January 30, 2008


Parents’ testimonies open Manos trial

Father takes stand holding a picture of dead daughter


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Wearing a bulletproof vest and shackles, Marie Manos, of Dryden, is led into the Tompkins County Courthouse by Sheriff’s deputies Tuesday morning for the start of her murder trial. She is accused of drowning her niece in a bathtub last year. 

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — The parents of a 2-year-old girl whose aunt is on trial for drowning and sexually abusing her gave emotional testimony Tuesday about their daughter, signs of possible abuse and the night she was discovered unconscious.
During testimony in Tompkins County Court, Michael and Jennifer Manos explained how they learned their daughter, Grace, was clinging to life after being pulled from a bathtub.
Michael Manos’ sister, Marie Manos, 34, of 758 Ringwood Road, who was babysitting Grace that night, is accused of murdering the child. Marie Manos’ lawyer says it was an accident.
Michael Manos, 32, the first witness for the prosecution, sobbed as Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson asked about the decision he and his wife, Jennifer, made at Upstate Medical Center to shut off their daughter’s life support. Doctors had told them their daughter had “severe and irreversible brain damage.”
“When you took her off the machines, what happened?” Wilkinson asked him.
“Gracie left us,” Manos said, holding a photograph of his daughter in his hand.
In her opening statement, Wilkinson described the events of May 15, the night Marie Manos is accused of drowning Grace during a bath at Marie Manos’ apartment.
Marie Manos is charged with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of second-degree aggravated sexual assault, felonies, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
She wept as Wilkinson formally read the charges Tuesday morning as the trial began.
Wilkinson said Grace — or “Gracie,” as her family referred to her throughout testimony — was a happy, healthy child, and that “she was at her best when she left the house that morning (May 15) to go play with her aunt.”
“That afternoon, the next time Jen saw Gracie, she was all but dead,” Wilkinson said.
After a 911 call, Grace was taken to Cayuga Medical Center, where she was examined by Dr. Richard Murray, an emergency room physician and a witness for the prosecution. She was later taken by helicopter to Upstate Medical Center’s intensive care unit, where she died the next day.
Wilkinson will likely use a three-hour taped interview of Marie Manos by State Police as a central piece of evidence against her.
Defense attorney William Sellers IV said during his opening statement that the interview was “the best of all possible worlds” for his client.
“This entire session involved intimidation and coercion,” Sellers said. “She was repeatedly told she was a liar in the most crass and crude manner. She was constantly interrupted; when she tried to explain herself, she was not allowed to finish many sentences.”
Sellers said the taped interview will make it clear to the jury that Marie Manos’ Miranda rights were violated, and that she asked to stop the interview about a half hour after it began. The interview was conducted before her arrest.
“Ms. (Marie) Manos welcomes the chance here to have her story told,” Sellers said.
He also indicated that the extensive injuries found on Grace by medical examiners were most likely caused during procedures performed on her during the course of her attempted treatment.
Michael Manos testified that after Marie Manos began regularly baby-sitting his daughter in February, Grace eventually became reluctant to having her diaper changed, which was uncharacteristic behavior.
“I went to change her diaper, and she wouldn’t let me,” he said. “It was very odd, that was never an issue, ever.”
Additionally, he said, in April, Grace returned home with various injuries after spending time with Marie Manos.
Grace’s mother, Jennifer Manos, said she had gone to pick Grace up at about 4:40 p.m. May 15, and when she arrived at Marie Manos’ apartment, she could hear through the door as her sister-in-law talked to her daughter.
At first, no one answered the door when Jennifer Manos knocked. When Marie Manos finally opened the door, Jennifer Manos said, Marie Manos told her “I don’t know what’s wrong with her.”
Jennifer said she ran past Marie Manos and found her daughter lying naked on the bed.
“Gracie was making a noise like ‘uhhhhhh,’” Jennifer said, and testified that the child’s body was bloated when she discovered her. She said she screamed at Marie Manos to call 911, and then rushed to the job site where Michael Manos was working to pick him up.
Michael Manos said that on May 15 he was working on a site on Ellis Hollow Road, about a mile away from Marie Manos’ home.
The couple both testified they immediately returned to Marie Manos’ apartment.
“I saw Marie holding my baby on the front stoop,” Michael Manos said.
He said when he came upon Grace, her hair and skin were completely dry. The child was also wearing a diaper when he found her, pale and not breathing, he said.
“She had water and blood coming out of her nose and mouth,” he said.
Michael Manos said his sister told him Grace had slipped in the tub, but that was the extent of their conversation as he recalled it.
The first emergency workers on the scene were two State Police officers, Quentin Giles and Michael Burling, who Wilkinson called as witnesses for the prosecution during Tuesday’s proceedings.
Giles said when he arrived on the scene after hearing a call for help with a “child in respiratory distress,” he found Grace lying on the ground, not breathing, outside Marie Manos’ home.
He said he found red marks on Grace’s forehead as he helped emergency technicians from Varna Rescue as they loaded the girl into an ambulance to take her to Cayuga Medical Center.
Burling said he questioned Marie Manos at the scene, but was interrupted when a supervisor instructed him to ask her to come to the State Police barracks in Dryden.
Wilkinson also called Murray, the emergency room doctor who initially examined Grace at Cayuga Medical Center, to the stand. He testified that he had found a “tremendous amount” of fluid in the girl’s lungs, massive swelling of her brain and injuries to her private areas.
During his cross-examination of Grace’s parents, Sellers asked Jennifer Manos if she remembered being interviewed by a State Police investigator at University Hospital and saying that her daughter bruised easily.
“I don’t recall much about that time at all,” she said. “It was 12 o’clock at night and my daughter was laying there dying.”
The trial, which is expected to run for at least two weeks, resumed with more testimony from prosecution witnesses at 9 this morning.




State IDA reform bill criticized

Staff Reporter

Cortland County Industrial Development Agency board members have found fault with a state Assembly-approved bill that would reform how they operate, saying it imposes too many restrictions on the board, and businesses and nonprofits it helps.
But unless the state Senate agrees to adopt the bill or an amended form of it, by Thursday, nonprofits will no longer be eligible for IDA-funded bonds for expansion projects. The state Assembly majority has refused to renew an annual law that grants IDAs the power to issue bonds for nonprofits unless an agreement on the bill is reached.
Tom Quinn, spokesman for Cortland Regional Medical Center, said that could pose a problem for the hospital, should it get state approval for its obstetric and surgery expansion project.
CRMC was counting on tax-exempt IDA bonds, which it received for its emergency department addition in 2003.
“In general, access to capital is critical to health care providers to respond to ongoing demands to provide quality of care, and the tax-exempt financing offered by IDAs is especially valuable,” Quinn said. “It results in significant savings, avoiding high interest payments associated with commercial loans.”
Quinn said he is not sure if a lack of bond financing through the IDA could put the expansion project in jeopardy. Hopefully commercial loans would work out, he said.
New York state has 116 IDAs that provide low-interest bonds and property tax exemptions to nonprofits and companies.
If the Senate accepts the proposed IDA reform bill or an amended version it could keep projects from happening in Cortland County, according to Cortland County IDA board members.
“On face value it would probably put up obstacles in front of the IDA,” said board member Steve Harrington, who had not yet looked at the bill. “We’re trying to attract and retain industry, and we’ve got some tough competition out there.”
One provision of the bill would require the payment of prevailing wages, which are set by the state Department of Labor to encourage union labor, for any construction or building renovation work for an IDA-sponsored project.
According to a study released this month by the state Economic Development Business Council, applying prevailing wages would bring wages in Upstate New York 52 percent higher than comparable communities in other states.
Market wages are currently 6 percent higher than comparable communities in other states, according to the study.



Final ’07 sales tax revenue increases

Staff Reporter

Cortland County received $24 million in sales tax revenue for 2007, but some of that is due to a glitch at the state level that will likely be taken into account in the 2008 sales tax disbursement.
County Treasurer Patrick O’Mara released a report on sales tax revenue Monday, showing that instead of the estimated 2007 sales tax revenue of $23.1 million, the state has disbursed $24.05 million to the county.
Faulty state estimates in the third and fourth quarter of 2007 could mean that more than $500,000 will be deducted from the sales tax revenue in 2008.
“They just reduce our payment for a particular period for those dollar amounts,” Deputy Treasurer Carolyn Kennedy said Tuesday afternoon.
If that adjustment is subtracted from the 2007 sales tax revenues, it would appear that the county still saw a 2 percent increase over what it had budgeted for 2007’s sales tax revenue.
The county government’s share of the local sales tax revenue is 55 percent, or $13.2 million. The remainder is split between the city of Cortland, villages and towns in the county. The city received a total of 17.75 percent, or $4.3 million.
Each municipality is given the option of receiving its share of sales tax in cash or having the money applied to reduce the county tax levy paid by residents in that municipality. The villages of Homer, Marathon and McGraw and the towns of Cincinnatus, Cortlandville, Freetown, Marathon, Preble, Scott and Willet receive cash.
The towns of Lapeer and Solon have that money applied directly to reducing the county tax levy, but Kennedy said that in years in which sales tax revenue is underestimated, those towns still receive a small check in the amount of the surplus — in this case, Lapeer and Solon will each be receiving checks for just under $7,000 once the Cortland County Legislature passes a resolution to do so.
The towns of Cuyler, Harford, Homer, Taylor, Truxton and Virgil receive some portion of their sales tax revenue in cash while some is used to reduce the county tax levy.




Dryden parties pick candidates for village elections in March

Republicans, Dems caucus for 2 open seats on Village Board.

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — Both the Republicans and Democrats held caucuses Tuesday night to nominate candidates for two trustee positions on the Village Board.
Democrat Mike Lane said late Tuesday night the Democrats nominated incumbent Mary Ellen Bossack, of 12 Goodrich Way, a school counselor at Dryden schools; and Fred Gentz, who works for Security Mutual Insurance in Ithaca and lives at 40 Lee Road.
Dryden village Mayor Reba Taylor, a Republican, said this morning that the Republicans nominated Charlie Becker, of 17 Logans Run, an independent insurance agent with Becker-Wells Insurance; and Don Norman, of 11 Wellsley Drive, who works with Cornell University public safety and is a member of the SWAT team.
Both Lane and Taylor said their selections were strong candidates.
“They’re both very strong candidates,” said Taylor, noting both Becker and Norman thought about it seriously before running. “They’re very active professional people,” she said.
“We’re real proud she’s agreed to run again,” Lane said of Bossack, who is seeking her fourth two-year term as trustee.
He said he was also excited about Gentz running. Lane said Gentz had run for village justice many years ago, he is active in the American Legion, and at one time had headed Dryden Ambulance.
Becker, 57, was the only candidate reached for comment this morning. He said this was his first run for public office.
Becker said his business background combined with his experience in civic organizations were key to his run. He said these experiences would help him in understanding the issues that come before the village.
One of his civic tasks is to act as publicist for the Dryden High School singing group Beyondmeasure.
“I think the most significant challenge that will come before the village at this point is the course the village takes with the sewer treatment plant,” Becker said. “This is going to require a lot of study, a lot of learning,” he said, before he would be able to decide how to most wisely meet the community’s needs regarding building a new plant.