Thursday, January 16, 2020

Grafton Thomas pleads not guilty in Monsey machete attack; prosecutor wants lawyer off case 

The state's new criminal justice reform mandates came into play Thursday when Grafton Thomas pleaded not guilty in Rockland County Court to charges of trying to kill Jews with a machete after barging into a late December Hanukkah party in Monsey, fracturing the skull of a 72-year-old man who remains comatose.

Judge Kevin Russo also ordered Thomas to undergo psychiatric evaluation, a process Thomas' lawyer has started in federal court where Thomas faces 10 hate crime related charges resulting from the same Dec. 28 attack on Forshay Road in Monsey. The federal prosecution could become a death penalty case if the mna now in a coma dies.

Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, wearing an orange jail jump suit with his wrists shackled, didn't speak during the 30-minute arraignment before Russo. A Ramapo judge set his bail at $5 million bail, but he's being held without bail in federal detention in Westchester County.

The proceeding brought out several of the nuances of the state's criminal justice reforms that have come under scrutiny and were heavily debated before taking effect on Jan. 1. 

The lead prosecutor, Dominic Crispino, told Russo that he's provided Thomas' attorney with all the available evidence, including a witness list and statements, within the 15-day initial deadline for discovery. Law enforcement has argued the time frame would be difficult to meet and would lead to court debates for a 30-day extension and cases potentially being dismissed.

Thomas' lawyer, Michael Sussman, acknowledged receiving the documentation and said he took Crispino at his word that all available evidence had been provided.

Sussman also asked Russo for permission to visit the scene of the attack at 47 Forshay Road, the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg and his family, next door to their synagogue. Sussman said he wanted to inspect the house to get a "clear sense of where everything is" as part of his defense.

While an inspection at a judge's discretion is permissible under the criminal justice reforms, Crispino called an inspection an intrusion on the family and "this is the residence where a horrific crime exists."

He also said the Ramapo police and Sheriff's Office forensic investigators have gone over the house and Sussman has been provided with the results.

Russo reserved decision, telling Sussman to file papers detailing why he needs to visit the rabbi's house. Sussman got permission to inspect the car Thomas drove that night on Dec. 28. 


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