Bath, NY - A New York Appeals Court has overturned Attempted First-Degree Murder Convictions in the case of Richard Vangorden, who shot at New York State Troopers in 2011.
According to The Evening Tribune, the Appeals Court decision was handed down on Friday, February 3, 2017. The ruling was unanimous and included the decision that the Prosecutors did not submit evidence at the 2013 trial that Vangorden was more than 18-years-old at the time that the crimes were committed. He was 38-years-old in 2011.
Richard Vangorden was sentenced at trial by Stueben County Court Judge Joseph W. Latham to 40-years to life for the attempted Murder of New York State Troopers Thomas Khork and Joshua Bacon. The sentence came after a jury convicted Vangorden of seven felonies, including two counts of Attempted First-Degree Murder. The other convictions were for two counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence, Second-Degree Criminal Mischief, First-Degree Criminal Use of a Firearm, Fourth-Degree Criminal Possession of a Weapon and First-Degree Reckless Endangerment.
The Attempted First-Degree Murder convictions reduced Richard Vangorden's convictions to Second-Degree Attempted Murder. This vacated Vangorden's 40-years to life sentences for each count of Attempted First-Degree Murder. In its ruling, the Appeals Court said that it "unanimously modified as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice and on the law."
The Appeals Court also vacated Richard Vangorden's conviction for First-Degree Reckless Endangerment to Second-Degree Reckless Endangerment. According to the Appeals Court ruling, this charge was reduced due to lack of evidence that Vangorden's conduct exposed his girlfriend to a "grave risk of death." The reduction changed the conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The incident occurred on the morning of September 27, 2011. Troopers Khork and Bacon attempted to pull over Vangorden's truck on Seneca Road in Hornellsville for a non-working license plate lamp. He refused to stop and a pursuit began. He first rammed a police cruiser with the side of his truck where his 19-year-old girlfriend was a passenger, leading to the reckless endangerment charge.
He then continued to flee, reaching speeds of between 55 and 80-miles per hour. He slowed the speed of his truck enough to allow the Troopers to catch up to him and then fired at them. Trooper Khork said he ducked down as the first rifle shot was fired. He said that he "felt a wave of heat in the car" and he could "taste and feel" gunshot residue in his car. Trooper Khork said that he began backing his patrol car up and that he heard "one or two more" gunshots. The Trooper said that he discontinued the pursuit at that time. A bullet was later found to have pierced the driver's side front door pillar, just inches from Trooper Khork's head.
Richard Vangorden and his girlfriend Christine Simmons were taken into custody about 12 hours after the original incident, after they were tracked to a mobile home park in Wellsville. The suspect then barricaded themselves and had to be flushed out of the trailer with tear gas.
In its ruling, the Appeals Court noted that the State had ample opportunity to provide evidence to the jury that Richard Vangorden was more than 18-years-old and that although the jury could see him in court, that the State did not satisfy its burden of proof. It also modified Vangorden's conviction as a second Felony offender. The difference between Attempted First-Degree Murder and Attempted Second-Degree Murder is significant. The former has a sentence of 40-years to life while the latter has a maximum sentence of 25 years.
Richard Vangorden's status change as convicted, but not sentenced, will result in his transfer from state prison to Steuben County for a new sentencing hearing, which should happen in a few weeks. The Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker, who prosecuted the case, could not be reached by local news media for comment.
While every one of these appeal court judges places blame on the prosecutor, it's the appeals court judges who are to blame for letting this violent felon off with a slap on the wrist. Judges and lawyers often get so wrapped up in their own nonsense that they fail to see the obvious; Vangorden's presence in the courtroom at 38 years old was enough for the jury to know that he was over the age of 18.
Furthermore, if the prosecutor did not provide enough evidence of Vangorden's age, as a matter of law, the judges had discretion whether to reduce his sentence or not. They chose to reward a murderous thug and punish the victims.
This was no miscarriage of justice on the part of the prosecution. No exculpatory evidence was withheld. These judges just decided to punish the prosecution for a "mistake," by denying justice to Richard Vangorden's victims.
Where is the justice for New York State Troopers Khork and Bacon?
Every one of these judges should be impeached for failing to have a shred of common sense or decency. Unfortunately, impeaching them would take an act of the New York State Legislature.
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