MAYVILLE – Inside the stately Chautauqua County courthouse, Judge John T. Ward has taken pains to prevent the murder trial of Anthony “Rob” Taglianetti from becoming a media circus.
Ward banned television cameras from the courtroom, except during opening statements. During trial breaks, sheriff’s deputies steer reporters away from jurors leaving the courtroom.
But the strict separation is harder to maintain outside the courthouse – especially during lunch – in this seasonal village at the northwestern tip of Chautauqua Lake.
With its undertones of adultery and racy text messages, the case against Taglianetti is as high profile as murder trials get in low-key Mayville.
The village of 1,700 residents has a single traffic light and a dearth of dining options – particularly in the fall, when many residents of nearby Chautauqua Institution have left their summer homes for warmer climates and many restaurants shut down for the season.
Inevitably, with a break of an hour or so, some jurors walk to lunch at The Sweet Spot, a café on North Erie Street across from the courthouse.
On the day for opening statements two weeks ago, they were joined by reporters covering the trial, Taglianetti’s lawyers, and family and friends of murder victim Keith L. Reed Jr., the Clymer Central school superintendent whom Taglianetti is accused of fatally shooting.
The potential for awkwardness wasn’t lost on the restaurant’s co-owner Darlene Wendell.
“It’s interesting dynamics, isn’t it?” she said.
Restaurant workers try to accommodate everyone. Wendell recounted how Taglianetti’s lawyer, Nathaniel L. Barone, a regular customer, requested a separate room for the defense team, which includes lawyer James J. Pelletter and an investigator – away from jurors and the Reed family.
The restaurant has three separate rooms – which made it easier for her to accommodate his request.
Wendell also has had to worry about whether she and her staff could serve everybody quickly enough to get them back into court on time.
While the circumstances are less than ideal, James P. Subjack, who served as Chautauqua district attorney from 1993 to 2005, said that’s just how it goes in a small town.
Subjack has had his own experience of running into jurors on cases. It can even happen in the courthouse elevator.
“There’s that uncomfortable moment between juror and attorney where you just pause and look the other way and wait for the door to open,” he said.
Ward has stayed clear of the popular sandwich shop on trial days, as has District Attorney David W. Foley.
Sometimes, they order takeout and someone else picks up the food.
The Crosby’s convenience store and gas station, next door to the cafe, makes subs and pizza and also gets its share of trial-related business.
“We can tell because there’s a mass of people coming out of the building, and, oh, we have to make sure we have everything ready,” said Elisca Yeskey, store manager.
The commotion may soon end. The defense may rest its case as soon as today, leading to closing arguments and jury deliberations, although no one on Wednesday could say for sure when the trial will end.
“It looks like the case should be getting to the jury tomorrow,” Ward said in court Wednesday. “There are no guarantees, of course,” Ward told jurors shortly before excusing them for the day.
Barone on Wednesday called just one witness, Chautauqua Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Beckerink.
Beckerink took roughly 200 photos inside Reed’s house, including pictures of guns found in the kitchen, a spare bedroom and Reed’s bedroom.
Mayville hasn’t seen a trial of this magnitude unfold since James E. Lewis Jr. was convicted in 2000 of shooting and attempting to kill two Jamestown police officers.
Prosecutors described how Rob Taglianetti discovered an exchange between his wife and Reed and became enraged, driving 350 miles from his Virginia home to hunt down the superintendent in Clymer, not far from the Pennsylvania border.
Foley then presented a bevy of physical evidence. The evidence included a handgun with Reed’s bloodstains found in Taglianetti’s car and also a crumpled ATM receipt from Taglianetti’s bank account discovered only a few yards from Reed’s body near Reed’s house.
“That’s quite a thing to happen for a small community like this,” said Sylvia Faust, who visited the cafe for lunch last Friday, an off day for the trial.
Faust said she was not following the case closely, but she noticed the large presence of reporters in the normally quiet village.
The salacious nature of the trial has captured the attention of “Dateline NBC,” the network television magazine show that regularly airs episodes on court cases involving murder and marital infidelity.
The program has had a reporter or two in the courtroom for each day of the trial.
Television trucks from stations in Buffalo and Erie, Pa., also have been a regular presence outside the courthouse.
So far, the proximity of everyone involved in the trial has not led to problems.
Barone and Foley have been cautious with reporters, declining to discuss the trial outside the courtroom.
Barone’s blistering cross-examination of Mary Taglianetti noticeably irritated Reed’s elderly parents, who have listened to most of the testimony.
At one point, as Barone pushed Mary Taglianetti to admit that she lied on her divorce filing about how long she had been a New York State resident, Keith Reed Sr. leaned over to his wife, Shirley, to express his disgust.
Yet, outside the courtroom, Reed’s family and friends, Barone and jurors seem to have found a way to keep their distance from each other, even when they all find themselves in the same restaurant.
“There’s been no conflicts. There’s been no confrontations, none of that sort of thing,” said Wendell, the Sweet Spot’s co-owner., But she’s bracing herself for verdict day.
“I said to my husband, ‘In a few days, it will go back to being little Mayville again.’ ”