January 5, 2007

Prayers for the fallen

Group honors Iraq casualties in silent service at St. Mary’s


Joe McIntyre/staff photogapher
Mary Lee Martens, of Cortlandville, attends a silent prayer service at the Marian Chapel of St. Mary’s Church in Cortland on Thursday. The service marked the 3,000th American military death in Iraq, as well as thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths during the war.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — In the dimly lit Marian Chapel in St. Mary’s Church on North Main Street, nine people offered up silent prayers Thursday for the 3,000 dead American soldiers and the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed during the Iraq War.
The Social Justice Cluster of Cortland Area Faith Communities organized the silent prayers.
“We are praying for all those affected by the war — for the Iraqi dead, and the American dead” said Norma Rhodes, chairperson of the organization. “We are praying for peace.”
From noon to 1 p.m. the only sounds that could be heard were the rustling of papers as those in attendance alternated among a New York Times article and two sheets of prayers, which included “The Prayer of Saint Francis” and the “Litany for Iraq.”
Betty Lou Isaf, who attended the silent prayer, said having people congregate to pray for the troops made her feel good.
“I think this is great,” Isaf said.
Isaf’s grandson, Cpl. Patrick Batsford, 21, is in Baghdad. He has been in Iraq for three years, she said.
“It is a terrible, awful feeling,” said Isaf. “He has lost three of his buddies while he has been over there. Our faith is the only thing that keeps us going.”
Mary Lee Martens, a Cortlandville resident, came to Marian Chapel “to be with people of faith. To pray for our leaders, to pray for the families who have lost loved ones.”
Martens said the New York Times article, “An Appreciation: From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By” — based on a 200-page journal that First Sgt. Charles Monroe King wrote to his infant son weeks before he was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in Baghdad on Oct.14 — made the dead soldiers more than just a number.
“It made me put a face on it,” Martens said. “It is not just an abstract number.”
The 3,000th American death in the war in Iraq came on Dec. 31.
The Associated Press count as of Thursday was 3,006, eight more than the Defense Department figure.
There are various estimates of how many Iraqi civilians have been killed. According to the New York Times, the United Nations estimated 28,000 Iraqis were killed in the war from January to October 2006, which is more than nine times the number of U.S. soldiers killed since 2003.
Catherine Smith, a Saint Mary’s parishioner, said she is afraid for her husband’s nephew. Although he is not in Iraq — he is in Cuba guarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay — she is fearful that he will be deployed to Iraq.
Marie Kautz, a Cortlandville resident, said she feels sadness for the Iraqi and American deaths.
“The whole basis for us being in the war is so wrong,” Kautz said.
Rhodes shares Kautz’s sentiment.
“I am opposed to the war,” Rhodes said. “I was opposed to the war before it started.”
Kautz said going to the chapel to pray, “This is a small thing I can do to center my mind around the issue.” She said “This will keep it at the front of my mind.”
Some of the people who went to the chapel Thursday prayed for a peaceful resolution to the war.
“I pray we don’t have to see anymore killings,” Martens said.
“I don’t have any answers on how it can be resolved,” Rhodes said. “But I hope and pray it is peaceful.”



U.S. deaths in Iraq hit 3,006 Thursday

By The Associated Press
As of Thursday, at least 3,006 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,413 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military’s numbers.
The AP count is eight higher than the Defense Department’s tally, last updated at 10 a.m. Thursday. The Defense Department only counts names that have been officially released after families are notified through proper channels. AP counts are real time, based on figures accumulated through its own reporting and information provided by military officials in Iraq.
The British military has reported 127 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 18; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, six; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia, three; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Romania, one death each.
The count includes two deaths listed by the Department of Defense that could not be verified as Iraq-related casualties by the AP.
The latest death reported by the military was that of a soldier who was killed Thursday by small-arms fire in western Baghdad.


Gratton trial begins with video of child

Staff Reporter

Jurors in the trial of a Cortland woman accused of abusing her 5-year-old son watched a graphic police videotape Thursday of the severely malnourished boy.
The trial of Judy Gratton, 49, of Cortland, began Thursday as attorney’s presented opening arguments and prosecutors called seven of their 19 witnesses.
Gratton is charged with first-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment, felonies, three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and unauthorized possession of marijuana, a violation.
The video, which was made on March 24 at University Hospital in Syracuse, showed the boy in a severe state of malnutrition. Jurors saw two nurses move the naked boy’s limbs — which were approximately as big around as their fingers — as they had to help him to stand up and lay down.
The jurors displayed no emotion as they watched the boy’s face wince in pain when he was touched. He was so thin that the shape of every vertebra in his spine could be seen on his back and the shape of his ribs showed through his chest.
His eyes were sunken into his skull and pupils could not be seen.
Prior to the showing of the tape, District Attorney David Hartnett questioned city police Sgt. William Carpenter about the boy’s condition when police found him at 6 Union St. during a drug raid.
“He was laying there in a one-piece sleeper and it was dirty,” Carpenter said of seeing the boy in a playpen. “He couldn’t get up. After I saw him in the playpen, I immediately called (Child Protective Services).”
Carpenter told the jury the boy was surrounded by bags of dirty diapers and his playpen was infested with cockroaches.
During cross-examination from Gratton’s defense attorney, Ira Pesserilo, who did not ask any questions about the condition of the house or the condition of the child, but did call into question Carpenter’s procedure when he interrogated Gratton after her arrest.
Pesserilo accused Carpenter of “making false promises,” and asked him if he told Gratton that if she confessed she could go home. Carpenter denied making any promises to Gratton.
Pesserilo also asked why Carpenter videotaped the child but did not videotape Gratton’s confession to police.
“We do not have a policy in place,” Carpenter said. “The district attorney is the one that dictates that along with Chief of Police Jim Nichols.”





County health building plan in jeopardy

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Amid public outcry and a lack of support from the city, a proposal to build a public health facility on south Main Street is in peril.
“With the city backing away from this and with no community support — assuming you can characterize 15 people as the community — we’re going to be hard-pressed to get this done,” County Administrator Scott Schrader said Thursday. “It’s going to be up to the Legislature to carry the water on this on their own, and that’s not easy to do when it’s being attacked from all angles.”
After Thursday’s special legislative session to discuss an unrelated legal issue, Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) said he would be calling for a reconsideration of the Legislature’s Dec. 21 decision to purchase nine parcels and a total of 2.4-acres of land on south Main Street for $894,000, the first step in an estimated $5.5 million project.
Van Dee said he wanted to bring the issue up Thursday, but couldn’t because it was a special session and special session rules did not allow it. He said he hoped to move to reconsider at the Legislature’s Jan. 25 regular session.
“My intention is to change my vote on purchasing that property,” said Van Dee, who initially voted in favor of the purchase.
Van Dee said he had been inquiring into properties both inside and outside the city, and had found some other options both for a parking lot, which is the main concern of residents living near the proposed site, and for the facility as a whole.
“From the very start of this, I had asked about other available properties for the parking lot and I was told there was nothing,” Van Dee said. “I feel that as a legislator I was misled and I think we have to look at this a lot more closely.”
The south Main Street site of the former Wickwire building, owned by the McNeill family, was one of many options that Van Dee said could be available for purchase.
When he inquired into the availability of that property, Schrader has said, he was initially told it was available for lease but not for sale.
Many other legislators agreed with Van Dee, saying the county needed to take more time to hear the concerns of the community.
“I think it’s a good project, I think we need a facility like that, but I was against voting on it before the majority of the public got a look at it,” said Legislator Mike McKee (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor and Willet). “I think the process taking place right now is the best thing that can happen — people are getting their thoughts out so we can work with them, so more than just a few are happy with the deal.”
Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) — who was a key “yes” vote in December, despite serious concerns about the way the project was revealed to some legislators and the public — said she would be supportive of reopening the issue.
“I think the concerns of the neighborhood should be taken seriously, and the request of the city should be taken seriously,” Price said, referring to the Common Council’s decision Tuesday to write a letter to the county asking it to delay the property acquisition to allow for more discussion.




Dryden man charged with raping girl

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A Dryden man accused this week of abusing a 3-year-old boy has been charged with raping a 1 1/2-year-old girl.
Jacob J. Carter, 23, of 7 Anchor Drive, this morning was arraigned in Town Court on new charges involving the girl.
He was charged with first-degree rape, second-degree assault for hitting the girl, and first-degree sexual abuse for having sexual contact with the child, said Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson. The charges, all felonies, stem from incidents over a possible six-month period, Wilkinson said.
Carter was arrested Tuesday on charges of felony sexual abuse and assault on a 3-year-old boy he had been babysitting Dec. 31. On that date at his home, he was accused of sodomizing the boy.
He also was charged with first-degree assault for allegedly stomping numerous times on the stomach of the 3-year-old, causing a lacerated spleen, a disconnected intestine and bruises throughout his body.
The child is on life support and listed in critical condition at University Hospital in Syracuse.
Shackled and in handcuffs, Carter entered Dryden Town Court this morning wearing gray socks, black flip-flops, an orange jumpsuit, black shirt and a blue denim jacket with “Tompkins County Jail” printed in white letters on the back. He stood, keeping his head lowered as he faced the bench until a sheriff’s deputy told him he could sit. He sat, with his head bowed.
Mari K. Cania, Carter’s lawyer, entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
Wilkinson asked Judge Christopher Clauson to revoke bail, based on the seriousness of the charges causing a greater risk of flight. Wilkinson said if consecutive sentences were handed out, Carter could face the “functional equivalent of a couple of life sentences.”
Cania argued that the current bail was adequate.
“This court is going to hold Carter for grand jury and revoke the bail,” Clauson said. The bail had been set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond.
Wilkinson said after the hearing that Carter would be tried within 45 days.
“I’m waiting to see how the little boy does,” she said. Wilkinson confirmed that he would face additional charges if the child dies, but would not say what the charges would be.
Wilkinson said that as of this morning, the boy was facing additional surgery.



County hires lawyers to defend lawsuit

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Legislature voted at a special session Thursday to hire two attorneys to defend the county and the county administrator against a lawsuit filed by the two county election commissioners.
Although there was some disagreement involving County Administrator Scott Schrader’s intention to hire his own attorney to defend his interests in the suit, legislators seemed united in their desire to seek legal protection against a lawsuit that many described as “disappointing” and “frivolous.”
The county opted to hire attorney Greg Gates, of Binghamton, at a rate of $130 per hour to defend it against the suit brought by Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe and his Democratic counterpart Bill Wood.
Meanwhile County Administrator Scott Schrader, who, with Personnel Director Annette Barber has been named individually in the case, announced his intention to hire a separate attorney to defend his and his offices’ interests in the case. John Corcoran, an attorney at Syracuse-based Hancock and Estabrook, will represent Schrader at a rate of $190 per hour, the standard rate the county pays for an attorney handling labor interests, Schrader said.
Schrader’s announcement that he wished to hire his own attorney sparked some controversy after an initial 16-2 vote to hire Gates and allow Schrader and Barber the option of seeking their own attorneys.
Some legislators questioned the need for a separate attorney while others questioned the way in which Schrader chose his attorney, and ultimately the body opted to revote, resulting in a much closer 10-8 margin.
Barber said at the meeting that she was comfortable being represented by the county’s attorney for the time being, but she reserved her right to seek her own attorney if her interests in the case became divergent from the county’s.
Wood and Howe are suing the county over its decision to equalize the commissioners’ salaries for 2007. Howe is claiming it is illegal for the county to lower his salary in the middle of his term, while Wood is claiming he should be compensated for the $4,351 discrepancy between his and Howe’s salaries in 2006.
Howe had initially asked the county to equalize the commissioners’ salaries in early December, and the Legislature responded by voting to remove the two from the county’s management compensation plan — which awards periodic raises based on tenure with the county — and set their salaries at $26,384, with no possibility of longevity pay.
Howe has served in the position for 10 years, while Wood has been a commissioner since January 2006.
“We tried to give them what they wanted, we tried to make things equal and now they’re suing us, so we’ll let a judge figure it out,” said Legislator Merwin Armstrong _(R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton), expressing a view seemingly shared by most of his fellow legislators. “Regardless, it’s a frivolous lawsuit in my opinion.”



Route 281 gas leak snarls rush-hour traffic

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — A natural gas leak at the intersection of Route 281 and McLean Road shut down traffic in the area during rush hour Thursday afternoon.
A backhoe struck the gas line as workers with New York State Electric and Gas Corp. were servicing a natural gas pipeline in front of the Mobil Express Mart at the southwest corner of the intersection around 4:30 p.m.
Bob Pass, regional community outreach and development manager for NYSEG, said the NYSEG crew had been checking for a leak for several days.
“We had discovered a leak when doing our survey, so we were investigating a leak in that area,” Pass said this morning. “In investigating and digging, our crew hit a “T” in the gas main. We did have blowing gas, but no fire, no accidents, no injuries, and no property damage.”
Northbound and southbound traffic on Route 281 was closed between the intersection with Route 13 and Luker Road, while eastbound and westbound traffic on McLean Road was suspended from its intersection with Tompkins Street to its intersection with Luker Road.
The city of Cortland’s Fire Police, Homer Fire Department, the county Sheriff’s Department, and the SUNY Cortland Police assisted with traffic control.
The Cortlandville Fire Department was immediately dispatched to the scene, with Dryden Fire Department remaining on stand-by at the Cortlandville Station, said Cortlandville Chief Wayne Friedman.
Some traffic flow resumed shortly before 6 p.m., and all roads were reopened by about 6:30, Friedman said.
At about 5 p.m., Friedman was overseeing his department’s operations from Pall Corp.’s parking lot.
The two gas stations were closed, but the other nearby businesses remained open, Friedman said.
A fire protection specialist from the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control’s Hazardous Materials Bureau assisted with technical advice on the scene.
The Cortlandville Fire Department and a NYSEG inspector tested the air at Doug’s Fish Fry and Kinney Drugs in the Cortlandville Plaza across Route 281, and both businesses were allowed to keep operating, Friedman said.
The Friendly’s Restaurant directly south of the Mobil gas station remained open, although no customers were able to get to the establishment.
Across the street from the Friendly’s, Steve Malchak, of Cortland Used Cars, said a man had taken one of his cars out for a test drive and was initially unable to get back to the dealership after the roads were closed. Eventually, he was allowed to return, escorted by emergency personnel.
Another customer had to negotiate the purchase of a vehicle over the telephone, Malchak said.