By Ted Waddell
ROSCOE January 14, 2003 In a surprise move in Town of Rockland Court Thursday, accused cat killer Fred Banks attorney raised questions about the validity of his clients verbal plea of guilty to the charges at his earlier court appearance.
Judge Harold Madison called the parties into his chambers for two conferences, the first of which sounded through the thin wood door to be rather contentious.
In the wake of the second conference, Judge Madison adjourned the case until Thursday, January 23 at 3 p.m. in the Town of Rockland Justice Court.
According to Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney James R. Farrell, the judge is expecting to receive a written request seeking a withdrawal of Banks verbal guilty plea.
I dont think any court should take a plea of guilty to a crime without a representative of the people present in court, said Banks attorney, Terrance OLeary of Middletown, during Thursdays court appearance.
I am opposed to a 64-year-old man having a criminal record, he added.
According to Judge Madison, I advised this gentleman [Banks] that he had a right to counsel now and at every stage of these proceedings. . . . He never wanted it and went ahead and pled guilty.
The people take the position that a defendant can plead guilty at any time, said Farrell after court closed for the day. The plea is valid if the defendant read and understood his rights.
If the judge grants it, its back to square one, added Farrell.
Banks did not return follow-up phone calls from the Sullivan County Democrat.
On November 21, Roscoe the cat disappeared from the Roscoe Community Nursing Home. The cat was never known to be gone for very long, and the distraught employees began to fear the worst.
So they began calling around and tacking up Have You Seen Roscoe? posters all around the community in an attempt to locate their beloved cat, who for the past five years was an integral part of life at the local nursing home.
According to rehab technician Linda Buck, a nearby neighbor of the accused cat killer called the nursing home and told them he knew what had befallen Roscoe the cat.
That very night, Jim Herzog called us saying he heard Fred Banks say he shot the cat, said Buck while awaiting Banks appearance at an emotion-filled court appearance on Thursday.
He told me he heard a gunshot and then Banks say, There, you garbage-pickin cat, I got you.
On December 11, Banks was arrested by NYS Trooper Matthew D. Lambert and charged with cruelty to animals.
Banks was charged with violating Section 353 of the NYS Agricultural & Markets Law, a misdemeanor related to overdriving, torturing and injuring animals.
Frederic W. Banks did unjustifiably shoot and kill an orange and white tabby cat from the rear of 310 Rockland Road, Town of Rockland, Sullivan County and said defendant did use a .22-caliber rifle to kill the cat owned by the Roscoe Nursing Home, said Trooper Lambert in the information he filed December 11.
In a subsequent phone interview, Banks was quoted in the Sullivan County Democrat as saying he shot the cat under conservation law regulations.
If you have a hunting license and youre over 21, youre allowed to shoot a dog if its running deer, and youre allowed to shoot a cat if its catching songbirds, he said.
According to Banks, Roscoe would attack birds in his backyard and used his garage as a kitty outhouse.
If convicted, Banks could be sentenced to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
His first appearance before Town of Rockland Justice Harold Madison was on December 12. On Thursday, January 9, Banks was back in court.
The Roscoe courtroom was packed with about 30 nursing home residents and staffers. In a hanging mood, they sat silently, some wheelchair bound, waiting for Banks to appear.
A large posterboard featuring a photo of a resting Roscoe signed by about 100 people expressing their grief over the loss of their cat took center stage in the small courtroom.
Hope Heaven Loves You as Much as We Did! wrote Josh.
He was a great comfort and companion to our residents. Roscoe will be greatly missed, added Sandy Fletcher, R.N.
I Love You, signed a resident of the nursing home.
Im here to see justice done, said Vicki Schwarz, a laundry worker at the nursing home for 32 years. It makes me sick. . . . Since this happened, weve heard a lot of stories about people who have lost their pets around here. . . . I wonder how many other people on Rockland Road have lost their pets after wandering into his yard?
Schwarz said she could not confirm these rumors.
I knew Roscoe since the day he was brought in, she added. The residents loved him. . . . He was a comfort.
If a husband and wife were there as patients and the husband was dying, it was like Roscoe knew, and he would jump up on the bed or sit with the wife, said Schwarz. He was just a caring cat.
Asked about the reaction of the nursing homes residents upon hearing their cat had been killed, Schwarz recalled, The day we found out, there was nothing but tears. . . . There were tears, and then a lot of anger.
After court adjourned for the afternoon, 87-year-old Virginia Duffy waited patiently in her wheelchair to get a ride back to the nursing home, where she serves as president of the residents council.
I knew that cat ever since Ive been at the nursing home, she said. He was loving to everybody, and he used to sit on my bed at night. He was a nice little companion.
So what should Fred Banks do to make amends for killing the nursing homes cat with his .22?
I think he should make restitution and get us another cat, and he should make a donation so we can feed it, said the octogenarian.