Charged With Homicide In a High Profile Case – Pleads to a Misdemeanor

Firefighters examine the scene of a collapsed wall at a building site on Hylan Boulevard and Bay Steet where, Robert McGee, a construction foreman, was killed. (Irving Silverstein — Staten Island Advance)

A criminal defendant charged with Homicide is in a bad enough situation to begin with – but charged in a high profile case with public pressure for jail time only exacerbates a tough case.  Such was the case with a client of ours, a builder, who was tasked with the construction of a commercial project in Staten Island.  According to the allegations, a wind-blown, 60 foot high cinderblock wall toppled over in 2009 killing the construction foreman: prosecutors claimed the wall was built too high and without the proper reinforcement or inspections.  In addition, on the day of the accident, the New York City Buildings Department had issued a dangerous wind advisory.  Bad luck, shoddy construction work, whatever the case was – an innocent man was killed in a gruesome manner.  After a two year investigation, our client and his subcontractor were criminally charged with Homicide in Staten Island. 

A Tough Case With Horrible Publicity

Naturally, the press pounced on our client, blaming him and the subcontractor for the foreman’s death.  We were not surprised, therefore, when prosecutors insisted upon jail time as part of any plea deal.  Charged with Criminally Negligent Homicide pursuant to NY Penal Law § 125.10, our client was facing years in jail for what we considered to be a horrible accident.  Unlike with other charges which result in a death, the state does not need to prove that the defendant acted with intent of causing death or even serious physical injury.  A reckless or negligent individual acting with careless actions resulting in the accidental death of another is guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide, a felony.  And the allegations about the sloppy construction of the wall were damning according to the Indictment:

* the nearly-completed wall was five feet taller and seven feet longer than contained within the approved engineering plans;

* the vertical rebar in the wall was spaced out wider than the 24 inches contained within the plans;

* the length of rebar connecting the first and second floors was not sufficient;

* the type of rebar used at the corners of the wall was of a shorter diameter than what was listed in the plans;

* the mortar work was “poor;”

* lateral bracing or temporary bracing was not used to keep the wall from collapsing.

A Realistic Defense

In defending this client, we strongly believed that charging him criminally was the height of Monday Morning quarterbacking; that the shoddy work which contributed to the wall’s collapse had nothing to do with the general contractor defendant who trusted the subcontractor building the wall.  As proof of our client’s state of mind – not that it mattered legally as negligence in building the wall was enough to convict him – we showed the prosecutors that our client had actually been beside the wall the day before the accident, checking its progress.  Certainly we believed this fact would have still have some impact with a jury because it was clear that as an experienced contractor, our client believed that the wall was being built correctly.  And to back this claim up, we engaged the services of building experts who were prepared to testify that the wall was built within an acceptable range of competence and that a confluence of unavoidable factors led to the wall’s fall.

A Great Result

Less than a year later, we finally received a plea deal we could live with: facing the prospect of a ‘battle of the experts’ at a trial, the prosecutors dropped the felony charges and jail time, requiring our client to plead guilty to a misdemeanor with no probation.  In retrospect, I believe our track record in winning serious, high profile criminal trials and our quick education in commercial construction led to the favorable plea deal in a case which was emotionally charged and had received unfavorable local press.  Hiring a top New York criminal defense lawyer – whether the case is in Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester or anywhere in New York state – surely helps a defendant reclaim his life under difficult circumstances.  Call the New York Homicide Attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman at (212) 581-1001 today to schedule a free consultation.