NORWICH — A Greene man was acquitted Jan. 11 of all charges in an alleged hate-crime shooting case heard in Chenango County Court this week.
Wayne J. Spratley was found not guilty after a bench trial on five charges, including second-degree attempted murder as a hate crime and first-degree assault as a hate crime. The case stemmed from a July 2015 incident in which Spratley was accused of shooting an African-American man in the abdomen after allegedly calling him by racial epithets.
In announcing the verdict Thursday, Judge Frank B. Revoir Jr. said prosecutors failed to meet the required burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Spratley also was acquitted of charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and first-degree criminal use of a firearm.
However, Revoir admonished Spratley for his behavior during the incident, describing it as “beyond disgusting and reprehensible and certainly dangerous.” Spratley, who at the time of the incident was a correction officer employed by the state, shouldn’t “ever have the right to carry a firearm,” the judge said.
The bench trial started Jan. 8 and concluded with the judge’s verdict and comments given in court starting at 1 p.m. Jan. 11, officials said.
Defense attorney Michael Garzo said the judge did a “great job” focusing on the facts and the law. Witnesses, including five eyewitnesses, had offered different versions of testimony during various phases of the case, Garzo said, and discrepancies in testimony at trial created reasonable doubt.
Garzo said he also presented the defense of justification. During court, Revoir said his review determined that Spratley wasn’t entitled to a defense of justification. The verdict was based on review of witness testimony and other evidence presented by prosecutors.
Michael Ferrarese, assistant district attorney, was the trial prosecutor, and District Attorney Joseph McBride was the supervising prosecutor.
“I respectfully disagree with the decisions made in this case,” McBride said on the courthouse steps after the verdict was given. The victim, who no longer lives in the area, had offered testimony in the case but wasn’t in court Jan. 11, the district attorney said.
McBride said he “feels terrible” for the victim and the people of Chenango County about this result in the pursuit toward justice. Appeal options are limited, he said.
Spratley, 35, said he was thankful to Garzo and the firm of Battisti & Garzo of Binghamton and Norwich for unwavering support.
“They helped me maintain my innocence throughout this traumatic ordeal,” Spratley said in a telephone interview.
Garzo, in a separate telephone interview, said Spratley was “overjoyed” about the acquittal and relieved, after years of stress. “He can try to put his life back together,” Garzo said.
Spratley currently is unemployed, Garzo said, and Spratley wouldn’t comment on his job status.
In court Jan. 11, Revoir didn’t give details about the basis for the verdict, but he blasted the defendant’s behavior during the incident.
On July 19, 2015, Norwich city police responded to a call about an individual displaying a weapon in the area of North Broad Street and found a person suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the abdomen.
In court documents, witnesses described actions among the defendant and a group of four people, including the victim.
In court, Revoir told Spratley that “uncontradicted evidence” was that he consumed alcohol while carrying a concealed firearm.
“You were displaying the firearm along with your corrections officer badge, claiming to be a police officer, all the while making racially charged statements directed at the victim,” Revoir said. “Ultimately, someone was shot, but thankfully no one perished.”
Spratley was “the luckiest man alive in Chenango County right now,” Revoir said.
“Nothwithstanding my strong support of our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” Revoir said, “under no circumstances should you ever have the right to carry a firearm, in this county, in the state or anywhere.”
Denise Richardson, staff writer, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 441-7213. Follow her at @DS_DeniseR on Twitter.