SILVER CREEK - Family, friends and supporters, one from across the state, filled the Town of Hanover courtroom Wednesday for proceedings in Benjamin M. Wassell's SAFE Act case.
Wassell is charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor under the state law after he allegedly sold guns that now qualify as illegal under the SAFE Act, to an undercover officer, even after being told the officer was a felon.
The proceedings began a few minutes late and were quickly interrupted as Hanover Judge Walter Klyczek met with Cydney Kelly, assistant attorney general, and Michael Deal, Wassell's attorney, in a separate room to discuss scheduling of future proceedings.
Klyczek and the attorneys returned and it was announced the prosecution has requested the case be transferred to the Chautauqua County Court for a grand jury trial.
After court let out, Deal said he expected the town court would send the case to a grand jury. He added the two-part arraignment is not unusual for felony cases, but the amount of attention the case is getting makes it different from other proceedings.
"I believe this case should be handled like every criminal case is handled. ... I think it's unfair to Ben if his case is treated differently than anyone else charged criminally," he said. "The comments by the attorney general's office and the superintendent of the State Police have separated his case and essentially asked for this high profile that we have been getting here. I don't think that's fair and I think its prejudicial to Ben in the sense that from the very beginning with his arrest statements have been put out on that side that he is a dangerous criminal and that's unfair."
He added the case is still in the early stages, of which there are many, and although the public and media may expect drama, under normal circumstances there shouldn't be.
"Cases that have been thrust into the public eye like this one has, I think everyone expects a lot more to happen and that every step has to be accompanied by drama and suspense. That's unfair to Ben," he said.
Deal said he is not surprised by the amount of support Wassell is receiving, given how the law was passed.
"If a law is unconstitutional and you are arrested under an unconstitutional law then your arrest won't stand," he said.
When asked if the grand jury will have enough evidence to indict Wassell on the charges, Deal said it is up to the citizens of Chautauqua County. Deal said he did not know when Wassell's case will be heard by a grand jury.
As the crowd flowed out of the courtroom, there were many speaking in support of Wassell, as a veteran, and against the SAFE Act.
Hamburg resident and Vietnam veteran R.A. "Frenchie" Segool said he came because he believes Wassell, like himself as a combat-wounded war veteran, deserves to bear firearms.
"I am here to support him as a fellow vet. We are guaranteed rights in the Constitution, but Ben has earned those rights. I have met him before and he is a good, honest man who loves his family," he said.
Carrie Christman, an Air Force veteran and representative from Second Amendment New York State Resistance, came all the way from Brighton, near Rochester, to attend the court proceedings.
"I feel all the counties who stood up against Cuomo did the right thing. We need to protect our Second Amendment rights, we can't lose it. As they say, 'So goes New York, so goes the nation,'" she warned.