Lynne Laettner pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge Wednesday, but would not admit that she was guilty of lying to a grand jury about whether her friend Gabriele P. Ballowe told her about striking and killing Barry Moss on Route in December 2013.
Laettner, 55, of Hamburg originally was charged with felony perjury in connection with her testimony before a 2014 grand jury but agreed to plea to the reduced charge in order to keep from having a felony on her record.
Because “there was some dispute on the part of the defendant” as to whether her testimony constituted perjury, she entered what is commonly known as an Alford plea, or, in New York State, a Serrano plea, prosecutor Nick Texido said. By entering the plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there could be enough evidence to find him or her guilty. The plea allows the defendant to avoid the risk of a more serious punishment should she be found guilty at trial.
“Having worked in the New York State Attorney General’s Office for 37 years, I know the importance of telling the truth,” Laettner said in a brief statement.
She continued that she “would never intentionally not tell the truth,” but that she understood the impact that a felony conviction can have on a person’s life.
Laettner’s attorney chalked the problem up to his client not carefully reading the statement that Evans police wrote for her to sign after she was interviewed about the incident. The discrepancy hinged on what exactly Ballowe said about hitting a bridge the night Moss, 52, was killed.
Ballowe also hedged on taking full responsibility when pleading guilty in October to leaving the scene of an incident without reporting it.
Although prosecutors described Ballowe as having "fled the scene" after hitting Moss, Ballowe pointedly stated, "I drove off. I didn't flee the scene."
Prosecutor Thomas Finnerty said Wednesday that his office did not feel it would be right to dismiss the charge against Laettner.
"The crime of perjury cannot be ignored,” he said.
Justice Christopher J. Burns agreed, calling truthfulness before a grand jury the foundation of the justice system.
Although the misdemeanor offense carries a maximum possible punishment of a year in jail, Burns agreed with attorneys on both sides that jail time was not warranted.
“This is an important piece but a minor piece of the big picture,” Burns said.
He sentenced Laettner to a conditional discharge with the understanding she will have no more trouble with the law for a year.
“I think finality in this case is important,” the judge said. “We need to move on.”
The last step in the case, which has gone on for nearly three years, is scheduled for Dec. 20, when Ballowe is sentenced.
She was not in court to support Laettner on Wednesday, although Laettner had been in court with Ballowe for all her proceedings, even after their cases were severed.
Maria Wrafter, Moss’s sister, said after the plea that she was satisfied that those responsible for her brother’s death had been held accountable.
“I would have kept fighting, but I’m glad it’s over,” Wrafter said. “I am ready to start a new year.”
Story topics: State Supreme Court