 27-year-old Batavia woman convicted today in Genesee County Court of assaulting a 70-year-old Walmart employee, will be sentenced Nov. 15.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman disagreed with Key's assertion.

"You were there for jury selection," Friedman said. "We went through an unusually large number of people to seat a jury. Obviously there were a lot of people who came through saying they had seen coverage, way more than we’re used to, and they had formed an opinion and, unfortunately, many people said they couldn’t set those opinions aside, and of course they didn’t wind up on the jury."

Key said he was obviously disappointed in the outcome of the case and that he firmly believes the video evidence presented at trial clearly shows a Walmart employee grabbing his client's arm and that she is trying to break free of that grasp when she strikes Grace Suozzi.

"In certain spots, the video is unclear," Key said. "I don't know that they (the jury) saw it the way I saw it."

Asked by a reporter if he thought Sharon Reigle, a Walmart customer service manager, lied on the stand about grabbing Simmons, Key didn't answer the question directly, but said, "She absolutely grabbed her arm, in my opinion."

During the trial there were several profane statements attributed to Simmons that were racially charged.

Some readers of The Batavian have questioned why Simmons wasn't charged with a hate crime.

Friedman said the facts of the case didn't fit the penal code, which requires that race be proven as a motivating factor in the crime.

"Clearly there were comments made, particularly later in the sequence of events, that relate to the race of the victim," Friedman said. "We didn't see necessarily that the crime occured because of the race of the victim."

Simmons was convicted under a relatively new New York statue that makes it a Class D felony for a person 10 years younger than a victim who is 65 or older to assault such a victim.

Originally, Simmons was also charged with the more straightforward assault in the second degree charge, which requires proof of intent to cause serious physical injury.

Prior to the start of the trial, Judge Robert C. Noonan ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge Simmons with intent to cause serious physical injury, so he reduced the charge to a misdemeanor of assault, 3rd.

Without the enhanced assault 2nd charge, the so-called elder-abuse statute, Friedman would have been left with no choice but to prosecute Simmons on the misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

While such crime enhancements are often controversial among civil libertarians, Friedman said any time there are additional ways to charge a perpetrator with a crime it "helps keep society safer."

"I think it's appropriate for obvious reasons," Friedman said. "You're dealing with more vulnerable victims, either young children or older adults, who are more vulnerable to injuries that can be much more serious. So from my perspective, it's absolutely appropriate."

Simmons turned down a plea bargain several weeks ago that would have capped her sentence at three-and-a-half years in state prison with an available sentence to Judge Noonan of straight probation (no jail time).

Now she's facing a sentence that ranges from probation up to seven years in prison.

BREAKING: Jacquetta Simmons found guilty

By Howard B. Owens

A Genesee County jury of 10 women and two men has found Jacquetta B. Simmons, 27, of Batavia, guilty of assault in the second degree.

Simmons will be sentenced at 9:15 a.m., Nov. 15. She's free on bail pending sentencing.

Closing arguments in Simmons trial focus on intent and video interpretations

By Howard B. Owens

Two attorneys, two different interpretations of what a video surveillance recording from Dec. 24 inside Walmart shows actually happened when 70-year-old Grace Suozzi was hit by 26-year-old Jacquetta Simmons.

There's no dispute, said defense attorney Earl Key, that his client hit, or even punched, Suozzi.

What the recording clearly shows, Key said, is that a Walmart store employee grabbed Simmons by the arm and Simmons tried to swing free and accidentally hit Suozzi.

Like Key in his closing statement in the trial of Simmons on a charge of assault in the second degree, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman went through the video frame by frame and pointed out to jurors that the recording shows something very different than what Key said it shows.

The video shows, Friedman said, that customer service manager Sharon Reigle, isn't even close enough to Simmons to be holding her arm when Simmons starts her swing.

As Simmons starts that swing, Friedman said, you can see Suozzi stepping back, realizing, as she testified, that Simmons is going to try and hit her.

As Simmons hits Suozzi, Friedman said, Simmons is looking directly at Suozzi. In the next frame, Friedman said, you can still see Simmons looking directly at Suozzi as she falls backward to the floor, and Simmons is still looking at Suozzi, Friedman said, as Suozzi slides across the floor.

Those actions, Friedman said, contradict Simmons' claims that she didn't intend to hit Suozzi and that she didn't know she hit and injured Suozzi.

In closing arguments, the defense always gets to make its case to the jury prior to the prosecution.

Key went through the testimony witness by witness, arguing that the prosecution failed to prove the most important fact under dispute: Whether Jacquetta Simmons intended to hit and injure Grace Suozzi.

"You can see clearly from that video that she is being held," Key said. "You can see that she's swinging her arm away. The prosecution has the obligation to prove my client intentionally hit Ms. Suozzi. We all know Jacquetta hit Ms. Suozzi. They have to prove she did it intentionally."

Going through witness testimony, Key noted that Alex Derefinko said he saw a small scuffle before Simmons hit Suozzi.

While Reigle denied grabbing Simmons, Key told jurors she had a motivation to lie because by her testimony the 10-year Walmart employee knows she would be fired if she touched a customer.

While Dylan Phillips testified that he saw Reigle four or five feet away from Simmons, Key said the video shows Reigle standing right next to Simmons.

As for Suozzi, Key said, she is of course a sympathetic person, but that doesn't mean her version of events is what actually happened.

"I submit to you that Grace probably really believes that Jacquetta hit her on purpose," Key said. "But just because you believe something doesn't make it true."

While Key acknowledges that Simmons used obscenities during the incident, he said the most inflammatory statements were not substantiated by second witnesses. In each case, he said, only one person testified to those specific statements.

For example, outside of Walmart, Samual Hackenberg testified that heard Simmons say, "I don't give a fuck about these dirty white people."

Key said the accusation isn't believable because Hackenberg didn't even mention the statement until a month after the incident and nobody else said they heard it.

Even though Hackenberg claimed Simmons said it while standing next to a police car, Key noted that Trooper James Baines didn't include the statement in his report (Baines testified that all suspect statements are included in reports) and didn't repeat the statement during his testimony.

Regarding the testimony of Randy Johnson, Key said it was noteworthy that the prosecution didn't call Johnson, who testified that he saw Reigle grab Simmons.

Johnson also testified that he saw Simmons trying to leave before the punch was thrown.

"They didn't call anybody who disagreed with their theory of the case," Key said. "This trial is supposed to be a search for the truth, not a win at all costs. Let's hear from everybody and let you decide for yourself."

He criticized Friedman's attempt to impeach Johnson by going through a long list of police contact with Johnson that involved Johnson's mother.

"Friedman beat him over his head about things that had to do with his mother," Key said. "But do you disbelieve his testimony because he has trouble with his mother?"

Key told the jury to note that it wasn't the defense that brought race into the trial; it was the prosecution.

He said both Jacquetta and Isaac testified that they were upset on Christmas Eve because they thought they were being accused of stealing. Neither mentioned being upset about anything related to race.

Key closed by emphasizing that the prosecution has the burden to prove Simmons intentionally hit Suozzi, and if there is reasonable doubt that she did not intend to hit Suozzi, then the correct verdict is "not guilty."

"If you say you don't know whether she is guilty or not, that's not guilty," Key said. "If you don't know, that's not guilty."

Friedman said there are three elements of the crime the prosecution must prove.

First, that the victim was injured; second, the age differences of the defendant and the victim; and, that Simmons acted with intent.

There is no dispute over the first two, elements, Friedman said, so that leaves intent and the evidence and testimony, he said, certainly proves intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

Multiple witnesses, Friedman said, testified they saw Simmons pulling her arm back to take a swing at Suozzi.

Simmons acknowledged, Friedman said, that she wasn't going to show Suozzi her receipt.

On the subject of Johnson's testimony, Friedman said Johnson's testimony in court contradicts a statement he gave to police on Dec. 24 and that Johnson admitted that, based on his experience as a boxer, he thought it looked like Simmons intentionally positioned her body to throw a punch.

Friedman also noted that Johnson, who was called to the stand by the defense, testified that out in the parking lot Simmons warned Johnson, "Watch it, or you could get it, too."

That's not the statement, Friedman said, of somebody who just hit an elderly woman accidentally.

Also in the parking lot, Isaac Simmons was on the phone with his mother and he acknowledge telling her, "Mom, Jac just punched somebody and she's going to jail."

"That doesn't sound like somebody who just saw his sister accidentally hit somebody," Friedman said.

Friedman also took aim act Jacquetta's credibility.

Simmons had said she didn't even know she hit Suozzi until two hours later when she viewed the surveillance video at the police station, but evidence and testimony, even her own, Friedman said, contradicts that claim.

For example, Simmons testified that somebody in the parking lot told her, "You can't hit a white woman like that."

"When Trooper Baines showed her the video, after it was over, he said, 'I don't know how you're going to justify this,' " Friedman said. "She just shrugged her shoulders. She was agreeing with him. She couldn't justify it."

Following closing arguments, Judge Robert C. Noonan explained the rules of evidence and the law to the jury, a process that took close to an hour.

Around 12:30, the jury began deliberating. About 15 minutes later, Noonan received a note from jurors asking to review the video evidence.

The jury was brought back into the courtroom and the video was played while they all sat in the jury box, leaning forward trying to get the best view possible of the video.

The jury is currently back in deliberations.

UPDATE 2:09 p.m.: The jury has returned to the courtroom to view again the video of Suozzi being hit. They asked to be situated closer to the viewing screen and to watch it both in real time and four times frame-by-frame with a three-second pause between each frame. The video is now being projected on the back wall of the courtroom, closest to the jury box.

Jacquetta Simmons takes the stand, tells her side of the story

By Howard B. Owens

For the first time in public, Jacquetta Simmons told her side of the story today, and in front of the one audience whose opinion of the events on Dec. 24 at Walmart really matter: A jury of 12 Genesee County residents who tomorrow must decide whether a 26-year-old Simmons intentionally punched 70-year-old Grace Suozzi.

Simmons, now 27, said she had no idea she even hit Suozzi until hours later. She said she was horrified to learn she had injured Suozzi and it's been a painful realization ever since.

"I feel horrible about it," Simmons said during her only tearful moment on the stand. "I wasn't expecting somebody being -- how was I supposed to know she was standing right in front of me? I keep thinking 'how could I have hit this elderly lady and I don't remember that I hit her?' "

Reliving the realization, Simmons said, caused her to drop out of a business administration program at SUNY Brockport. She said she couldn't concentrate on her studies.

District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, however, judging by his cross examination, wasn't buying Simmon's contention that Suozzi was hit on accident.

While Simmons contends that somebody -- she doesn't know who -- grabbed her arm and, in her own words, she "aggressively" pulled away from the person, causing her to strike Suozzi, Friedman wanted to know how Simmons couldn't have seen Suozzi.

Through repeated questioning, Friedman got Simmons to admit that Suozzi was just a foot or so in front of her when she "punched" Suozzi.

The distinction between "punch" and "hit" came up a few times during a day full of testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses, with the implication being that "punch" meant an intentional act (though never explicity spelled out) and "hit" being accidental.

In various ways, through various questions about events, Friedman got Simmons, whose background includes volunteer work in literacy training and child and elder care, to repeatedly admit to "punching" Suozzi.

According to Simmons, here's how events transpired.

Simmons, she said, awoke at 10 that morning. Her mother asked her to go to the grocery store and purchase items needed for Christmas Eve dinner. Her brother, Isaac, tagged along, which Simmons said he usually does when she goes out for household errands (both Jacquetta and Isaac lived with their parents at the time).

First, the duo went to Tops and purchased some items.

Then they went to Walmart. They purchased turkey bags, cream cheese and three or four other items.

After going through one of the express lanes, they saw some chicken for sale in the hot foods section of Walmart and decided to buy something to eat.

They then got into another express lane. In this case, it turned out the cashier was Grace Suozzi.

When they got to the checkout counter, Simmons said she said hello to Suozzi and Isaac wished her a happy holiday, but Suozzi didn't respond.

After paying for the chicken, Suozzi, Simmons said, told her brother to hand over the Walmart bag and asked for a receipt.

Isaac told Suozzi his sister had the receipt.

According to Simmons, Suozzi kept asking Isaac for the receipt even as Isaac and Jacquetta kept telling Suozzi that Jacquetta had the receipt.

Simmons said her brother, who once worked for a Walmart in Henrietta, told Jacquetta, "they're not supposed to ask for your receipt anyway."

Suozzi then left her cash register and came around a "took" the Walmart bag from Isaac.

Either before or after Suozzi gained possession of the bag, Simmons pulled out a receipt and "showed" it to Suozzi (under cross examination, Friedman would focus on this point).

At some point after Suozzi had the bag, Simmons said she told Suozzi, "Give me my fucking bag back."

According to Simmons, Suozzi repled, "I'm not going to give you anything back."

She said Suozzi kept asking for the receipt and Simmons said, "I already showed you the fucking receipt."

At some point, Simmons said, Suozzi put the bag on the turnstile, and at that point, Simmons grabbed the bag. She said Suozzi reached for it at the same time, which caused the handles of the bag to rip.

She had to cradle the bag in her arm, she said, because it was hard to keep the items in the bag.

Simmons said she wanted to leave the store, but as she turned to leave, somebody grabbed her arm with some force.

"They had a nice grip on me," she said. "I pulled away very aggressively."

She said for a second afterward, she didn't know what to do and just stood there and then her brother told her to get out of the store.

Once outside, she said, she and her brother tried to get into her mother's minivan, which has a handicap placard and was parked in a handicap stall.

Two men, she said, came up to the van and opened the driver's side door and grabbed the keys from the ignition.

She said a woman came up and said, "You can’t hit a white woman like that. Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are?"

Simmons said with all of the people coming after her she was scared.

"We were being mobbed and they acted they like they knew what happened," she said. "I myself didn't know what happened completely."

With the van blocked in and no keys, she said she and her brother decided to leave the van and try to get away from the crowd.

During cross examination, Friedman called some elements of the story into question.

First, Friedman got Simmons to admit she was angry during the confrontation. Simmons adamantly wouldn't admit to being angry at Suozzi, but said she was angry at being asked to show a receipt.

Simmons also admitted that when she found the correct receipt in her pockets, she held it at a distance she knew would make it impossible for Suozzi to read.  Simmons, by her own testimony, never offered to hand the receipt to Suozzi.

Friedman also challenged Simmons on her claim that she didn't know she hit Suozzi until she saw the video at the State Police barracks.

In an incredulous tone, Friedman asked Simmons why she thought a crowd of people were chasing her in the parking lot, especially after Simmons said she thought it was because the crowd considered her a thief.

"Did they accuse you of stealing," asked a snarky Friedman?

"No," Simmons said.

Simmons also denied telling Trooper James Baines, who had testified earlier,  that "somebody grabbed me. I don't remember what happened. I just punched."

Simmons said she never told Baines, "I just punched."

Prior to Simmons' testimony, her brother Isaac took the stand as a defense witness.

Contrary to some of the testimony on Wednesday, Isaac testified that when Suozzi first asked for a receipt for the items in the bag in his hand, he said he refused to produce it.

The former Walmart employee said he told his sister, "You don't need a receipt."

He said his sister pulled out two receipts from her pockets, one from Tops and one from Walmart.

As for somebody grabbing his sister after Simmons regained control of the bag of merchandize, Isaac said, "A lady grabbed her and stuff."

Simmons pulled away, he said, and yelled, "Get off me."

A skeptical Friedman couldn't believe that a small, 70-year-old woman would take, by force, a bag of merchandise from the 6' 1", 211 pound Isaac Simmons.

According to Isaac, his sister never used the word "bitch."

Isaac denied calling his mother while in the parking lot and telling her, "Jac punched an old lady and she's going to jail."

He said he used the word "hit" and said he told his mother "the police are coming."

Under cross, Isaac admitted that in any version of his story prior to meeting with a private investigator from Key's office, he always used the word "punch."

To further impeach Isaac's testimony, Friedman questioned Isaac on his guilty plea in Greece for petit larceny.

Isaac, under repeated questions, admitted that he had committed numerous parole violations, including failing numerous times to report to his probation officer, using marijuana, testing positive for marijuana, drinking in violation of terms of probation, endangering the welfare of a child, operating a motor vehicle without a license, leaving Monroe County without permission and failure to notify probation when questioned by a police officer.

Isaac said he was trying to get his life together and was attending college.

In the morning, testimony began with a prosecution witness, Piper Sharick, a 16-year employee of Walmart.

Sharick said she hasn't worked since the end of April because she is suffering from PTSD as a result of the incident Dec. 24.

In attempt to calm down the situation after arriving on scene, Sharick said, she told Simmons she could print out another copy of the receipt.

"She just kept yelling, 'Give me my fucking shit,' " Sharick said.

When Simmons struck Suozzi, Sharick said, "It was a horrible sound, like the biggist, loudest smacking sound you could ever hear."

She testified that Simmons made a fist before striking Suozzi.

During cross examination, Sharick basically conceded the Batavia Walmart store had no policy in place on Dec. 24 for how to handle a customer who refused to show a receipt.

Next, for the prosecution, Samual Hackenberg (an assistant manager) testified that he didn't arrive on scene until after Suozzi was hit.

After ensuring Suozzi was being cared for, he went outside to see what was going on.

He testified that once outside, he said he heard Simmons say, "Do you think I care about these dirty white people?"

During cross examination, attorney Earl Key wanted to know why Hackenberg didn't tell anybody about this remark until a month after the event.

When Friedman re-questioned Hackenberg, he said he remembered the remark because after it was made, a coworker standing next to him quipped, "Well, I showered today."

The final prosecution witness was Trooper Baines.

Baines said Simmons asked him to see the video tape of the incident.

He said that when he told her, "I don't know how you're going to justify this one," Simmons just shrugged.

Just before the lunch break the defense called Patty Jacobs, even though the prosecution had not yet officially ended its case.

Testimony from Jacobs was taken early because of some schedule conflict she had if she was held over for the afternoon.

During the course of Jacobs' testimony, it was clear that Key was trying to find a way to get into evidence a statement Jacobs made on Dec. 28 on Facebook.

Jacobs wrote that day that she was in line behind Simmons and witnessed the whole event.

"The cashier asked her for a receipt," Jacobs wrote. "It was the wrong one, so she punched the elderly lady in the eye."

The jurors never heard that statement because of the nature of rules of evidence. Instead, they heard Jacobs say that she saw Simmons holding, but not showing to Suozzi, a Tops receipt, which she recognized because of the coupons on the back.

After lunch, the defense called Randy Johnson.

In his direct testimony, Johnson said he saw a woman grab Simmons' arm and Simmons swing her arm forward to try and escape from her clutches, causing her to hit Suozzi.

During cross examination, Friedman was relentless in impeaching Johnson's credibility.

First he called into question Johnson's claim that he's only lived in Genesee County for about a year.

With a stack of police reports, Friedman went through date-by-date numerous police contacts Johnson has had since November 2008.

Most of the contacts involved Johnson being kicked out of his mother's home, but Johnson has also been accused of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, criminal mischief (for punching his parents $35,000 car) and being sanctioned by DSS.

Most of the calls involving his mother, Johnson said, is because she's an alcoholic.

Friedman then went after Johnson for discrepancies between his testimony Thursday and his previous statements to police and to the DA's office.

In July, Friedman interviewed Johnson. After repeated questions, Johnson admitted that he previously told Friedman that he could tell Simmons intentionally punched Suozzi based on his experience as a professional boxer.

According to Friedman, Johnson had said because of the way Simmons cocked her arm and the stance he took along with her follow-through, as a professional boxer, he recognized the swing and an intentional punch.

The final witness called by the defense was Donald Stillwell, the loss prevention manager for Walmart.

Stillwell testified that in order for a customer to be accused of shoplifting, a loss prevention officer or a salaried manager or an hourly shift supervisor must observe four things:

  • The suspect selects an item;
  • The suspect conceals the item;
  • The suspect is under constant surveilance;
  • The suspect bypasses the final checkout point without paying for the item.

If any one of those for criteria are missing, Stillwell said, the customer cannot be detained as a shoplifting suspect.

When Friedman cross examined Stillwell, he said the situation involving asking a customer for a receipt wouldn't fall under the shoplifting criteria.

He did say, once a cashier encounters a customer who won't show a receipt, the matter should be turned over to a customer service manager and the cashier should have no further involvement in the situation.

According to Stillwell, the Batavia store has one of the worst records in the Walmart chain for shoplifting, or what loss prevention professionals call "shrinkage."

In 2010, Stillwell said, the Batavia Walmart store lost more than $600,000 to thieves.

The following year, things only got worst with shrinkage exceeding $680,000.

Videos: Security cameras at Walmart capture events of Dec. 24, 2011

By Howard B. Owens

This first video shows a ceiling view of express lane #2 in Walmart's grocery section when Jacquetta Simmons and Isaac Simmons purchase some hot chicken just before Grace Suozzi requests a copy of the receipt for items in a Walmart bag being held by Isaac. The sequence covers the entire transaction up to the point just after Suozzi leaves her register after Simmons grabs her bag of purchased items.

This video shows a wide aisle way from the point Randy Johnson, a defense team witness, enters the frame through the point where customers are following Simmons out of the store.

This video shows what transpired in the parking lot after Simmons left the store.

NOTE: A big "thank you" to Mark and Michelle Johnson of Millennium Computer on Washington Avenue in Batavia. Once the District Attorney's Office located a CD with the video on it that could be turned over to the media (the copy in the courtroom is evidence and could not be turned over), I took the CD to Millennium. Michelle, during lunch hour, immediately began making duplicate copies for all of the various news agencies that requested copies, such as WHAM13, News10, YNN, WBTA, WIVB, The Batavian and the Batavia Daily News. They did all this work for no charge to any of the media outlets.

Witnesses punch holes in defense contention that Jacquetta Simmons hit victim accidentally

By Howard B. Owens

The defense of Jacquetta Simmons, the 26-year-old Batavia resident accused of punching a 70-year-old Walmart employee on Christmas Eve, seems to rest on convincing a jury of 10 women and two men that Simmons swung her arm to escape the grasp of another woman and hit Grace Suozzi by accident.

Witness after witness today offered testimony that either contradicts or doesn't support that theory of the case.

Suozzi herself testified that she clearly saw Simmons draw her arm back to prepare a punch, causing Suozzi to try and raise her arm in a futile attempt to protect her face from the punch.

Testimony today was laced with profanity as witnesses recounted what they remember Simmons saying during an argument over producing a store receipt that escalated into the alleged assault.

Early in her testimony, Suozzi apologized to the jury for the language she would have to use, but the Italian immigrant grandmother was required to repeat one F-word after another as she recalled Simmons streaming verbal abuse.

The one profane word Suozzi didn't attribute to Simmons, the C-word, was mentioned by a young male Walmart employee, and when he uttered it, a ripple of reaction went through the mostly female jury.

Jurors were also shown three videos that captured some of what happened Dec. 24 inside and outside Walmart.

The sequences are not true video, but more like a string of still-frame pictures, making the visual record jerky and filled with gaps.

The key event of the video, when Suozzi was hit, is off to the left of the frame. It's a small portion of the frame, and with other people standing around it's hard to discern exactly what took place just prior to Simmons swinging her arm.

Numerous news outlets, including The Batavian, have requested copies of the video. Judge Robert C. Noonan said he is inclined to honor the request, considering the video at this point to be public record. But defense attorney Earl Key, who said already he opposes the release, will be able file a formal motion against the release in the morning, if he chooses.

The first witness called by the prosecution was James Gayton, of Batavia. Gayton said he and his finance were in the next check-out line over when he heard somebody starting to yell profanities.

"I don't need no fucking receipt," is what he said he heard.

He was close enough, he said, to hear the man with Simmons -- identified as her brother Isaac -- on the phone saying, "Mom, come quick. Jac's flipping out at the cash register and we need a receipt."

He said after he saw Simmons hit Suozzi, the brother and sister ran from the store and he ran after them. 

Simmons had parked the minivan she was driving in a handicapped spot -- her mother is reportedly handicapped -- Gayton said, and there was another car parked at an angle, apparently illegally. Gayton said he convinced that driver to back up so Simmons was unable to pull the minivan forward. When a truck came down the parking lane, he convinced the driver to park behind Simmons' van.

Somebody else grabbed the car keys from Simmons (another witness testified the keys may have been taken from the van's ignition). Simmons and her brother then began walking away from the minivan but store patrons pursued them.

Gayton testified that at no time did he see anybody, inside or outside the store, grab Simmons.

His finance, Nichole Newton, also testified that she didn't see anybody grab Simmons.

Newton testified that she heard Isaac Simmons on the phone while in the parking lot talking on his mobile phone, saying, "She punched an old lady, Mom. You need to come. She punched an old lady and she's going to jail."

The next witness was Alex Derefinko.

He said he became aware of the argument while he was in the store when he heard Simmons say repeatedly, "Give me my shit, bitch."

He said the observed a Walmart employee trying to ask Simmons something, but Simmons continued to yell profanities at her.

He said he had turned away for a second to complete his own purchase and when he turned back, he saw Suozzi get hit and go flying across the store floor.

Under cross examination by Key, Derefinko said he didn't see anybody standing next to Simmons prior to the punch being thrown.

Sharon Reigle, a Walmart customer service manager, testified that she came to Suozzi's register after she heard a call on her walkie-talkie for another CSM to respond.

When Reigle arrived, she said, Suozzi was behind her register, holding a bag of merchandise and Simmons was yelling at Suozzi.

"I wanted to try and defuse the situation," Reigle said.

While Reigle said after eight months she couldn't remember exact phrases and sentences used by Simmons, she said Simmons dropped F-bombs multiple times.

A video taken from a camera directly above Suozzi's register reveals, according to Reigle's testimony, Suozzi standing at her register holding the bag of items purchased by Simmons and Suozzi discussing the matter with a person who is off camera (Reigle said the person was Simmons). Reigle is off camera as well.

At one point, it appears that Suozzi points her finger at Simmons.

A few seconds later there is a hand that reaches out toward Suozzi. It happens so fast and the video so choppy, it's hard to see. Then Reigle's arm is clearly seen outstretched toward Suozzi.

Reigle said she reached out because she was trying to protect Suozzi.

As soon as the bag of merchandise is snatched from Suozzi's hand -- Suozzi is still holding the plastic handles -- Suozzi is seen leaving the area behind her register and heading in the direction Simmons was apparently standing.

On cross examination, Key focused on why Reigle reached out toward Suozzi.  He expressed doubt that the motion was meant to protect Suozzi since Simmons wasn't making a motion toward Suozzi's face, but rather reaching toward her waist where she held the bag.

Key drew out from Reigle that it is against store policy for an employee to touch a customer and that such an offense could lead to immediate termination.

In questioning, Key tried to determine whether Reigle was attempting to touch Simmons as she reached for the bag.

Key then turned his attention to the video that shows the wider in-store angle.

Prompted by Key's question, Reigle identified herself as the woman in the maroon blouse who was implicated in Ann Nichol's opening statement as the person who grabbed Simmons' arm just prior to Suozzi being hit.

In response to Key's questions, Reigle denied laying a hand on Simmons.

Under questioning, Reigle also identified two of Walmart's undercover loss prevention officers. She also admitted that it's store policy that when CSMs are dealing with combative customers, the lost prevention officers should be summoned because they have more experience and training in dealing with difficult customers.

Reigle said she wasn't aware of the loss prevention officers being requested to the scene.

Next on the stand was Suozzi herself.

Cianfrini opened her questioning by asking about Suozzi's personal history, which begins in Italy on Dec. 9, 1941, when she was born.

Eight years later, her entire family -- two parents and seven children -- entered America through Ellis Island (for "freedom" Suozzi said).

One of her proudest days was the day, when pregnant with her first child, she received her official citizenship document.

Suozzi has been a member of St. Anthony's/Resurrection Parish ever since coming to America.

When it came to describing the events of Dec. 24, Suozzi said after Simmons paid for the hot chicken she and her brother purchased, she noticed Isaac Simmons was carrying a Walmart bag with merchandise in it.

The items were reportedly purchased by Jacquetta and Isaac several minutes earlier when they went through Lane One. They were going through Suozzi's lane, Lane Two, after deciding to purchase some hot chicken.

Suozzi said Isaac readily handed over the bag, but when she asked Simmons for a receipt, the first words out of Simmons mouth, she said, were "Fuck you. I don’t have to show you any fucking receipt."

Suozzi said Simmons used the F-word at least a dozen times.

"If we ever used that word at Walmart, we would be fired on the spot," Suozzi said.

According to Suozzi, the local Walmart store initiated a policy five months prior to the incident of cashiers asking to see receipts when encountering customers with Walmart bags filled with merchandise.

Both under questioning from Cianfrini and from Key, Suozzi did not seem to understand questions about what her policy training was when a customer refused to produce a receipt or becomes confrontational over the issue.

Suozzi said Christmas Eve was the first time in her experience a customer had refused to produce a receipt when asked.

Key asked that since the policy was only five-months old, surely there hasn't been many opportunities for Suozzi to ask a customer to produce a receipt. "It must be rare," Key said. "No, it's not rare," Suozzi replied.

After the incident started, Suozzi tried to summon help from a customer service manager. The process for requesting CSM help is for the cashier to input a code into the cash register, which Suozzi said she did three times.

"I just wanted to hurry her over so the customer wouldn't have to wait," Suozzi said.

While waiting for a CSM, Suozzi rang up purchases from two more customers.

During the process, she continued to hold Simmons' bag.

When asked why, Suozzi said she thought it would be rude to put a customer's bag on the floor and she had no place else to put it.

"Out of courtesy, I thought it was the right thing to do," Suozzi said.

While waiting, Simmons continued to hurl profanities at her, Suozzi said.

"How did that make you feel, to hear the F-word in your presence?" Cianfrini asked.

"It was humiliating," Suozzi said, "embarrassing."

After a pause, she added, "I was embarrassed for the customers who had to listen to that."

Suozzi admitted her exact memory is fuzzy on the sequence of events after the bag of merchandise was grabbed from her hand, but she did say she remembered two things clearly: Simmons calling her a "fucking white bitch" and just before hitting her, she saw Simmons draw her arm back, make a fist and start her swing.

As the swing came forward, Suozzi said she tried to raise her arm to protect herself.

At no time, Suozzi said, did she see anybody grab Simmons by the arm.

About the only time Suozzi cried on the stand was when recalling a nurse who came to her aid after she was hit.

"I remember a lady knelt right beside me and said she was a nurse, I don't remember from where, Michigan or Massachusetts, and she asked me not to move and she asked me if my back hurt or if my shoulder hurt and told me to stay still," Suozzi said. "She was a very kind lady. I wish I had gotten her name."

The first feeling Suozzi said she remembers was feeling numb. Later, when transported by ambulance to UMMC, she said the pain in her face, on a scale of 1 to 10 was an 8. By the time she was in the emergency room it was 9 or 10.

Under questioning from Cianfrini, Suozzi said she continues to suffer aliments from being hit to this day and continues to take Tylenol to help manage the pain.

For months she saw white light flashes and though the flashes stlll occur, they are not as frequent or intense.

She still feels pressure on the left side of her head, has blood pressure problems and is scared to leave her house.

"I haven't slept a whole night since the incident," Suozzi said. "I sleep sound for two hours and then I'm up for three hours and all I can think about is the assault."

Ann Nichols handled the cross-examination of Suozzi and she focused on a statement Suozzi made to State Police while in the emergency room. Nichols tried to get Suozzi to admit that she told a trooper that she "took the bag" from Isaac Simmons.

Suozzi told Nichols that the receipt check policy was communicated to her verbally and she was given no other instructions.

After Suozzi's testimony, another cashier, Dylan Phillips, took the stand.

Phillps said he was just starting his break, buying a few personal items in check out lane five or six, when he heard yelling. He moved to another vantage point, but not necessarily closer to the action and watched what was going on.

He said he heard Simmons direct the C-word at Suozzi.

Key wanted to know where Reigle was standing in relation to Simmons just before Suozzi was hit.

Using the podium as a prop, Key asked Phillips to tell him were to stand. Phillips directed Key to move a couple of steps forward. Phillips said Reigle was three or four feet away from Simmons.

With that response, Key sharply turned on his heels toward the defense table and said, "Nothing further for this witness, your honor."

Following Phillips was Lisa Biegaswiecz, a cousin by marriage of Suozzi's who happened to be in the checkout line behind Simmons.

She said Suozzi politely asked Simmons for a receipt and Simmons immediately became confrontational.

Biegaswiecz quoted very little profanity from Simmons but said she did hear something like "fucking white ..." but couldn't hear the next word.

She also said she didn't see anybody grab Simmons and she saw Simmons draw her arm back and make a fist.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m., Thursday. Judge Noonan told jurors he expects a full day of testimony and evidence presentation, but that he still thinks the trial will wrap up by Friday.

Defense argues Simmons' punch was unintentional attempt to break free of person holding her

By Howard B. Owens

In her opening statement, defense attorney Ann Nichols told the jury in the Jacquetta Simmons trial this morning that her client didn't intend to hit a 70-year-old Walmart employee on Christmas Eve.

Nichols said when Simmons tried to leave Walmart after producing a receipt for her purchases, a woman in a yellow maroon blouse grabbed her arm and Simmons tried to pull free and her arm swung around at struck Grace Souzzi as Souzzi stepped from behind her register.

"This is an unfortunate accident," Nichols said.

During her opening, Nichols described a several-minute event that began with Simmons and her brother Isaac purchasing grocery items in lane one at Walmart and then after spotting some hot chicken for sale decided to return to lane two, where Souzzi was working, and pay for the chicken.

After a quick transaction to pay for the chicken, Simmons and her brother started to leave and Souzzi pointed at the bag in Isaac's hand and asked to see a receipt.

Nichols said the surveillance video will show Simmons looking in her pockets for the receipt when Souzzi comes out from behind her register stand and grabs the bag. She said Souzzi continued to hold the bag while checking out other customers.

Over the next couple of minutes, other managers come to the register, one or two leave and come back, while Simmons continues to look for the receipt for her initial purchase.

Souzzi places the bag under her register, according to Nichols, and seconds later Simmons finds the receipt and held it up for Souzzi to see.

"But that's not good enough for Grace," Nichols said. "She wants to physically hold the receipt."

Souzzi then takes the bag into her hand again and places it on the counter.

At that point, Simmons grabs her bag and tries to leave. Nichols said Souzzi reached for the bag, the bag started to tear. Nichols said Simmons cradles the bag in her arm.

As she's trying to leave, the scene has attracted a lot of attention and there are more managers and other people around and these people are starting to get involved, grabbing at Simmons.

At that point, the video will show a person grabbing Simmons' arm, Nichols said, and Souzzi steps out from behind her register walks into Simmon's arm swinging forward.

"It was no roundhouse punch," said Nichols, countering a statement by Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini in her opening statement.

In her opening, Cianfrini described the kind of day Souzzi expected to lead on Christmas Eve, cooking for her family after work and attending Christmas Eve Mass.

"What Mrs. Souzzi didn't know was in the next few minutes, her best laid plans would be ruined and her life would be forever changed," Cianfrini said.

After describing Souzzi's injuries, Cianfrini said, "She would not have Christmas dinner with her family and she would not be able to attend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Mass for the first time in her life."

"All of this happened," Cianfrini added, "because Mrs. Souzzi made a simple request, to see a receipt."

Cianfrini said witnesses will describe Simmons as angry and yelling profanities throughout the confrontation.

"Rather than produce a receipt that she did have," Cianfrini said. "She delivered a crushing blow with a closed fist to Mrs. Souzzi's face. This wasn't a hit. It wasn't a slap. This was an intentional and vicious roundhouse punch to her face."

Cianfrini said she is confident the evidence will show Simmons intended to physically injure Souzzi.

The trial is currently ongoing with the first prosecution witness on the stand.

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