CANTON It took a St. Lawrence County Court jury 53 minutes to find the DeKalb man charged with the November theft of an ATM from St. Lawrence Universitys bookstore not guilty on all counts.
Charged with third-degree grand larceny and tampering with physical evidence, both felonies, Joseph C. Lugo, 24, was accused of having worked with Brandon D. Crandall, 22, of Canton, to steal an automated teller machine containing $35,380 from the Brewer Bookstore on Nov. 17.
Mr. Crandall pleaded guilty to the same two charges for his involvement in the crime as a part of a deal that required him to testify against Mr. Lugo. That plea will dismiss potential felony drug charges and allow Mr. Crandall an opportunity to plead down to misdemeanor charges if he successfully completes a one-year interim probation term. His testimony was heard Oct. 11.
But jury forewoman Mishelle K. Yaddow said it was the inconsistencies in Mr. Crandalls testimony as well as other testimony given over the last week that resulted in the jurys finding Mr. Lugo not guilty on both charges.
Mr. Lugos attorney, Mary E. Rain, who said she took the case pro bono, said it was obvious that the district attorneys office was unable to meet its burden of proof.
Their star witness was an admitted liar who brought in his buddies to back up his lies, Ms. Rain said.
She said that Mr. Crandall had gotten a sweet deal and that he had been a criminal before his involvement in the ATM theft as he was an admitted dealer and grower of marijuana.
Mr. Crandall and his roommate, James C. Edwards, of Rochester, who also testified, were arrested by St. Lawrence County Drug Task Force members on Nov. 20 for being in possession of approximately a pound of marijuana and other drug-related paraphernalia and weapons.
Investigator (Christopher) Flint, in the middle of interviewing Crandall, called the DA, who said if Crandall continued to cooperate with police, things would get better for him, Ms. Rain said. Thats when Lugos name came into the picture.
St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Andrew T. Botts said that while he still strongly believes Mr. Lugo was guilty of the charges against him, all he could do was present the evidence and leave it in the hands of the jury, which, he said, in this case disagreed with him.
My job is to represent the people, and that includes Mr. Lugo, so if this is the jurys result then it is a fair and just result and Im satisfied that I did the best I could, Mr. Botts said. A jury of his peers heard the evidence and disagreed with me. Thats the system, and I have every faith in it.
Mr. Lugos mother, Suzan L. McDermott, said while she was very happy about her son being acquitted of the charges, she had every faith that he had been innocent.
She added that Ms. Rains help was a gift that I could never thank her enough for.
So many people I spoke to said he had been involved in this, Ms. McDermott said. I never really had any belief that he did this. I think all mothers hold to the high belief that their children wouldnt get mixed up in something like this.
Mr. Lugo is still being held in Essex County jail, Lewis, pending an investigation into a Lake Placid ATM theft that the pair is suspected of committing.