Clifford J. McGary, the Wheatfield man accused of the near-fatal stabbing of his wife, proclaimed his guilt at his arraignment, and the prosecution will be allowed to tell the jury about it at his trial.
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza ruled Monday at an evidence-suppression hearing that the statement is admissible, along with most of the comments McGary made to the Pennsylvania state police officer who arrested him July 9, even though no one read McGary his Miranda rights.
"That was a big victory," said District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III, who is prosecuting the case along with Assistant District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek.
"I was a little disappointed, actually a lot disappointed," said James J. Faso Jr., co-defense counsel with Angelo Musitano. "I thought (Sperrazza) should have suppressed all the statements, based on the fact he was in custody and the officer was interrogating him."
But the most incriminating statement came when McGary, 70, was being arraigned in Shinglehouse, Pa., at about 10:30 p.m. July 9.
According to the testimony of Trooper Jacob C. Rothermel Jr., Potter County District Judge Barbara Easton told McGary he needed a lawyer, and McGary answered, "I don't need a lawyer. I'm guilty. I'm just guilty."
Rothermel said there was no stenographer in the court. He testified, "My corporal and I exchanged glances, and I immediately left the room and wrote it down in my police notebook with the date and time."
McGary is accused of attempted second-degree murder and six other counts in connection with the July 5 stabbing of his wife of 48 years, Jean, in their Sy Road home. He fled the area after the incident.
Faso said he and Musitano are still considering an insanity defense. "We're working on a doctor now," he said. The defense has unsuccessfully challenged two court-appointed psychiatrists' ruling that McGary is mentally competent to stand trial. The trial is tentatively scheduled for May 22.
Rothermel testified that he pulled McGary's car over in Portage Township, Pa., at 6:23 p.m. July 9, after seeing the car swerve onto the berm along State Road 872. He said he was checking for signs of intoxication, but McGary said he swerved because he was reaching for some snack food on the passenger seat.
Rothermel let McGary off with a warning, but he noted McGary seemed anxious to leave. McGary said he was on his way to a camp he had on a nearby dirt road. The trooper said his dispatcher was slow in relaying information about McGary, but finding nothing obviously amiss, he let McGary drive off.
Moments later, Rothermel said, his dispatcher radioed that McGary was wanted for attempted murder. Rothermel found McGary's car about a mile away on the dirt road and pulled him over again. This time, he pulled his gun and used a loudspeaker to order McGary out of the car from 30 feet away.
McGary shook his head in the negative when asked if he had a weapon. He knelt down and was handcuffed and told that he was under arrest.
Rothermel said he asked McGary if he knew why he was under arrest and McGary answered, "Yes, because of my wife."
The trooper also said McGary said he had a knife in the car. "I said, 'The knife' (meaning the attempted murder weapon), and he shook his head yes."
Sperrazza ruled that anything McGary said after the arrest was inadmissible because Rothermel was questioning him without telling McGary he had the right to remain silent.
But at the State Police barracks in Coudersport, Rothermel said McGary started to talk without being questioned as Rothermel typed up the charges against him.
McGary said most of the 48 years of his marriage had been good. "In recent years there'd been trouble. His children turned against him and turned his wife against him," Rothermel related.
"He said he didn't expect my sympathy because of what he did. He thought if he could just get his wife alone, they could work things out. He was going (to Pennsylvania) to visit some family and friends and turn himself in," the trooper testified. Sperrazza ruled the barracks sequence admissible.