February 20, 2007

Gratton sentenced to 15 years in state prison


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Judy Gratton is brought into Cortland County Court this morning, where she was sentenced to 15 years in state prison for neglecting her 5-year-old son.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A city woman convicted of starving her 5-year-old son was sentenced to 15 years in state prison this morning.
County Court Judge William Ames said before sentencing Judy Gratton, 49, that he believed the mother of six unintentionally assaulted her youngest son while neglecting two older children.
He noted that she had an alcohol problem and no serious criminal history, which deterred him from sentencing her to the maximum of 25 years, but added that Gratton’s acts of neglect were serious and damaging.
The minimum five-year sentence the defense requested was too little, he said.
“I’ve seen some pretty gruesome and sad things, but I think this is one of the saddest,” Ames said. “Sadly, the animals in the house were treated better than the children.”
Gratton was found guilty of first-degree assault, a felony, three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation, after a seven-day trial that ended on Jan. 11.
With a small group of friends and two of her adult children in the courtroom, Gratton was given the opportunity to speak before sentencing.
“I would like to say I would like an appeal on this matter,” she said, adding that she was dissatisfied with her attorney, Ira Pesserilo.
Gratton’s children also were given the opportunity to say something to the court on their mother’s behalf but declined.
Prior to the sentencing, Pesserilo argued motions to have the verdict thrown out and a new trial set. Pesserilo claimed Ames did not properly instruct the jury on how “depraved indifference” — a key part of the assault charge — relates to Gratton’s alcoholism.
“Not only is this indicative of the entire attitude of the prosecution — to ‘spike’ the jury instruction by distorting the law of depraved indifference to an extent that no jury could possibly acquit, especially here, where the jury was genuinely confused …” he wrote in the motion.
Ames denied the motion for the new trial.
Pesserilo said after the sentencing that he already is in the process of filing an appeal.
“There will be an appeal filed,” he said. “The day isn’t over.”
District Attorney David Hartnett asked for the 15-year sentence that Ames imposed, saying that Gratton has shown no remorse for her actions and blamed the police, the Department of Social Services and alcohol for the conditions she created.
“We’re here because of the life-threatening condition of the one victim,” he said. “All of this was unnecessary.”
Gratton was arrested in March after police raided her 6 Union St. home searching for drugs and found her son in a playpen infested with lice and cockroaches.
The boy, who has Down syndrome, was wearing two soiled diapers and weighed only 15 pounds, police said.
Gratton also had two other children in the home, an 11-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. Police said they raided the house after the girl brought marijuana to school as a cry for help.
Several doctors testified at the trial that the boy had been malnourished for several months and was near death. Doctors said when the boy was taken out of the house he could not talk or walk and that he “never learned” how to eat solid foods.
Doctors also said Gratton’s older children were malnourished.
Ames told the court this morning that the children are doing well in foster care but that the youngest boy still can’t run or climb and that the older children are still underweight.
Pesserilo argued at the trial that his client was an alcoholic that was too afraid to ask for help. Gratton took the stand in her own defense at the trial and told the jury the boy only had been sick for a few days. She admitted that she had a drinking problem but said she never meant to hurt any of her children.



Meeting to outline gas plant cleanup

Staff Reporter

HOMER — State officials will present a plan for phase two of the cleanup of contaminated soil, sediment and groundwater at a former manufactured gas site in Homer and portions of the Tioughnioga River at a public meeting next month.
The meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. March 8 at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s office at 1285 Fisher Ave. in Cortland, follows two years of site investigations and remedy brainstorming.
At the March 8 meeting, representatives from the DEC and the state Department of Health will describe results of site investigations, explain the proposed remedy for cleaning up the site and answer questions about the remedy.
The departments are also accepting verbal and written comments about the proposal until March 19. All input will help them select a remedy.
The site in question is at 216 S. Main St. in the village of Homer. It is about 2 acres in area, includes a building and parking lot owned by Irving D. Booth, Inc. and is assessed at about $275,000, according to the county Real Property Tax Services.
From 1858 to 1935, New York State Electric and Gas operated a manufactured gas plant at that location, producing gas for lighting, and heating homes and business.
The process resulted in such byproducts as tar, coal and ash. Pollutants can now be found in soil and groundwater at this site, and in the West Branch of the Tioughnioga River.
At this point it is unlikely people will be exposed to the contamination, but future work at the site could result in exposure.
The state departments are now proposing a number of measures, including
l Demolishing the southern portion of the on-site building as necessary to excavate contaminated soils
l Excavating waste with visible tar or oil or one of several other criteria and treating it at an off-site facility
l Evaluating reuse of certain less hazardous materials onsite
l Enforcing an environmental easement that restricts the property use to industrial/commercial
NYSEG will pay for the cleanup, which is estimated at $12.4 million.
The company is responsible for the cost as part of a legal agreement with the DEC that requires it to clean up sites across the state.
Diane Carlton, DEC spokeswoman, said this morning that the cleanup should begin sometime in 2008 or 2009. She said first NYSEG has to hire independent contractors to come up with a detailed design of what they will be doing.