SCHOHARIE — The judge hearing the Schoharie limousine crash case has ordered that grand jury minutes in the case be turned over to the defense.
Schoharie County Court Judge George R. Barlett III ordered the material be given to the defense on Monday, after attorneys for defendant Nauman Hussain said they did not receive the materials by Nov. 15, as was expected under an earlier agreement. District Attorney Susan Mallery has agreed to disclose the material, Bartlett wrote in the brief decision issued Monday.
“In light of the People’s consent, the complexity of this case, the new discovery laws taking effect on Jan. 2, 2020, and the trial scheduled to commence on March 9, 2020, this [defense] request is granted,” Bartlett wrote.
The minutes of a grand jury that issues an indictment are normally secret, but defense attorneys get access to them at the beginning of a trial. New discovery laws that take effect in January, however, will require such minutes to be turned over the defense earlier in a criminal proceeding — and Bartlett is saying the defense should have access as though those changes were already in effect.
Defense attorney Lee Kindlon wrote to the court last Friday, saying it had not been provided by the agreed Nov. 15 date, “and with the trial date quickly approaching, the defense needs the materials in order to prepare for further proceedings.”
Mallery, in response, said that she would not release the grand jury minutes without a court order. The new order stipulates that the defense not share them with anyone else.
Hussain, 29, of Wilton, faces 20 counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in connection with the Oct. 6, 2018, crash of a 2001 Ford Excursion stretch limousine at the intersection of state Routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie. The crash killed 20 people: all 17 passengers, the driver, and two pedestrians in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel Country Store.
Hussain has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorneys have said he doesn’t bear criminal liability for what occurred.
Prosecutors charge that Hussain, as operator of Prestige Limousine of Saratoga Springs, was aware the aging limousine had serious mechanical issues, including brake problems, that he hadn’t addressed. Their belief is that the vehicle suffered catastrophic brake failure as it came down a long hill on Route 30 and approached the stop sign at Route 30A, which it sped through before crashing into a ravine near the Apple Barrel.
The limo passengers were adults going to a birthday celebration, many of whom were from the Amsterdam area, where the crash has had a huge emotional impact.
In a separate decision issued Monday, Bartlett refused a defense request that a pre-trial conference scheduled for Wednesday be delayed. Bartlett has previously made clear that he wants to keep the scheduled March 9 trial date.
“The trial date is rapidly approaching and, given the continuing discovery issues, the Court is of the opinion that the appearance on Dec. 11, 2019, is necessary to ensure pre-trial matters get back on schedule,” Bartlett wrote.
Hussain faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges, second-degree manslaughter.