RANDOLPH - A Randolph hunter convicted last year of accidentally shooting a school bus has been granted a new trial.
Cattaraugus County Judge Ronald Ploetz in a written decision Monday said prosecutors and the defense erred in the trial of William Squire.
Squire was convicted in July 2012 of second-degree reckless endangerment, fourth-degree criminal mischief and discharging a firearm, but has avoided jail time; a stay of judgment was issued following the trial pending an appeal.
According to police, Squire was in a tree stand hunting deer in November 2011 when he allegedly fired a shot that struck a bus traveling on Route 241 in Randolph hundreds of yards away.
The shot struck above the driver's door, police said.
During closing arguments of the trial, a prosecutor with the Cattaraugus County District Attorney's Office told the jury, "This isn't the crime of the century. Nobody's going to jail because of this."
Squire was later sentenced to a year in jail by Ploetz, who on Monday said the comment wrongly suggested the jury could be more lax in its review.
"Not only was this comment inappropriate, it was incorrect," Ploetz wrote in his decision. "(The) defendant was sentenced to one year in jail. The jury, thus, was misinstructed on a fundamental matter it was not even supposed to consider."
The judge noted the error might have been corrected by a standard jury instruction. However, none was issued during trial, nor did Squire's public defender object or request the jury charge.
Also questioned afterward were statements by Squire to police. Ploetz said the statements, which were "essential to his conviction," were elicited after hours of questioning and were unsigned. Squire's defense abandoned a request for a pre-trial hearing to question the statements, and did not seek jury instructions that would have limited their use by the jury, the judge noted.
"We're very pleased with the decision," said Buffalo attorney Barry Covert, who represented Squire in his appeal. "Mr. Squire did not shoot the bullet that hit the bus, and we're glad the judge agreed there were some improprieties during the trial."
Squire's retrial has been remanded to Salamanca City Court before a new judge. Covert said a Huntley Hearing to review Squire's statements to police might be held prior to a second trial.
No trial date has been scheduled.
The assistant district attorney who prosecuted Squire and made the comment regarding jail time could not be reached for comment. The Public Defender's Office, meanwhile, refereed questions to Covert.