Press-Republican

April 30, 2014

Donah takes plea deal; will not face May trial

By SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Trevor J. Donah accepted a plea on Tuesday that means he won’t stand trial for rape in May.

Instead, the former state trooper admitted guilt to one misdemeanor count of unlawful imprisonment and was given a year in Clinton County Jail — concurrent to the two-year sentence pronounced last week for misdemeanor convictions in an earlier domestic-abuse case.

Donah’s demeanor before Clinton County Court Judge Patrick McGill on Tuesday differed greatly with that of a week ago, said Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Gary Pasqua, who prosecuted the case with ADA Elizabeth Crawford.

On April 25, “he was pretty adamant about how he was innocent and he was going to fight (his conviction),” Pasqua said.

Tuesday, Donah simply pleaded guilty, the ADA said.

“He didn’t have any comment for the court.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

Donah was arrested on Feb. 5, 2013, first charged with two counts of first-degree rape involving two women.

He was indicted on a total 13 counts a few days later, including attempted rape of another woman. 

The latter case was tried first, in November 2013. Donah was acquitted on all three charges: first-degree attempted rape, first-degree unlawful imprisonment and second-degree assault, all felonies.

In February, Donah was absolved of first-degree rape and first-degree sexual abuse, both felonies, in the case involving another ex-girlfriend. The jury found him culpable, however, for third-degree assault and two counts of criminal obstruction of breathing/blood circulation, both misdemeanor charges.

His sentence is a year in jail for the assault and another year, to be served consecutively, for the strangulation charges. 

Jury selection for his third trial had been set for May 12; the charges were first-degree rape, a felony, and two counts of misdemeanor unlawful imprisonment.

“Absolutely, I ‘m happy we were able to get the plea today,” Pasqua said on Tuesday.

“That’s what our victim wanted — for him to take accountability. I think that was accomplished by the guilty plea.”

‘A FREEBIE’

Donah’s attorney, Greg LaDuke, called the concurrent one-year sentence “a freebie — you’re not going to serve any more time (than already sentenced).”

His client, he said, will be out of jail next summer.

“When he’s out, he’s out. No probation, no sex-offender registry.”

The misdemeanor convictions are a far cry from what prosecutors had aimed for, LaDuke said. His client could have been looking at up to 75 years in state prison had he been found guilty of rape, attempted rape and other felony charges, he said.

FIRED BY STATE POLICE

And with only misdemeanors convictions, LaDuke said, it’s possible the door hasn’t been slammed and locked on Donah’s job as a state trooper.

The conclusion of all three cases meant a gag order ordered by McGill ended on Tuesday, so State Police Troop B Commander Major Richard Smith was able to tell the Press-Republican that Donah had been fired on Feb. 14, soon after his Feb. 5 convictions. 

Donah, he said, violated the oath under the Public Officers Law.

Had the former trooper been convicted of a felony, LaDuke said, he would have no recourse.

“When you’re convicted with a misdemeanor, they can boot you, but you have the right to a hearing,” he said.

There’s a gray area in Donah’s case, as he will be incarcerated for a while, he added, “(but) we weren’t really worried about that this week.”

‘NO MORE BADGE’

While it might appear Donah got off easy with the plea agreement, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said, the time he will spend in Clinton County Jail would likely exceed the stretch he might have seen in state prison, even for rape.

A sentence of up to seven years could actually translate into less than the 16-month minimum ahead of Donah, he said.

“You end up being eligible for some of these different programs to reduce your sentence. That’s the simple math of our current system.”

Among those, he said, is the shock-incarceration program.

“On the one hand, it is very frustrating that (Donah) is not held accountable for each and every event I believe he committed,” said the DA, whose office was called upon to prosecute the case due to a conflict in Clinton County.

“But he no longer has a gun; he no longer has a badge.

WAIVED APPEALS

On Tuesday, Donah also waived his right to appeal the February trial and his plea, Crawford said.

She spoke highly of State Police Investigators John Donohue and Karen DuFour “for taking charge of the case and doing the right thing, letting (the women) know that all New York State Police are not like Mr. Donah.

“They both did a tremendous job working with the victims.”

Crawford included the former girlfriend whose case was heard first and ended with Donah’s absolution. 

That was a difficult one to prosecute, she said, in part because the charges had to fit the time period of the alleged crimes. Then, she said, domestic-violence strangulation crimes had not yet been law.

Instead, alleged actions that fit those parameters had to be addressed under assault charges and therefore a bigger challenge.

‘JUSTIFIED CHOKING’

“This was a very complex case from day 1 for many reasons,” Champagne said, grouping all three cases together. 

First was the significant delay in reporting the crimes, he said, which meant evidence such as phone records weren’t always available.

Juries, accustomed to TV trials, he said, “want DNA, they want pictures.”

“And once the cases were severed (in court), it made it very difficult to explain each victim in a vacuum.”

Donah, Champagne said, used his law-enforcement knowledge to bend his victims to his will.

In one instance, he justified choking one of the women — when she said she’d call police — by telling her he had the right to use force if his personal property was threatened.

She had told him she would throw his computer out the window, the DA said.

‘ON AN ISLAND’

And, Champagne said, “there was almost a systematic stripping of each of the victim’s social network so they could only run to other troopers, troopers’ wives ...

“(The victims) were on an island, so to speak, and he was in charge.

“I give them tremendous credit for coming forward and subjecting themselves to the system.”

“I can’t praise the three women enough for being brave enough to come forward,” Crawford said.

The resolution of the third case was not the perfect ending, Champagne said.

“But is there accountability? Yes,” he said. “Can our victims hold their heads high? Yes.

“They stood up to someone they feared and signaled (in court), ‘I fear you no more.’”

Donah is incarcerated at Clinton County Jail.

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @editorSuzanne