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April 3, 2014

Plea offer likelyin murder case

Cooperstown Crier

---- — A plea agreement may soon be offered in the Michael R. Buck murder case, according to Otsego County District John Muehl.

“I'm still waiting to hear what the psychiatrists say,” said Muehl.

Muehl said that Buck is being evaluated by an expert for the defense. Muehl said he expects to get a report sometime this week, after which he says he expects to enter negotiations with the defense.

The Buck case has its origins in events that took place in the early morning hours of Sept. 21. Buck, 33, is accused of shooting his father, Joseph Buck, 64, in the home they shared in Middlefield. Michael Buck was shot in the cheek during this incident. According to police, two handguns were involved.

Buck has been indicted on one charge of murder in the second degree, one charge of assault in the second degree, one charge of criminal use of a firearm and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years to life in prison.

Muehl said that he would not consider offering Buck a plea without any jail time. 

The exception, he said, would be if the defense's expert said that Buck was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Muehl said he might then have his own expert evaluate Buck and, if this expert also concludes that Buck is not guilty by reason of insanity, that a plea deal without jail time could be possible, because Buck would not be able to be convicted.

“I can't contemplate that happening,” said Muehl.

Buck was briefly in Otsego County Court on March 31, sporting a beard he has apparently grown out since his incarceration. Buck is being represented by his court-appointed attorney, Thomas Hegeman of Oneonta.

Hegeman and Muehl both submitted pre-trial motions, and the appearance was for them to argue for them. Both lawyers, however, chose not to argue their cases.

“The court will make a written decision,” said Otsego County Court Judge John F. Lambert, who is presiding over the case.

Both Hegeman and Muehl said, in comments after the proceedings, that they had chosen not to argue the motions because there was no real disagreement between them.

“Once I saw his answers … there was no reason to argue,” said Hegeman.

“I had nothing to argue and neither did he,” said Muehl. “Everything that he request I consented to.”

In broad terms, Hegeman, in his omnibus pretrial motion asked the court to examine the grand jury minutes to determine if adequate evidence was presented to them, order the people to furnish any discovery or exculpatory evidence (a basic legal requirement), and asked the district attorney not to introduce any previous convictions or uncharged crimes without notice, and asked for a Huntley hearing to determine the admissibility of statements made by the defendant. Hegeman also asked the court that any hearings or motions be held no less than twenty days prior to the start of the trial.

In his response, in broad terms, Muehl agreed to the court examining the grand jury minutes, but asked that they not be handed over to the defense, agreed to hand over any exculpatory evidence as required by law, said that no uncharged or charged crimes would be used in trial or cross examination and, while maintaining that any statements made to the police were lawfully obtained, agreed to a Huntley hearing.

According to Hegeman and Muehl, a Huntley hearing is standard procedure when determining the admissibility of statements made to the police.

“It's really for the court to decided whether the statements were freely and voluntarily given,” said Muehl.

When asked about the statements themselves, Muehl said, “They were just statements made to the police prior to his arrest.”

Muehl also said that the results of all the forensic evidence submitted to the State Crime Lab had come back over the last month, and that nothing revelatory had come from them.

Buck's next appearance in court is scheduled as a pre-trial conference for April 28, although Muehl suggested that this might be when the Huntley hearing could be held. The start of Buck's trial is scheduled for July 7, although Muehl did not express much faith in this date holding up.