Press-Republican

November 10, 2012

Weighing the cost of prosecution

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — AKWESASNE — The case against an Akwesasne man accused of taking more than 1,000 acres from the non-Indian deeded owner may cost too much to pursue.

William Roger Jock, 51, was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury in late 2011 on a charge of second-degree grand larceny for allegedly, in February 2009, taking over land near the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino by cutting down trees and forging a dirt path deep into the woods.

An Iroquois flag was placed there along Route 37, as was a small trailer, which has since been opened as a retail cigarette shop. A small wooden building was built later next to the trailer.

The land is deeded to Horst Wuersching, who claims in a lawsuit that he’s being deprived of his property because of Jock’s actions.

Jock, known by his Mohawk name Kanaratiio, is a member of the Kanienkedaka Men’s Society, or Mohawk Warrior Society, of Akwesasne. He said he has a valid claim to reservation land because he is Mohawk.

INDICTMENT ISSUES

County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr. dismissed the indictment in June because the paperwork accused Roger Jock of the crime, not William Roger Jock. It was not clear that both names referred to the same man, he said.

“There is simply no evidence that the grand jury meant to indict William Roger Jock,” the judge wrote.

There was also a discrepancy with the date of the alleged crime because the indictment stated it was March 2, 2009, but evidence presented put the date at Feb. 3, 2009.

“The People altered the date, contrary to the evidence, to March 2, 2009, when instructing the grand jury and drawing the indictment,” the judge wrote. “Such a mistake, accidental though it may have been, cannot be excused as a mere clerical error.”

The judge also ruled that 16 people — the minimum number of grand jurors — heard the entire presentation of evidence that led to the indictment against Jock. But 17 voted on it, which means someone voted but didn’t hear all of the witnesses.

“Clearly, the 17th juror was not eligible to be present at the grand-jury deliberations or to vote,” Main wrote, adding that he couldn’t tell if that person’s participation “was harmless or influential upon the vote.”

He dismissed the case but left the door open for District Attorney Derek Champagne to present evidence to a different grand jury.

‘ON HOLD’

But the DA isn’t sure he will move forward with prosecution.

“I’m on hold right now,” he said, adding that he plans to meet soon with defense attorneys Lorraine White, who is a former chief of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and Brian Barrett of Lake Placid.

Having unresolved land-claims issues hanging over the case makes Champagne’s job a little more difficult and may mean walking away from prosecuting Jock.

“The biggest problem is the allocation of resources,” he said.

The DA said he’d likely have to assign three or four attorneys to such a complicated case — land claims have been in a legal tangle since 1982, when the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe sued New York state in federal court over the boundary lines of the reservation at Akwesasne.

The DA noted that it would take prosecutors’ time away from local cases such as burglaries, child abuse and rape.

Champagne said it wouldn’t be the first time this issue has posed a problem for his office in the past few years.

He has decided against extradition in a few cases because it would have cost too much to have the person brought back to Franklin County to face charges.

“It’s not our preferred method, obviously, but I have to think of the taxpayers of this county when I weigh a criminal prosecution,” the DA said.

RULING OVERTURNED

White and Barrett had hoped another federal case involving the reservation-boundary lines could have been used to bolster the Jock case. But a federal appeals court recently overturned a lower-court ruling in a marijuana-smuggling case that they had cited.

The judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City didn’t take on the boundary-line question when debating the case of United States vs. Eric C. Wilson of St. Regis Falls.

They ruled in late October that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police had reasonable cause to pull Wilson over after he allegedly crossed from the United States into Canada and back again the morning of Jan. 28, 2010, without using an international point of entry.

Two tribal officers, including one also designated as a customs officer under the U.S. Division of Homeland Security, stopped Wilson on Route 37 across from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.

Along with U.S. Border Protection officers who arrived later, the police allegedly found three large duffel bags full of marijuana in Wilson’s vehicle and charged him with possession with intent to distribute 124 pounds of pot.

The location of the traffic stop is known as the Bombay Triangle and is part of the land-claims area.

Wilson’s defense team argued the stop was illegal because tribal officers had no jurisdiction in that area since it is off reservation. The lower court agreed and suppressed the marijuana evidence against him.

But, on appeal, the federal judges said that, no matter where the stop took place, it doesn’t change the fact that there was probable cause for the Tribal Police to pull him over.

“For the purposes of this appeal, we assume that these locations were outside St. Regis territory, but we express no view as to whether this assumption is correct either as a legal or factual matter,” the judges wrote.

Wilson was ordered to stand trial in federal court.

“It’s unfortunate that the ruling from the higher court didn’t get to the issue of the Bombay Triangle,” Barrett said.

Even though the charge was dropped against his client for now, he said, the district attorney and White will continue negotiations “to see if there is a possible settlement.”

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com