Category Archives: Other News

Witness denies knowledge of Heidi Allen abduction

Staff Report

A crucial witness in the ongoing hearing as to whether convicted kidnapper Gary Thibodeau deserves another trial for the 1994 disappearance of New Haven teenager Heidi Allen took the stand Friday — and denied ever saying anything.

Jennifer Wescott was recorded speaking to Tonya Priest on a phone call in 2013, implicating Roger Breckenridge, James Steen and Michael Bohrer in the kidnapping. Wescott, an ex-girlfriend of Breckenridge, said on the recorded call that Allen’s abduction was related to cocaine, and her body was burned in a wood stove outside of a cabin on Rice Road in Mexico.

Federal public defender Lisa Peebles, Thibodeau’s attorney, called Wescott as her final witness, and presented various receipts of Facebook conversations, text messages, sworn statements made to police and a transcript of the recorded phone conversation to Wescott.

Wescott made very few concessions over the course of the day’s questioning, but she did testify that she was a cocaine user around the time of Allen’s abduction and that she met Breckenridge some time in 1994.

District Attorney Greg Oakes offered Wescott immunity for any statements she might make, freeing her from the fear of being prosecuted for perjury.

“Did you say cocaine was the reason Heidi Allen got abducted?” Peebles asked.

Wescott asserted on the stand that what she was saying was that she did cocaine.

“All I said was I was young and on cocaine,” she said.

According to Wescott, she turned 18 on Feb. 18, 1995, what she called her “eight ball birthday.” “We went and bought an eight ball of coke and sat there and sniffed it,” she said.

According to both Breckenridge and Wescott, it was the date their romantic relationship began.

Wescott also said she used to babysit for Breckenridge’s five children with his wife Tracey, and would sometimes be paid in cocaine.

On the cross examination, Oakes asked why Wescott answered in the affirmative in her conversation with Priest when Priest began mentioning Allen.

“I lied to Tonya a lot in this conversation,” she said. “I told Tonya a lot of lies.” Wescott painted Priest as a woman demanding of attention, and said she would agree with Priest to placate her.

In reference to Facebook conversations with a friend named Carl Robinson, in which Wescott indicated that she didn’t want to be the next one to turn up dead, Wescott said the messages sent from her account were someone else.

“Several people have access to my account,” she said. “I have children. I have multiple friends.” During his cross-examination, Oakes asked Wescott if she had any information that could potentially free a man who served 20 years of a 25 to life prison sentence.

Wescott said she had no information, and had shared everything she knows. She said, as a mother of three, she would gladly share any information that would lead to the discovery of Allen’s body and bring any potential accomplices or anyone who committed the crime instead to justice.

The hearing will resume the week of March 23, when Oakes begins calling witnesses.


Witnesses again point to new suspects

Staff Report

During Thursday’s arguments over whether Gary Thibodeau deserves a new trial for his 1995 conviction of kidnapping Heidi Allen, witnesses again implicated other men, with one witness claiming to identify Allen in a photo with two frequently named suspects.
Several individuals have implicated James “Thumper” Steen, Roger Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer in Allen’s kidnapping, murder or the disposal of her body. In seven days of testimony, some have said they heard incriminating statements about the men or directly heard them boasting of involvement in Allen’s disappearance.
Under oath, the three men have each denied any involvement in her kidnapping from the D&W Convenience Store in New Haven in April of 1994.
Jessica Howard, a 29-year-old woman who has known Breckenridge for 12 years, testified Breckenridge once told her Allen would never be found.
“He said it’d be a waste of the government’s time to try to find her,” Howard testified, adding Breckenridge called Allen, “a rat” whose disappearance was connected to drugs.
She told District Attorney Greg Oakes during cross-examination, however, that Breckenridge never said he was involved in Allen’s disappearance.
Howard also identified Allen, Steen and Breckenridge in an old photo together, saying she found the photo on a community Facebook page and showed it to investigators during an interview Wednesday night.
The photo was not mentioned in a letter from Oakes to Thibodeau’s lawyers Thursday morning detailing Howard’s statements to investigators.
The photo only entered into testimony after arguments from assistant federal public defender Randi Bianco led to Howard being recalled to the stand. But acting Oswego County Court Judge Daniel King said there was no way to positively authenticate the photo, saying it could have been edited and that he wasn’t convinced of Howard’s identification.
Oakes did not specifically ask
Howard who posted the photo on Facebook, but Howard said the poster claimed it was Allen.
Howard, who was only 9 years old when Allen went missing, said she knew Allen for two years, and was positive she was in the picture, along with Steen and Breckenridge.
“How do you know it’s Heidi?” asked Oakes.
“‘ Cause I know,” was all Howard said.
King said he was inclined to deny the photo as evidence, but he said he’d allow the defense time to try to authenticate the photo.
Christine Neff, 43, of Scriba, claimed to be in the photo, according to Neff told that neither Allen nor Breckenridge are in the photo, which she said was taken in 1988 or 1989 at the Sheep Ranch in Palermo.
Attempts to reach Neff to find out more about the photo failed by press time.
Oakes asked Howard about her depression and anxiety, with Howard testifying that her medication could impact her memory of times and dates. In response, Bianco established Howard was not on medication when she previously tried to reach out to law enforcement with information on the case in 2004 and 2011.
According to the written statement of Wednesday’s interview with investigators, Howard told authorities she had been investigating the Allen case and believed she may have recently seen someone removing Allen’s body from a closed saw mill on old county Route 1.
Also included in Oakes’s filing was a report from Jan. 19 that Howard called 911 due to depression and anxiety, with the police taking her to the hospital to be treated and prevent harm to anyone. She testified she was in the hospital for mental health reasons for nine days.
Chris Combs, a 34-year-old paving contractor who occasionally worked with Breckenridge, testified that at some point Breckenridge informed him he was involved in the disposal of Allen’s body.
He said he never took Breckenridge’s claims to heart, echoing statements from Steen that Breckenridge “was full of hot air.” Combs told Oakes during cross-examination that Breckenridge mentioned the name Thibodeau when he talked about Allen, but he couldn’t remember if Breckenridge was referencing Thibodeau’s involvement in a crime or innocence.
Deborah Vecchio, a 58-year-old woman who lives on Rice Road in Parish, testified that her father’s girlfriend rented a trailer to Jennifer Wescott’s mother sometime in the early 1990s.
Wescott, who is expected to testify today, was recorded by investigators in 2013 telling Tonya Priest that she had knowledge of Allen’s disappearance, and that Breckenridge and others had scared her from coming forward. She later denied knowing anything about Allen’s kidnapping.
Vecchio said Wescott and Breckenridge, who she said had frightened her, frequently stayed at the trailer near her property, but she asked them to leave sometime in 1993 or 1994.
Oakes repeatedly tried to get Vecchio to remember the specific timeframe, and also questioned her on whether Wescott and Breckenridge actually ever lived in the trailer.
Vecchio also testified she worked with Bohrer, who is also named as a potential suspect by others. Peebles asked her if she had ever noticed Bohrer’s girlfriend with physical injuries; the defense has tried to establish Bohrer had a history of violence with women.
But similar to earlier in the hearing, King disallowed the line of questioning due to prosecution objections over relevancy.

More witnesses implicate Steen and others in Allen case

Staff Report
During Tuesday’s continuation of the hearing to determine if Gary Thibodeau deserves another trial after other suspects have been implicated in Heidi Allen’s 1994 disappearance, two witnesses testified they were told authorities convicted the wrong man.
In 1995, Thibodeau was convicted of kidnapping the 18-year-old Allen from the parking lot of a New Haven convenience store in 1994.
In six days of testimony, James “Thumper” Steen, Michael Bohrer and Roger Breckenridge have been named as suspects by several individuals who claim they heard incriminating statements connecting the men to Allen’s disappearance.
Some witnesses have testified Bohrer, Breckenridge and Steen boasted of involvement in the crime; others said they heard incriminating statements second-hand.
In direct testimony during the hearing, however, Bohrer, Breckenridge and Steen denied involvement in Allen’s disappearance, and also denied making any incriminating statements.
Carl Robinson, a 32-year old man who worked in the early 2000s as a computer technician at Medspars — Bohrer’s small business — testified Tuesday he knew Breckenridge and his former girlfriend Jennifer Wescott.
Robinson says during a barbecue nearly 10 years ago, the Allen case came up in conversation, and Wescott told him authorities had the wrong man in jail.
Wescott’s name has come up frequently during the hearing. She was recorded in a 2013 phone conversation with Tonya Priest connecting Breckenridge, Steen and Bohrer to the crime and saying she was afraid to come forward. She told investigators afterward she knew nothing about Allen’s disappearance.
Robinson testified he exchanged Facebook messages with Wescott in 2014, but acting Oswego County Court Judge Daniel King disallowed detailed questioning on the messages because they were impossible to authenticate.
Wescott is still expected to testify, and further discussion of her conversations with Robinson is likely, according to federal public defender Lisa Peebles.
During cross-examination, District Attorney Greg Oakes established Wescott never told Robinson any specific information on Allen’s whereabouts or why she believed Thibodeau was innocent. Robinson said Wescott, Steen, Bohrer and Breckenridge never mentioned to him any involvement in Allen’s disappearance, murder or disposal of her body.
Robinson also testified he saw Bohrer sell marijuana to both Breckenridge and Steen between 2002 and 2004.
Oakes objected several times to Peebles’s questioning, with prosecutors arguing the marijuana sales by Bohrer were so long after Allen’s disappearance that Robinson’s testimony was irrelevant.
Allen’s status as a confidential informant — mentioned as a motive for other suspects by Thibodeau’s defense team — remains a contentious issue in the case.
Prosecutors downplay Allen’s role as an informant and note Thibodeau was in jail on a drug charge not long after her disappearance, giving him a potential motive. Thibodeau’s trial lawyer, now Onondaga County Judge Joseph Fahey, testified Tuesday that authorities told him Allen was never used as an informant.
Ronald Clarke, a Mexico man who said he’s known Steen for 35 years, testified Tuesday that Steen once told him he knew more about Allen’s disappearance than the sheriff’s office.
Steen said Allen was “long gone in Canada,” according to Clarke, who said Steen occasionally worked for his father. Clarke said at the time he was outside his house, trying to convince his sons to stay home instead of going out for a bike ride, when Steen approached, asking about work.
Clarke said Steen told the boys to stay in, be careful and be mindful of what happened to Allen.
Clarke told Oakes during cross-examination that Steen never said he was actually involved in Allen’s kidnapping, murder or disposal of her body.
Steen is in prison serving two life sentences with no chance of parole after murdering his wife and another man in 2010.
Evidence turned over to Peebles recently included recordings with Doug Labreck, who was housed in jail with Thibodeau in 1994. Labreck gave a written statement to the sheriff’s office on Dec. 12, 1994, “setting forth various oral admissions he allegedly heard from [Thibodeau],” including that Thibodeau asked him “if teeth could burn.”

Sheriff says he had limited role in initial Heidi Allen investigation

Staff Report

Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd took the stand during Tuesday’s continuation of the hearing to determine if Gary Thibodeau deserves a new trial.
Todd, who was undersheriff when Heidi Allen was kidnapped in 1994, testified he had limited involvement in the investigation in 1994 and 1995, relying on his sergeants and lieutenants to investigate. But he said for as long as he was sheriff, the Allen case would remain open until the mystery of her whereabouts was resolved.
“[The case] will always be open,” said Todd, “until I bring her home.”
Multiple individuals have come forward over the last few years implicating others in Allen’s 1994 disappearance. Thibodeau was convicted of kidnapping Allen in 1995, and lost an appeal in 1999.
Federal public defender Lisa Peebles asked Todd pointed questions about his office’s protocol for signing up confidential informants. Todd said that at the time of Allen’s abduction, there was no official procedure, and that individual investigators handled their informants.
The defense team has maintained Allen was a confidential informant, and that her informant card was dropped in 1992 in the parking lot of the store where Allen worked and went missing.
Thibodeau’s defense team argues this gives a motive to individuals connected to drugs in the area, in particular newly named potential suspects James “Thumper” Steen, Roger Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer. All three men have denied involvement.
Pressing Todd again about the process for signing up confidential informants, Todd repeated there was no procedure back in 1994.
“Is it your testimony that you’re completely clueless?” asked Peebles, who was cut off by an objection from District Attorney Greg Oakes and chief assistant district attorney Mark Moody, which was quickly sustained.
Todd later testified that subordinates told him Allen was not actually an informant. He also said her card being lost in the lot — which was found 26 months before Allen went missing — was “no big deal because nothing happened.”
Todd said he continued hearing about leads on the case after 1995, and that his investigators followed the leads.
“My goal was to find Heidi Allen and follow up on every lead possible,” he said.
Peebles asked the sheriff three questions about a potential lead, a report of “Heidi Allen was a snitch” written on a bathroom wall.
“I didn’t see that one, no,” Todd said. “They may have told me early, but do I have any information on it, no.”
Peebles asked if Todd was advised on a lead in February of 2013, regarding new information from Tonya Priest. Priest has come forward saying she had heard incriminating statements from Steen; earlier this month, she also said Breckenridge and Bohrer made incriminating statements linking them to the crime.
“They would keep me advised to what she testified to,” said Todd, “and every time she changed that story,” he’d be advised as well.
Moody objected to the line of questioning, with Peebles pressing Todd on his knowledge of the case.
“He is the head of the office and the (District Attorney’s Office) themselves have called into question the investigation,” said Peebles.
“So the whole purpose of this is to embarrass the sheriff?” asked Moody.
Peebles said that was not her goal.
“My job isn’t to go out and investigate,” said Todd. “My job is to supervise and make sure they do their job, and they did.”
The defense team has stated the sheriff’s office investigation was faulty and the District Attorney’s Office “dumped” evidence on them just days before the hearing began.
Acting Oswego County Judge Daniel King said he was not pleased about the late release of evidence, but denied a motion from Peebles earlier this month to dispense with the hearing over the matter.
During Todd’s cross-examination, Moody established through the sheriff that there are different types of informants; confidential informants who help on drug busts or some who simply provide information on a confidential basis.
During redirect, Peebles asked Todd the protocol if someone’s status as a confidential informant is ever breached.
“To be honest with you we’ve never had it happen,” testified Todd, saying as far as he knew, no one’s identification as a confidential informant has ever been released.

Witness adamant he saw Steen at scene of Allen’s kidnapping

Staff Report

Bill Pierce testified Tuesday he saw James “Thumper” Steen strike a woman and carry her near the side door of a white van in the D&W Convenience Store parking lot the day Heidi Allen disappeared in April of 1994.
In the second week of testimony to determine whether Gary Thibodeau — convicted of kidnapping Allen in 1995 — deserves a new trial, Pierce testified he was convinced it was Steen, not Thibodeau, he saw outside the store the day Allen was kidnapped.
Defense attorneys have argued that Steen, along with Michael Bohrer and Roger Breckenridge, is responsible for Allen’s kidnapping. All three men have denied involvement.
Pierce, who previously told investigators that he believed the man he saw was in fact Thibodeau, said he changed his mind after seeing Steen’s picture in a local newspaper.
“Right then and there I knew Thibodeau was not the man that did it,” said Pierce.
Shortly after Thibodeau’s arrest, Pierce says he drew a beard on a picture of Thibodeau and felt it was “close enough.” Last July, after reading media reports that Sheriff Reuel Todd expressed disappointment that Heidi Allen had never been found, Pierce for the first time called authorities to let them know they had the right man.
“[Todd] served all these years, he deserves to know whether he had the right or wrong man,” said Pierce, who signed a statement indicating it was Thibodeau he saw. “At the time I did believe it was Thibodeau.” But days later, Pierce saw pictures of Steen, convincing him otherwise.
During cross-examination, District Attorney Greg Oakes repeatedly questioned Pierce’s certainty, pointing out that Steen would not have looked the same back in 1994.
At one point, Oakes showed Pierce a picture of several men, one of whom was Steen. Pierce said he had never seen any of them, and none of them were the driver of the van. When Oakes lifted a current picture of Steen, Pierce was resolute, saying, “That’s the guy.”
He said the recent picture of Steen shows the man he saw hit the woman in the parking lot; the older picture of Steen taken closer to the time of the incident was someone he’d never seen in his life.
“To me they look like two different people,” he said.
In October, Pierce was shown two photo arrays featuring pictures of both Steen and Thibodeau from 1994, and according to prosecutors he failed to identify either as the man he saw in the D&W parking lot. Pierce testified investigators dismissed him when he attempted to identify Steen.
“We can play games with pictures and faces,” said Pierce. “The man that I saw was James Steen.”
“Are you as certain of that as you were of your identification of Thibodeau in July?” asked Oakes.
Peebles objected to the question, and acting Oswego County Court Judge Daniel King sustained the objection.
Pierce, 79, says he was in traffic at a stoplight with half a dozen other cars at the intersection near the convenience store where Allen worked.
Though he couldn’t recall the specific time because it was 20 years ago, he said it was between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Pierce says he saw a woman standing near the driver’s door, arguing with the driver. He says the driver got out, struck the woman on the back of the head, caught her as she toppled, and started carrying her toward the side door of the van, which he believed he saw starting to open.
Oakes asked Pierce to describe how far away he was from the parking lot where he saw the man and woman, and Pierce compared it to the length of the courtroom.
Oakes then had Pierce mark the location of his car and the van on a diagram of the store and the intersection. Oakes pointed out the distance seemed greater than the length of the courtroom, which he estimated at 60 feet.
Pierce testified he did not stop, nor did he call authorities about what he witnessed, something he was ashamed of to this day.
“I was still trying to convince myself that I didn’t see the abduction,” said Pierce, thinking it was just a domestic dispute.
He said a woman in the car behind him was pointing in the direction of the incident, adding there are several “people out there” who saw what happened.
Onondaga County Judge Joseph Fahey, who was Thibodeau’s trial lawyer, completed his cross-examination on Tuesday, saying he would have “raised holy hell” if he had seen documents during the middle of Thibodeau’s trial showing Allen’s confidential informant information card was dropped in the D&W parking lot in 1992.
While chief assistant district attorney Mark Moody emphasized the card was dropped in 1992 — two years before Allen’s disappearance — Fahey said there would have been sanctions had such a document been presented to him six months into the trial.
Fahey testified, however, that he did see a report at least mentioning Allen’s status as an informant; last year, in an affidavit for the defense, he said he never saw such a document.
Fahey said even though he may have seen such a document, he was told by authorities that Allen wasn’t “used as an informant.” Moody also pointed out that during Fahey’s closing arguments in Thibodeau’s trial, he distanced Allen from drug use or drug sales as much as possible, because Thibodeau had been in prison on a drug charge and because two jailhouse informants testified drugs had been connected to the case.
Moody asked Fahey if Allen being an informant would have hurt his case, because it may have provided a motive for Thibodeau.
“No,” replied Fahey, arguing the jailhouse informants testifying against Thibodeau discussed a drug deal gone wrong, and adding that if Allen was an informant, she wouldn’t be selling drugs.
Moody tried to establish that Richard Thibodeau’s lawyer, now retired Onondaga County Judge William Walsh, shared documents and defenses with Fahey; Richard Thibodeau was acquitted of the same kidnapping charge after Gary Thibodeau’s conviction.
Fahey maintained they shared information and used the same investigators, and even that Walsh sat at the same desk with him during Gary Thibodeau’s trial, but he downplayed the notion that he had seen every note or piece of evidence that Walsh may have seen.
Moody also returned to the subject of Fahey’s organization, or, according to prosecutors, the lack thereof. With the defense team arguing Thibodeau did not have every bit of evidence made available to him, prosecutors have responded that Fahey was not the best at record keeping.
Fahey testified he had an “unorthodox” way of organizing paperwork, but says a reporter’s description of his office as “messy” is something that’s “in the eyes of the beholder.” During redirect examination by Peebles, Fahey testified he would have used Allen’s confidential informant status to show a motive for others to possibly do her harm.

Granby residents opposing gravel mine expansion

By Colin Hogan

A group of Granby residents is asking state regulators to prevent the expansion of a gravel mine on county Route 85.

Syracuse Sand and Gravel, which owns the pit, has asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for permission to expand the mine’s pond size from 32.1 to 46.6 acres.

About 60 residents living in the vicinity of the mine, though, sent a petition to the DEC saying that even at its current size, the operation is harming their properties with water pollution and unacceptable levels of noise and dust.

Christine Bassett, of county Route 85, said this is just the latest in an ongoing struggle she and her neighbors are having with state regulators over the mine’s operations.

“They have been very non-communicative. We were calling the DEC complaining about dust, they said ‘don’t call us anymore’ and instead gave us a point person with the company. They have not called us at all or communicated at all with us on this problem, and it’s a major issue,” Bassett said. “It’s like the louder we get and the more we protest, the more we get deflected.”

In a letter to the DEC, which accompanied the petition, residents say they are “strongly opposed” to the proposed expansion, citing a variety of impacts the operation has already caused at its current size.

Topping the list is that the assessment made of nearby residents’ water wells, which was performed in October 2012, is not current, and does not reflect the status of their drinking water.

The letter — which is signed by Bassett and fellow county Route 85 residents James Kush and Lynn Lyons — states that if Bassett’s well were to be examined today, it would show “evidence of substantially increased sediment in water.”

For the last couple years, the Bassetts have had to change their in-house sediment filter “at least every two weeks.” Prior to that time, they only had to change it every couple months, according to the letter.

Bassett, who has lived in her home for 35-plus years, describes her filter as “usually jet black with sediment” after two week’s time lately. She said in prior years, before it needed to be changed so often, it would come out only “slightly gray.”

Another nearby household, owned by the Lyons family, reported on Dec. 20 that their water supply has been “discolored with a visibly yellowish hue,” according to the letter.

The letter also states that the water assessment failed to take into account wells of many households located downhill from the mine.

The residents also “protest the current and ongoing lack of dust control” on trucks traveling from the mine.

“Dust and rocks dragged by the trucks from the bed onto county Route 85 (and into our yards and homes) have been unresolved and increasing problems for year,” the letter states.

In response to earlier complaints about the dust, DEC officials told Syracuse Sand and Gravel it needed to install a truck wheel wash at the site. Granby Town Supervisor Ed Williamson said it was his understanding that the wheel wash was supposed to be installed by the end of January.

Syracuse Sand and Gravel Supervisor Tim Harrison said Monday that the wheel wash is currently on site, but has not yet been installed. He said the company was told by the DEC to have it installed by March, and is waiting to do so until the air temperatures aren’t so cold.

“Even if we installed it right now, you can’t run it, because the water would freeze,” Harrison said.

Harrison noted that, because the ground is currently frozen, the trucks aren’t carrying nearly as much dirt on their wheels. The pit’s activity has also been very slow in January, with only about 20 truckloads leaving all month, he said.

Harrison said the company and the drivers who travel from the mine adhere to the state’s laws on covering loads to manage dust.

“It’s really an open law, and it’s the driver’s discretion whether they tarp loads or not,” Harrison said, adding that a cover is usually only necessary when hauling sand.

“The only loads in question would be when we haul sand out of there, and all those loads get covered,” he said.

A request for comment to the DEC’s regional office was not returned as of press time Monday.

Williamson said he has also sent a letter to the DEC requesting that, in keeping with his residents’ wishes, any permit issued stipulate that the mine not operate on weekends or outside of the hours 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays; that drivers be required to keep the roads clean; and that truck traffic on town roads be as limited as possible.

He said he is also wary of the company digging below the water table.

Williamson called the matter “a tough situation,” saying he has strong sympathy for the affected residents, but also noting that “business is progress.”

Audit calls school’s violent incident reporting into question

By Colin Hogan

A recent audit conducted by the state comptroller’s office found 79 incidents of alleged violence in the Fulton Junior High School that auditors say were not correctly reported to the state, a finding district officials say they “respectfully disagree with.”

The audit — which was actually conducted on the state education department’s system for reporting violent school incidents — used Fulton Junior High School as one of seven test schools, and examined how compliant those schools were in reporting violent or disruptive incidents under the state’s Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR) system. In doing so, auditors determined that during the 2011-12 year, there were 79 incidents the school didn’t find to be reportable with which auditors disagreed.

Fulton reported 289 incidents that year, but should have reported 368, according to auditors. For instance, the school reported 23 assaults with a physical injury that year, while the auditors say they identified 64 incidents that would be considered VADIR reportable.

District officials were quick to point out that the auditors’ tabulations only took into account the initial reporting of an incident by a teacher or staff member, and not the administration’s follow-up investigations, which often resulted in new understandings of what happened.

“The auditors took whatever was written in the referral form from the source staff member and determined everything from that,” said Superintendent Bill Lynch. “We keep track of incident referrals and then the administrator would investigate what happened. Through the investigation they may clarify what actually happened and determine a different consequence than the state would recommend based on the initial referral.”

FJHS Principal Ryan Lanigan said he and the school’s assistant principal follow up on every incident referral to determine the whole truth of what happened.

“Whenever a referral is written (by a teacher or staff member), we have a process that we go through. That referral is brought to the main office where myself or the assistant principal read the referral and follow due process. We meet with the student. We meet with other students who may be able to shed light on what’s occurred. A lot of times, that changes our understanding of what’s happened, and we may find that it wasn’t quite the offense it sounded like at first. We take everything into account before we decide what the consequence is,” said Lanigan.

School officials say only looking at the number of incident referrals without taking into account the follow-up investigation paints a skewed picture of violent incidents being underreported.

“The audit was very black and white,” Lanigan said, “there’s no grey in there. They don’t take into account our intervention process, how we use PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — a U.S. Department of Education supported approach to disciplinary actions in schools). We go through that process diligently.”

The audit states that most of the schools examined misclassified incidents in their internal records “generally as categories that were considered less serious.” Both Lanigan and Lynch say they disagree with some of the ways the VADIR system requires incidents to be reported. For instance, Lanigan said “if a student were to flick another student with a rubber band and leave a welt, under the VADIR definition that’s considered an ‘assault with injury.'”

The audit also stated that Lanigan told auditors “the school does not record or report summer incidents.” Lanigan said Wednesday that statement misrepresents what he was telling the auditors, which was that there weren’t any incidents over the summer to report. The audit’s results confirm that there weren’t any reportable incidents at the school during that time.

Based on their results, the auditors recommended a review of prior or subsequent years to determine if the school should have ever been designated “persistently dangerous,” a designation the district would, by law, have to notify parents of.

In it’s response to the comptroller’s office, the district stated that the auditors’ assessment of the severity of incidents and appropriate consequences is “fundamentally flawed” for not considering the full context of an incident, or other factors like the school’s system of interventions, or “the presence of emotional and behavioral disabilities which require alternative approaches when responding to behavior infractions.”

In August, Lynch and Lanigan presented the audit’s findings to the board of education. Board President David Cordone said Wednesday he agreed that the incidents referenced in the audit don’t seem to have been placed in the full context. He said that, based on what was presented to them, the board was satisfied with the administration’s response to SED, and that he believes officials in the junior high and other schools are working hard to meet the state’s expectations.

“I think, obviously, there is an interest among everyone be sure that our school district is safe. If there’s anything (administrators) needed to learn here, based on the update we were given in August, I believe that’s occurred.”

Lanigan said he and other administrators will be doing more to make sure that their follow-up investigations of incidents are as well-documented as the initial referrals, and said he “can see how the auditors might draw their conclusions” if they’re only looking at the referral form. However, he maintains that the school already has a very diligent incident documentation process that he is proud of.

“I pride myself on how well documented we are, and I completely disagree with the perception that this is building isn’t a safe environment,” Lanigan said.

New suspects deny involvement in Allen kidnapping

Staff Report

Two men accused of being involved in Heidi Allen’s 1994 disappearance told conflicting stories on the witness stand Tuesday during the second day of a hearing to determine whether to overturn the 1995 kidnapping conviction of Gary Thibodeau.

Thibodeau’s attorneys called James “Thumper” Steen and Roger Breckenridge to the witness stand in Oswego County Court to question their involvement with Allen’s disappearance on Tuesday.

Both of the men, who are each serving prison sentences, have been accused by several new witnesses of being involved in the kidnapping of Allen from the D& W Convenience Store in New Haven in 1994. Neither have been charged with any crimes in the investigation.

The two men came to the fore of the investigation in 2013, when a recorded phone call between Tonya Priest and Jennifer Wescott — Breckenridge’s former girlfriend — revealed both women claimed to know that Steen, Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer kidnapped Allen.

Steen and Breckenridge, though, denied being involved with the kidnapping on Tuesday. They admitted to knowing each other, but denied being friends.

“I wouldn’t call him a friend but I wouldn’t call him an enemy,” Steen said.

During questioning from defense attorney Randi Bianco, Steen and Breckenridge admitted to smoking marijuana in the 1990s, with Steen also admitting to cocaine use in the late 1990s.

The defense has argued that Allen was a confidential drug informant for police who claimed to have knowledge of drug activity in Mexico High School. The police never followed up with Allen, but they did create an index card and a code name — “Julia Roberts” — for her.

While both denied personally being involved in the kidnapping, Steen did say that at one point in 1994, while hauling crushed vehicles, Breckenridge called him, saying that Allen’s body was in the back of a van he hauled to Canada.

Breckenridge said on the stand that he never had any discussions about Allen to anybody, including that conversation.

When Steen was asked why he never followed up with police when Breckenridge claimed to know that Allen’s body was stored in a crushed van that was hauled to Canada, he said Breckenridge was not a reliable source, calling him “a lot of hot air.”

“Breckenridge is nothing but a talker. A big mouth. He runs his mouth all the time looking for attention,” Steen said. ” He’s an attention getter, and that’s how he got attention, plain and simple.” Steen said he didn’t lend any credence to theories or rumors about Allen’s disappearance because “everybody was talking like they knew what happened to her” in the ’90s, “but nobody knew anything.” He adamantly insisted that his only involvement to Allen’s disappearance was that Breckenridge claimed he unknowingly hauled a van to Canada. He said that, if what Breckenridge said is true, Allen’s body is currently in a landfill in Canada.

“The shredder makes cars into little bitty pieces,” Steen said. “The garbage goes out the back and goes to a landfill.”

Steen said he and Priest had a tense relationship, and he did not associate with her, even when his ex-wife, Vicki, was alive and friends with her.

“Me and Tonya did not get along, I didn’t like the way Tonya treated her children,” he said.

Steen said Priest’s claim that he, Breckenridge and Bohrer hid Allen’s body underneath a cabin on Rice Road in Mexico was untrue, as evidenced by the fact that searches in that area have yet to turn up a body.

Steen, who is serving a life sentence, said he had nothing to lose and did not want to be a “snitch.” Bianco pointed out that Steen is not in protective custody.

“What would happen to you if the other inmates learned that you kept an innocent man behind bars for 20 years?” she asked.

Steen said he had no information that could exonerate Thibodeau.

“I don’t have that information, though, so I’m not worried about that,” Steen said.

When Breckenridge took the stand, he said he never made any statements about Allen’s body in the back of a van.

Breckenridge also denied ever meeting Bohrer before 1999, saying the one time he met him, Bohrer was a “bug out” person, and he didn’t intend on ever spending time with him again.

Breckenridge said he made a “stupid mistake” by stealing Thibodeau’s van and stripping it.

“You did that because you saw he was in jail and you knew he wouldn’t miss a van?” said District Attorney Greg Oakes, to which Breckenridge agreed.

According to Breckenridge, if he had information about Allen’s disappearance he would share it, because he has several children who are currently around 18 years old, Allen’s age at the time of her disappearance.

In a filing made Tuesday, Oakes said he noticed a bit of information Monday evening that led him to interview the source of information, a woman named Cherie Sovallia, and her daughter, Cynthia Taylor.

According to a statement gathered Monday from Taylor, two weeks before Allen’s abduction she heard from Breckenridge’s now ex-wife, Tracy, about how Breckenridge and “three other people” were going to do a drug deal at the convenience store during the shift Allen worked.

Taylor told investigators that she told Ms. Breckenridge that she did not want to hear any more and left.

Taylor told investigators Monday that two weeks after Allen’s abduction she heard Ms. Breckenridge discussing the case.

“They did something to a girl because somebody told them that she was going to tell on them for doing a drug deal in the parking lot of the store,” Taylor said Ms. Breckenridge said.

James Abbott, Taylor’s uncle, who said he was present for the same conversation, said Ms. Breckenridge claimed “they burned her up and spread her ashes on the highway.” Abbott said she never identified the other three men involved, just “Roger and a Thibodeau.” Taylor, Sovallia and Abbott were subpoenaed to court to be available to testify during the hearing.

Bianco and Federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles, who also serves as an attorney for Thibodeau, tried a different tactic with the witnesses they called to the stand in the morning. The pair tried to demonstrate that former assistant district attorney Donald Dodd was not compliant with handing over materials that could have been potentially exculpatory to the defense at the time of Thibodeau’s trial.

Former Oswego County Judge John Brandt said “about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes” was spent during the original trial arguing over what qualified as exculpatory evidence.

Brandt said he understood that attorneys would create an itemized list of evidence they wanted turned over if one side was not cooperating.

“We never really had any discussions in this case that weren’t about the substance of this case,” Brandt said.

The next witness, Robert Calver, said he worked as a private investigator for the trials of Thibodeau and his brother, Richard, who stood trial for the same crime after Gary’s conviction. Richard was acquitted of the kidnapping charge.

Calver said he was not aware of Allen’s status as a confidential informant until he began to develop an alibi for Richard during his trial.

Before calling Steen to the stand, Peebles called Tyler Hayes, who said he had a confrontation with Bohrer in a bar in 2000.

According to Hayes, Bohrer was drinking and was making members of Hayes’ party uncomfortable by saying he had information about Allen’s disappearance.

“He told me he had information regarding the case, and I said, ‘ Yeah, I know about the case. They arrested two people for it,'” Hayes said. “I couldn’t remember their names, and he said it was the Thibodeaus, but they’re not the ones who did it.”

Hayes said Bohrer told him he knew who did it, and he knew the whereabouts of Allen’s location.

Hayes said he called the sheriff’s office when he returned home.

Oakes asked if alcohol might have impaired Hayes’ memory.

“When someone makes admissions to a murder, it’s not like ‘I forgot where I put my car keys,'” Hayes said.

Oakes brought up a sworn affidavit where Hayes made no mention of Bohrer saying that neither Thibodeau committed a crime.

Hayes said he only shared the basic outline of the details he was told.

Breckenridge is expected to be the first witness called to the stand today at 9 a.m. for cross-examination.