Democrat File Photo
LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL were on hand the morning of April 13 at the Western Hotel in Callicoon, hours after waitress Lori Schubeler was fatally shot there.
No decision in Western shooting
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO May 2, 2008 The question of whether the shooting death of a Callicoon barmaid should be sent to criminal court or dropped from the police radar is now in the hands of a grand jury.
The 23 citizens randomly selected to serve in the current term of the Sullivan County Grand Jury met Wednesday with County Judge Frank LaBuda to study the evidence in the death of Lori Schubeler in the early hours of April 13.
Adjourned at the end of the day, the grand jury is scheduled to take up the case again next Wednesday.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office can only say that Schubeler died when the shot from a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun pierced her aorta and lung.
The gun, they’ve said, belonged to Schubeler’s boss, Western Hotel owner Joe Naughton, who was handling the weapon when it was discharged.
According to LaBuda, the very nature of the grand jury system prohibits any more information from being released at this time.
“The grand jury system we have is one of the oldest legal institutions in America,” he explained. “By law going back hundreds of years, grand juries are legally secret.
“That means no one no grand juror, no prosecutor, the DA, no one is allowed to disclose or discuss what goes on in a grand jury proceeding until it gets released by the judge,” he explained.
Just like a jury of one’s peers in a trial setting, the grand jury is selected at random, according to Loretta Duarte, Sullivan County’s commissioner of jurors.
The process begins with a computer selection system which picks from a pool of residents who are eligible to serve.
Slimming the pool are exceptions all jurors have to be 18 years or older for example and the state’s current rule that residents only be called to serve once every four years.
Duarte’s office issues a jury questionnaire to residents selected to ensure those chosen are eligible, and generally 40 to 50 are called in to the courthouse in Monticello.
That’s where the similarities end.
For a grand jury, the number of jurors will be brought down to 23 with the other residents called excused from service.
Grand jury duty in Sullivan County generally lasts for an eight-week term (four weeks in December). Rather than reporting to the courthouse daily for a trial, grand jurors are called on every Wednesday to hear evidence in cases that have yet to even go to trial.
“It just investigates crime,” LaBuda explained. “It doesn’t convict anyone.”
In fact, sometimes the grand jury will decide that there isn’t enough evidence for a defendant’s case to be sent on to a criminal court.
That’s the crux of a grand jury’s purpose to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for a criminal to be officially charged with a crime.
“The police can arrest anyone they want to,” LaBuda noted, “however, no arrest can go to trial in superior court unless there’s a grand jury investigation and indictment.
“The grand jury protects the rights of the people from the abuses of the government,” he continued. “It’s an historic checks and balances.”
In the end, it’s not up to the police or even the district attorney’s office to determine who will be charged with a crime and appear in front of a judge to answer for their alleged misdeeds.
“It’s ultimately the 23 citizens who hear the evidence in secret, vote and decide if someone should be charged or not,” LaBuda said.
Until next Wednesday at least that means no one outside the grand jury room will know anymore about that fateful night at the Western Hotel.