The past year in Chenango County has revealed itself to be exceptional and terrifying with a rare emergence of violent crime.
In the last six months, police have opened four homicide investigations that have resulted in two people being charged with murder, one with manslaughter and one with lesser charges.
Each case involved the death of a local resident, beginning in March with the arrest of Jason A. Sherman, who was charged with manslaughter in the November 2006 death of his girlfriend’s infant. Later in March, police arrested of Daniel L. Brown Sr. for the alleged murder of his apartment manager, Tammy L. Periard.
In July, police launched two more investigations. First was the July 8 arrest of George Ford Jr., who would later be charged with murder in the death of a 12-year-old girl, and then on July 31 police began investigating Robert R. Reynolds for the shooting death of another man. That investigation has not yet resulted in homicide charges.
“You’ve got to look at the bigger picture. There is more violence than I’ve seen in a long time, and a lot of folks have different theories on why that is, but who really knows? But things have changed,” said Chenango County Sheriff Thomas Loughren.
“This is very unusual. There are more homicides and violent crimes than I have ever seen since I became judge. On average we expect a homicide case about every two or three years,” said County Court Judge W. Howard Sullivan.
Loughren said since the World Trade Center attack, there has been an increased and steady migration from the urban to the rural. “Our demographic has been changing since 9/11,” said the sheriff.
“Most of the recent cases were the result of drug-related crimes, either the use or sale. The unexpected surge has created a strain and a problem, to some extent, on the local system. We are very busy and have limited space in our current location as well as labor issues,” said District Attorney Joseph McBride.
According to the DA’s Office, there are currently 95 open cases awaiting trial in county court. Eighty of those are felonies, including six homicide cases. The office has recently lobbied the county’s Safety and Rules Committee to replace two of its four part-time assistant DA’s with one full-time prosecutor.
First Assistant DA Robert Larkin, representing McBride, told the committee that a recent surge in crime has created a backlog of pending felony cases and office paperwork. The addition of a full-time “trial ready” attorney would relieve the constraint, and possible save the office from having to offer pleas or drop cases when they normally would not, he said.
“There is only so much law enforcement can do ... this is really a social issue,” said Loughren.
Norwich City Police Chief Joseph Angelino also said he feels the situation is social, saying, “For about the last 30 years of being a police officer, I’ve seen a subtle decline in people’s feelings of responsibility and obligation to the community, and to the family. The family unit has broken down and maybe economics play a role ... people are away from home more, day care, work, cost of living ... there could be many factors.”
Angelino said his officers have continued to receive a higher volume of calls regarding things such as kids playing in the road and other similar complaints.
“A lot of the time in the past, you’d just step outside and yell at them to get out of the road, but more people today don’t want to deal with it, and police are taking on the role,” said Angelino.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen Dunshee said, “We’ve seen drugs continually play a role in crime across the board. Every homicide currently under investigation has drugs or alcohol abuse involved in some way.”
Dunshee said people who come from outside of the community and people within it are becoming more disassociated with any kind of connection to the area.
“Often when word gets out about the cash or drugs in the area, local dealers, marijuana dealers mainly, are seen as passive and easy victims from a harder criminal element, like in the Sherburne case (Richheimer),” said McBride.
“Drugs and alcohol have played a big role in almost all the recent crimes. The root of the problem is the loss of the family. The family support isn’t there for a lot of these people and drugs helped to destroy the close relationships that they needed to rely on,” said Judge Sullivan.
“Everybody is more of an individual today. People need to get involved more in the community, because once you go down that road, it is very difficult to bring a community back up,” said Chief Angelino.
On the Docket
Here is a brief description of the some of the high-profile arrests or cases made in the last 12 months:
• George Ford Jr., 42, of Piscataway, N.J., was originally charged with first-degree felony reckless endangerment July 8, but was indicted on second degree murder last week. Police believe he intentionally struck Shyanne A. Somers, 12, Route 26, South Otselic with his quarter ton pick-up truck, killing her.
According to Ford. The accident took place July 8 at around midnight, but the victim wasn’t transported to the hospital until five hours later at 5 a.m. Sunday. Police detected .01 percent alcohol in his blood stream and cocaine, five hours later. Police also found a bag of marijuana in his truck.
Police uncovered a GPS unit and other forensic evidence supporting an alternative story. GPS showed Ford spent three hours behind an abandoned house the night Somers was killed and police also believe the time of death to be around 3 a.m.
He appeared in court Monday to plead not guilty and was remanded to the County Jail without bail.
• Daniel L. Brown Sr., 45, Norwich, is charged with 2nd degree murder for allegedly killing his property manager, Tammy Periard, for yet-unknown reasons on March 29.
Periard was making her usual work-related rounds and stopped at Brown’s residence. Allegedly Brown attacked, raped, then beat and strangled her to death. The body was discovered at his Henry Street house two days later. Police claim he told them where to find the murder weapon and he attempted to turn himself in. Also, investigators testified he confessed the crime to officers and that it was recorded. Brown was being evicted and has a history of abusing drugs and committing domestic violence.
Not everything has been released about this sensitive crime, but there will be no death penalty, because although New York has it on the books, the New York Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. Brown is scheduled to appear Sept. 5 at 10:30 a.m., before Judge Martin E. Smith of Broome County because Chenango County Court Judge Howard Sullivan has recused himself from the case.
• Jason Sherman, 24, McDonough, is charged with two counts of first degree manslaughter and second degree assault. Sherman pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Police allege Sherman caused the intentional death of his girlfriend’s 16-month-old infant by striking the child in November, 2006, but was arrested in March, 2007. The DA claims the defendant was attempting to silence the baby or discipline it. The infant showed signs of prior abuse, including a broken arm. The mother is still with Sherman, and the defense says she considers the matter an unfortunate accident and the couple still lives together. The case took months to process and much of the evidence is forensic or medical.
Sherman appeared in court Monday and asked for more time so the defense could consider its options. He is being held on $500,000 bail at the County Jail.
• Robert R. Reynolds, 46, Pleasant Valley Road, Sherburne, has been charged with tampering with evidence for attempting to hide the body of Joshua D. Richheimer, 32. Reynolds is also charged with fourth degree criminal possession of marijuana. Police began their investigation after visiting the residence and noticing bullet holes on July 31.
Armed with a sawed-off shot gun, Richheimer, of Morris, allegedly kicked down the door of the residence wearing nylon gloves, a hood and carrying duct tape on his person.
Reynolds said he armed himself with his own 12-gauge shotgun that was kept loaded next to his bed. Reynolds said he was shot at first and that he returned fire. During the course of this gunfight, Richheimer was shot in the abdomen and died. Reynolds, who has a prior felony conviction for trafficking ten pounds of marijuana, decided to bury the body along with neighbor Nicholas Simonds, and did not contact authorities.
Reynolds was scheduled to appear in court last week, but had his appearance canceled at the last minute because of new evidence coming to light. No further explanation was given.
• Jonathan “Joe” Elwood, 29, Ashcraft Road, Norwich, has been charged predatory sexual assault (Class A-II felony), first degree burglary (Class B felony), first degree rape (Class B felony), first degree robbery (Class B felony), first degree criminal sexual act (Class B felony), first degree criminal use of a firearm (Class B felony) and petit larceny.
Elwood appeared in court Wednesday and fired his public defender; a new one was assigned. The new attorney will need time to process the material and so the trial date has been pushed back until November.
• Stephen R. Ohl, 24, Cunningham Lawrence Road, Sherburne, allegedly the second suspect in the crime, was arrested on identical charges.
Both men were arrested on March 20 for allegedly breaking into a Sherburne home at around 11:30 p.m. Dec. 4, 2006. Allegedly armed with a gun they attacked a 58 year-old-woman inside, striking her in the head and face repeatedly. Allegedly their original plan was only to include robbery and assault, but once in the process of those crimes, they decided to forcibly rape and beat the woman, threatening to kill her. The two men left the scene after being at the home “for a considerable amount of time,” said police. They were at large for nearly four months before DNA evidence led to their arrest.
Both defendants allegedly made confessions to police admitting some aspects of the crime, but police were unable to record them because of technical errors. The defendants did sign confessions, but they are being disputed in court. They are both heading to court with separate lawyers later this year.
• Dean M. Sacco, 48, 148 Randolph St., Jersey City, N.J., is charged with three counts of 1st degree rape (Class B felony), three counts of 2nd degree rape (Class D felony), committing a criminal sexual act and 1st degree course of sexual conduct, all felonies.
Accused of repeatedly forcing a twelve-year-old girl to have sex with him over the course of one or two weeks, Sacco allegedly had to use coercion or force to get the young girl to comply with his demands on at least three occasions. Police started an investigation some time after the alleged crimes happened. Child services interviewed the girl and reported the incident which lead police to Sacco. Police were forced to extradite him from New Jersey.
Sacco is scheduled to appear in court at a later date and faces the rest of his life in prison if convicted. He is currently being held without bail.
• Daniel E. Price, 36, 137 Horstman’s Trailer Park, Norwich, is charged with three counts of first degree rape (B-Felony), two counts of first degree sexual abuse (D Felony) and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Price is accused of having repeated sexual encounters with the same female, who police will only identify as being under the age of 11. The nature of the first degree rape charge indicates that the prosecution believes Price used force or coercion in order to get the child to comply with his demands. These alleged encounters took place at Price’s former residence at 21 Cortland St., between December 2004 and August of 2005.
At the prior court appearance, the defense and the District Attorney’s Office failed to reach a settlement. The prosecution said “that the defendant has refused to accept responsibility” for the crime and therefore they could not agree to any settlement.
Price could be appearing for trial as early as Sept. 18, depending on other court scheduling considerations.
• Lance J. Mills, no age given, Columbus, is charged with first degree rape (B Felony) and predatory sexual assault ( A-II Felony).
Mills is a registered sex offender with a prior conviction of first degree sexual abuse in 1997. He is accused of attacking a female, who he is familiar with, and forcing her to have sex with him. Allegedly the woman pleaded with him to stop and he threatened to harm her further if she did not comply.
Scheduled to appear in court for a conference on July 9th.
• Kevin J. Begeal, 21, homeless, pleaded guilty to five counts of third degree burglary, but committed more than double that number. Begeal caused significantly more in damages while breaking in, than he actual stole, all in an effort to feed his crack addiction. He is also charged in Syracuse with similar crimes. Has a prior record of drug problems beginning as a youthful offender in Oxford and was on parole during this crime wave. He was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in state prison for what he did in Chenango April 9, 2007.
• Ty A. Tumminia, 14, Norwich, is charged with second-degree attempted murder for allegedly strangling his mother nearly to death. He was going to be tried as an adult.
The victim, his mother, was left for dead, and on all accounts her attacker thought she was dead. Prosecutors claim if police had not arrived while the boy was still in the act, she wouldn’t have survived. Allegedly this was all transpired because Tumminia was not allowed to visit his girlfriend in Iowa. It was premeditated, planned and discussed beforehand. He allegedly attacked his mother in her sleep with a phone cord and then strangled her with his bare hands. He confessed to the crime in police reports and the mother identified him as the attacker. His case was then moved back to family court following a psychological evaluation.
• Peter M. Wlasiuk, 37, Guilford, was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and given the maximum sentence of 25 years to life for allegedly murdering his wife and then staging a vehicle accident at Guilford Lake to cover it up in 2002.
The New York Supreme Court of Appeals declared Wlasiuk’s first trial unfair, citing a number of procedural shortcomings, most of them revolving around the introduction of past violent acts against his wife displayed in court and criticisms of the expert testimony given at the trial.
His court day was further delayed because the court threw out his original indictment for many of the same reasons his trial was appealed. It is unknown when he will appear for trial.
• Tammi L. Van Deusen, 31, Norwich, won an appeal on a first degree robbery conviction due to a New York Supreme Court ruling about a technicality in her sentencing.
Upon appeal she was charged with second degree murder, first degree robbery and first degree criminal use of firearms. She helped to plan the robbery of fellow drug dealer Edward Pastore in 2001 with four others, showed her conspirators the victim’s home and provided the firearms used in the invasion that ended up turning into a murder. She said she was never aware of the killing until after the fact.
She declined a plea bargain of 1st degree robbery that would have allowed her to walk free, but under supervision for the next 3 1/2 years.
Van Deusen made several false statements in court and over the past six months in an attempt to get her record completely expunged, her defense suffered several setbacks, including contradicting facts from her first testimony and from police officers, plus a lack of any witnesses. She eventually accepted that same deal (1st degree robbery) after getting grilled by the judge over her perjury. She is out of jail for the first time in nearly seven years.