BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The woman accused of killing a man in a December 2013 hit-and-run crash appeared in court Tuesday.
Gabriele Ballowe is accused of striking Barry Moss, 52, with an SUV on Route 5 in the Town of Evans. After this, prosecutors say she drove away without calling police.
She was not indicted until June 2016, when new evidence was brought to light, including contradictory statements by co-defendant Lynn Laettner. Laettner faces charges for perjury.
Ballowe is charged with first and second-degree manslaughter, as well as leaving the scene of an accident.
A 2014 Grand Jury was going to indict Ballowe on those charges, but ultimately voted not to indict her after prosecutors reviewed what had been presented and came back to the jurors to say they had not given sufficient evidence to support some of the charges. Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty says that is not uncommon, but the public rarely heard about it because it’s always done to benefit the accused, so there are rarely complaints.
Ballowe’s attorney, Thomas Eoannou, however, wanted to see the full minutes of that first grand jury and the second grand jury, arguing that his client’s due process rights were violated when the prosecutors got court approval to put the case before another Grand Jury when the new evidence came to light.
In court Tuesday, Judge Christopher Burns gave a written ruling denying Ballowe’s lawyers a request to release Grand Jury records, saying “While defense counsel is correct in noting that the sequence of events here is unique, the unusual circumstances of the presentment do not impact upon the fairness or due process rights of the Defendat nor does the Court relieve that the release of the materials would somehow enable the defense to craft further due process arguments.”
Judge Burns’ ruling goes on to address allegations of impropriety by the prosecution in the procedure they used to get the indictment. Burns says the prosecution followed the correct legal procedures to get judicial approval to get the case in front of a new Grand Jury, adding “This Court has no authority to reverse that determination but, in this Court’s view, the determination was appropriate and supported by the evidence presented to her (Hon. Penny Wolfgang) at that time.”
“We had asked for the first and second minutes of the Grand Jury, to see exactly how and why the first indictment was turned from a true bill into a no bill. The court denied that application today,” said defense attorney Thomas Eoannou after the court appearance Tuesday. “Obviously we’re disappointed, but we’re not going to let this matter die here. We’re going to continue to press it.”
Keep in mind, the defense will get the testimony from most of the people who went before the indicting Grand Jury anyway, because the prosecution is required to provide it as part of the standard pre-trial procedures.
Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty explained the prosecution’s objection to the defense’s request for the second Grand Jury minutes mostly had to do with timing. He said releasing the statements so far ahead of the trial could open the door for witness intimidation, something the secrecy of the Grand Jury proceedings is supposed to help prevent. Flaherty also said, with the new evidence presented to the second Grand Jury, what happened with the first Grand Jury is now irrelevant.
Flaherty said the defense’s attempts to obtain the minutes was a distraction from the case. He praised Judge Burns’ decision not to release the records.
“It’s the correct ruling,” Flaherty said. “I’m gratified by it, of course and thankful that he applied the law as we understand it. And we are ready for trial and look forward to having our day in court.”
Ballowe’s trial is scheduled to start October 17. Laettner, as co-defendant, will be on trial at the same time.
Both defendants are scheduled to be back in court for pre-trial appearances on September 20 at 9:30 a.m.