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Teen Murder Defendant Rejects Plea Deal, Awaits Jury Trial

Defense attorney Joseph Rodak and his client Zachary Scott.

OSWEGO, NY – One of the teenagers accused of murdering a town of Granby man was in court Monday (July 21) where he rejected a plea deal and asked to have his court-appointed lawyer removed from the case, “because he’s working for the DA, not me.”

Oswego County Court Judge Donald Todd takes notes as defense attorney Joseph Rodak questions a witness.
Oswego County Court Judge Donald Todd takes notes as defense attorney Joseph Rodak questions a witness.

It has been 3 1/2 months since the findings of the secret Grand Jury proceedings were revealed and three separate indictments were filed with the Oswego County Court Clerk containing 19 counts and 25 felony charges against accused teens Michael Celi, 17, Glenwood Carr Jr., and Zachary Scott, 19, for their alleged involvement in the Feb. 3 death of Anthony Miller.

As a result of the Grand Jury indictment, Scott stands accused of:

  • 1st Count – PL§140.25(2) burglary in the 2nd degree, and PL§125.25(3) murder in the 2nd degree, a class A-1 felony;
  • 2nd Count – PL§160.05 robbery in the 1st degree, a class B felony, and PL§125.25(3) murder in the 2nd degree, a class A-1 felony;
  • 3rd Count – PL§140.30(3) burglary in the 1st degree, a class B felony;
  • 4th Count – PL§140.30(2) burglary in the 1st degree, a class B felony;
  • 5th Count – PL§160.15(3) robbery in the 1st degree, a class B felony; and
  • 6th Count – PL§160.15(1) robbery in the 1st degree, a class B felony.

Carr faces similar charges and Celi also faces an additional charge of murder in the 1st degree.

During Scott’s appearance in Oswego County Court Monday before Judge Donald Todd, he refused an offer by the district attorney’s office to enter a guilty plea to first degree burglary, a class B violent felony, conditioned upon a sentence of 18 years, along with 5 years parole in full satisfaction of the charges against him.

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Zachary Scott at the defense table.

To accept that offer, Scott would also have to waive his right to the suppression hearing, scheduled for Monday afternoon, regarding his statement to state police investigators the day he was arrested.

According to New York State Penal Law, the sentencing range on a first degree burglary charge is a minimum of no less than 5 years determinate and no more than 25 years maximum.

A determinate sentence means 6/7 of the sentence must be served, so an 18 year sentence ends up being approximately 15.5 years.

The sentence for a second degree murder conviction is a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison, and the maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

Scott’s stated intent Monday to go forward with the Huntley hearing meant an effective rejection of the deal offered by the People.

“He’s working for the DA, not me.”

Before the proceedings began Monday afternoon, Todd asked Scott to reconsider the morning’s discussion regarding the People’s offer and potential ramifications of accepting it, or rejecting it and going to trial.

“Do you wish to go forward with the hearing today?” the judge asked the accused man.

“Um … I would like a new lawyer,” Scott said.

Todd asked the defendant, “Why?”

“He’s working for the DA, not me,” Scott said. “I feel he’s not representing me the best he could.”

The judge asked Scott’s lawyer, Joseph Rodak – who was appointed to Scott by the court – if he would like to speak regarding his client’s statement.

“There was a potential negotiated offer put forth,” Rodak said. “I have to advise him of that offer” and all the associated potential ramifications.

“When that gets done it can be misconstrued by clients,” the lawyer said. “I am in no way working for the DA’s office.”

Rodak explained to the judge that he met with Scott 10 times and they discussed the man’s options and his odds. “Trials are pretty free-flowing matters,” the lawyer said.

At that point, from the bench the judge asked the defendant to spell the word ‘counselor.’

Scott offered the judge a phonetic spelling, to which Todd replied that he received two letters that were supposedly from the jailed man, but neither used the spelling Scott just provided.

The judge asked Scott if he was using a “pro bono jail counselor”?

“Yes, your honor,” Scott said.

“If they knew what they were talking about, they’d be out,” Todd replied, and noted that Rodak is a free man who went to school to become a lawyer.

Todd then told the accused murderer, “His job is to advise you. … He’s doing his job, he is working for you. I suggest you spend more time listening to Mr. Rodak. … The law gives you the final say.”

With that, Todd denied Scott’s application for a new lawyer and called a 10-minute recess so Scott could speak privately with Rodak.

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Defense attorney Joseph Rodak and defendant Zachary Scott.

The judge then invited Scott’s mother and step-father to join their son and his lawyer to discuss the matter.

When court reconvened, Todd asked, “Mr. Rodak, where are we going?”

“Judge, I’ve spoken with my client for the past 10 minutes or so along with his mother and step-father, and after that conversation … he still wants to go forward. That’s what he said,” Rodak explained.

“Is that correct Mr. Scott?” Todd said.

“Yes, your honor,” Scott replied without hesitation.

With a jury trial now imminent, District Attorney Greg Oakes reminded the court and the defendant that the People’s offer of a plea to the crime of first degree burglary was rescinded and the charge remained second degree murder.

Todd gave the 19-year-old one last opportunity to change his mind, up to the moment that the first witness in Monday’s Huntley hearing took the stand.

“You understand, once the Rubicon is crossed there’s no turning back. Once the first witness has been sworn in, there’s no going back? Do you understand that? Do you understand that Mr. Scott?” Todd asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Scott said.

At that point, the judge turned to Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bell.

“Mr. Bell, call your first witness,” the judge said.

Scott’s mother, who had been sobbing quietly in the gallery, began to cry aloud.

The question of admissible evidence

The product of a Huntley hearing is a decision by the judge determining the admissibility at trial of evidence, in this case statements made by Scott to investigators the day he was arrested.

The items introduced during Monday’s Huntley hearing included a copy of the investigator’s Miranda Rights script and the statement taken by investigators the morning Scott was arrested.

In the sworn depositions of New York State Police, investigators alleged at the time of the interviews and subsequent arrests that Celi, Carr and Scott each confessed and in part corroborated each others’ accounts of planning to burglarize, but ultimately robbing and stabbing Miller at his home on Feb. 3.

In their depositions the day of the arrests, investigators reported that Celi told them he struck Miller in the head with a hammer and Miller ran into the 10-inch kitchen knife that Celi brought from home.

Investigators further alleged that the men said Scott, armed with a metal pipe and Carr, armed with a butter knife, went into Miller’s home after Celi was already inside and saw him standing over a man laying in the hallway.

For the Huntley hearing the assistant district attorney called two witnesses to the stand: New York State Police investigators Jonathan Pelton and William Casey.

Pelton testified that he and Casey went to Scott’s home and the man was awake, dressed and waiting for them.

He said the three men began talking about why the officers were there and Pelton said Scott began talking about Celi and his alleged involvement in the murder.

Pelton said Scott was not handcuffed and was placed into the back seat of an unmarked car.

The investigator said it was then that Scott was read his Miranda Rights.

When Casey took the stand Monday, his testimony also centered around when Scott was read his Miranda Rights and if the investigators knew how long it had been since the young man had slept.

“He seemed like he wanted to get it off his chest,” Casey testified.

“Did you tell him he was a suspect?” Rodak said.

“No,” Casey said.

“Did you tell him that you had information that he was involved?” Rodak asked.

“I believe I did, yes,” Casey said. “Involvement meaning he was at the scene, that was discussed.”

“But you never explained that he was a potential suspect?” Rodak said.

“No,” Casey answered.

Casey corroborated Pelton’s assertion that Scott “was Mirandized” at 2:13 a.m. when Pelton read Scott his rights while the three men were in the car.

Rodak established with Casey that Scott was talking to the investigators immediately before and after he was read his rights.

“He stopped speaking to listen to Investigator Pelton and then he started speaking again at the conclusion,” Casey said.

The investigators both said they questioned Scott at the Fulton barracks for several hours, then Casey prepared a typed statement based on the information Scott shared during that interview.

Casey said the statement was completed and signed at 5:51 a.m.

“At the end you said he seemed surprised that he wasn’t going to school,” Rodak said.

“Yes,” Casey said.

“Did that raise any concern with you that he may not have understood exactly what had transpired?” Rodak asked.

“No, I took it as I did a good job,” Casey said, “because I made him feel really comfortable talking to me.”

Zachary Scott heads back to a jail cell at Oswego County Correctional Facility.
Zachary Scott heads back to a jail cell at Oswego County Correctional Facility.

According to the website MirandaRights.org, “after placing a suspect under arrest, the officer will say something similar to, ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.’ The officer must also ensure that the suspect understands his or her rights.”

Miranda Rights were created in 1966 as a result of the United States Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona. The Miranda warning is intended to protect the suspect’s Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer self-incriminating questions.

With no further witnesses, Todd advised the counselors that he would render his decision on Aug. 4.

Scott remains in custody at the Oswego County Correctional Facility with bail set at $100,000 or $200,000 bond.

A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

5 Comments

  1. If Mr. Scott chooses to go forward and requests an new attorney, he should pay for that attorney. Not the tax payers. He should have no liberal rights in this matter. The court appointed attorney, the judge and the District Attorney have recommended the sentence for him, to save his family heartache and the tax payers money. The arrogance in the first picture speaks for itself. Welcome to the ” I want”, “I deserve” society. Shame on this young man for making demands he has no clue on nor is paying for!

  2. ok let me try this again … I guess if you submit something critical of authority it doesn’t get posted. I hate to break it to the heroic taxpayers but the 6th Amendment is still part of the Constitution and indigent defendants have the right to legal representation. It is the job of appointed lawyers to zealously represent their clients. Now, I happen to have been represented by Mr. Rodak recently for albeit a charge not in the same ballpark of severity as the charges this defendant is facing. It is interesting, however, that this defendant has the same criticism of Rodak that I did. In my experience, Rodak is incompetent and weak. He “represented” me for 8 months during which time he said I would have to plead guilty to either a lesser criminal charge or a non-criminal violation which would be on my record and result in fines, surcharges and so forth. I was like ‘dude, have you familiarized yourself with the facts of this case … this is something that should be dropped.” My meetings with him lasted only a couple of minutes at a time, he seemed to forget everything we had discussed previously, he had his own agenda and it really did seem like he was collaborating with the judge and the D.A. He encouraged capitulation to get my case out of his hands as quickly as possible, he doesn’t seem to care to put forth the energy and effort to represent his clients zealously. He is very quick to take whatever the D.A. offers and not to fight for his client. Just look at the above description of this “trial.” Rodak asked a couple of police officers a few questions? That’s the extent of this defendant’s defense in a murder trial? Maybe the taxpayers should be funding appointed lawyers who actually have some interest in doing a good job instead of people like Mr. Rodak who are in league with the judges and the prosecutors and make a living off performing badly for hapless defendants. Thank you.

  3. Oh yeah, by the way I fired Rodak after the 8 months, represented myself, and won an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal. It took me 6 weeks and I was facing a hostile judge and a zealous assistant D.A. 6 weeks to do what Rodak couldn’t do in 8 months. And much like Todd here, my judge lectured me as to what a fine lawyer Mr. Rodak is. Citizens of Oswego, don’t let these people beat you into submission. If you find yourself caught up in this system, especially in Oswego County with ultraconservative authoritarian judges and prosecutors, don’t let some incompetent lawyer tell you what to do if you feel somebody else or yourself could do a better job.

  4. Right, the Huntley hearing bit, whatever. I didn’t refer to that in my original comment and I don’t see how the original comment in any way constituted a personal attack. Maybe you should define “personal attack.” I mean the first post refers to the defendant as arrogant, clueless and so forth. I basically restated my original submission in my second and third submissions. And you can say what you like Mr. Yablonski, you’re obviously exercising censorship … I’m just not sure of your criteria since what you allowed to be posted is almost verbatim what you didn’t allow the first time.

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