Democrat File Photo
Guilty verdict quicly reached in Hutchins trial
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO July 12, 2013 “I feel the jury found the evidence in this case extremely compelling, and they came back with a swift and decisive verdict.”
This is how District Attorney Jim Farrell described the People’s case against Village of Monticello Trustee TC Hutchins the day after a Sullivan County jury took little more than an hour to convict him on all four counts in his corruption trial.
The charges were two counts of first-degree coercion, felonies, and two counts of misdemeanor official misconduct.
Reached on his cell phone, Hutchins said, “At this time, I have no comment.”
attorneys take stage
Before Monday’s quick verdict, attorneys for both sides summed up their respective cases.
Defense attorney Michael McDermott reminded the jury of the importance of their oath and called the case against his client a “manufactured attempt to re-create history,” and accused the prosecution of “creating a crime where no crime existed… [it] overreached for political purposes” in order to get rid of TC Hutchins, whom he described as “a thorn in the [Village of Monticello] Police Department.”
The defense claimed that the department “enlisted” Farrell to “remove that thorn from their side” with “cooked-up charges.”
McDermott urged the jury to focus on the four charges leveled against his client and not whether or not former Monticello police officer candidate Kariem McCline, who sits at the center of this case, was fit for the post. Hutchins is accused of using his influence to try to get his friend McCline a position on the police force.
McDermott claimed that his client committed no crimes because in the two incidents that led to the charges, former Village Manager John LiGreci was the leading actor.
First was LiGreci’s order to former Chief of Police Doug Solomon to halt the background investigation into the fitness of McCline for the police officer position, followed a short time later by LiGreci’s insistence that then Acting Police Chief Mark Johnstone answer six questions regarding the background check and some perceived leaks of confidential information stemming from the background check.
pressure on police
Farrell opened his summation noting the many hires former Chief Solomon had made in his 10 years heading up the department, alleging that before the “McCline issue” Solomon’s opinions and recommendations on potential candidates had never been disregarded.
Countering the defense’s claims that the prosecution plotted and schemed to manufacture crimes in the case, Farrell offered, “There was a plot… and a scheme… by the defendant.”
The DA alleged that Hutchins “interjected” himself into the hiring process by insisting in 2011 that “everyone [police officer candidates] gets an interview,” even though McCline was ranked last of the possible candidates, and Civil Service regulations stipulate that the top three candidates only are to be granted interviews.
Farrell claimed that even after a 2012 meeting between McCline and Solomon where Solomon informed McCline that he was “not really police material,” the defendant “would not take no for an answer.”
Farrell had a recording to play for the jury: a secretly taped conversation between former Acting Chief Johnstone and Mayor Jenkins after the October 4, 2012 temporary hiring of McCline. On the recording Jenkins is incredulous of the hiring and can be heard saying of the process, “He [Hutchins] just kept pushing it and pushing it.”
In an interview with the Democrat, Mayor Jenkins was somber, offering, “It’s just a very, very sad story. It’s really sad to see something like this involve a village official.”
Village Trustee Carmen Rue was blunt in her response to the verdict.
“As village officials we are held to a higher standard,” she said. “We should be examples for our youth who may one day be in our position. It’s very sad, but I think he [Hutchins] should have done the right thing and resigned [from the village board] from the start and not waited for this verdict to come in.
“He violated his oath and not only made himself look bad but the village as well,” she added.
Rue affirmed that she wanted someone “local” temporarily installed in Hutchins’ place until the March 2014 elections.
As for Farrell: “I’m obviously very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” he affirmed. “I think this sends a pretty clear message regarding political corruption.”
Talk of Hutchins’ replacement begins
With the conviction, Hutchins will be required to relinquish his seat on the Village of Monticello Board. Hutchins is a Democrat whose term was to have expired in March 2014. The next board meeting is slated for July 16. The village board met last night in an emergency session to presumably discuss the issue. No information was available at press time.
Asked about replacing Hutchins, Mayor Gordon Jenkins explained, “At this point I’m going to have a talk with the [village] attorney [Dennis Lynch] and see what our options are… It’s still very early.”
“The jury has spoken,” offered Town of Thompson Democratic Chair Bill James. “They took only an hour to reach this verdict and we accept it.”
Asked if he’s garnered any interest in the future open village seat, James said, “Yes I have… I’ve spoken at length with Monticello resident Adrianna Mayson-Greco and her only motives are to serve the needs of the village. I have yet to bring her name before the committee but we have met and she is very enthusiastic.
Mayson-Greco is a Missouri native and six-year Sullivan County resident. She is the director of Student Activities at SUNY Sullivan and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Truman State University, as well as a master’s degree in student affairs counseling from Purdue.
“We’re always looking for more qualified residents to run for these open seats,” added James.
Town of Thompson Republican Party Chair Lori Benjamin told the Democrat that there was indeed interest in the seat.
“Right now, to be honest, we have a few people who interested, but of course it has to go before my committee… we have to conduct interviews.” Though she wouldn't reveal any names at this time, Benjamin did offer, “Probably by October we'll start interviews for the village openings.”
Benjamin added, “We've got the primary in September and of course the Town [of Thompson] elections in November… right now those are really our focus.”