Jury discounts gang assault charge

Osbourne Smith 

PLATTSBURGH — As an 18-year-old awaits court action on an attempted murder charge, a Champlain man is celebrating a not-guilty ruling of the most serious accusation he faced in an incident that left an Altona man badly injured.

On Thursday, a jury in Clinton County Court found Osbourne Smith, 38, not guilty of first-degree gang assault in the Jan. 26 attack on James Eldred at a home at 546 Plank Road.

Smith, as a second-felony offender, would have faced a sentence of eight to 25 years for that crime, said his attorney, David Gervais.

Both he and his client were delighted with the outcome of the trial, which included two days of testimony, despite the fact Smith was convicted on four other charges: third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree assault and second-degree attempted assault, all felonies, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

"His maximum exposure is only 3 1/2 to seven (years in prison)," Gervais said.

Smith shrugged off the comparatively short term he may face.

"It didn't matter to me about that," he said in a phone interview Thursday.

2ND-FELONY OFFENDER

But Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Stitt, who is prosecuting the case, said he will be asking the court to sentence Smith to concurrent terms on the four convictions.

"It's up to seven years on each," he said.

As a second-felony offender, Smith will get prison time without a doubt, Stitt noted.

Smith was incarcerated at Lake View Correctional Facility from Aug. 12, 2104, to May 26, 2015, on a conviction of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

STABBED 5 TIMES

Eldred, who testified at the trial, suffered a collapsed lung and other injuries in the attack that, in January, State Police said involved three suspects.

Smith was convicted of assaulting him, using a Jack Daniels bottle to strike the Altona man.

Logan Gaustella, then 17, allegedly stabbed Eldred five times, inflicting the primary injury that resulted in the attempted murder charge, Stitt said.

The third man, the ADA said, was not charged and had not been close to the other two as they attacked Eldred.

That was why, he said, the charge of gang assault was discounted by the jury.

Stitt did not release that man's name.

'NOTHING TO LIVE FOR'

Smith praised Gervais for shepherding him through the time leading up to the trial, he said, which was made tremendously difficult because of the Sept. 29 death of his fianceé, Heather Brown.

"She was messing with a gun, and it went off," he said.

Brown had gone to bed, Smith said, as he was watching television in another room of his Champlain home.

"The only thing I heard was 'POW!'" he said. 

His fianceé's death left him feeling hopeless, Smith said. "The better part of (me) passed away, and then I had this court (coming up).

"I had nothing to live for," he said. "But (Gervais) kept motivating me; he called me every day to make sure I was all right, telling me to be strong.

"This man is a blessing," he added. "It's 2018. Everybody's looking at me saying the black man is guilty — except Dave."

Both Gervais and Stitt said Brown's death remains under investigation.

The State Police's Major Crimes Unit is conducting the probe, the ADA said.

Email Suzanne Moore:

smoore@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @editorSuzanne

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