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Florida county extradition ends in fiasco

Escambia County, Fla., is in the bad graces of the Niagara County district attorney's office and County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III after an extradition fiasco last week.

Terrence Bargnare had been arrested in Niagara Falls on an Escambia County warrant accusing him of felonies. As is customary, he was brought to Niagara County Court and asked if he wanted to waive extradition. When a fugitive does that, he is held in the County Jail until authorities from the place where he is wanted come to pick him up; that usually takes less than two weeks.

Bargnare, however, wasn't cooperative. A court hearing had to be scheduled to prove his identity.

Assistant District Attorney Charles F. Pitarresi spent several days preparing for the hearing, arranging for Bargnare to be fingerprinted here and the results to be matched with prints from Pensacola, the Escambia County seat. Assistant Public Defender Michael E. Benedict, meanwhile, defended Bargnare by questioning every scrap of evidence.

The hearing lasted five hours, with intermissions, and six law enforcement officers ended up having to testify about Bargnare's arrest and identification process.

Thursday, Murphy ruled that the man in custody was indeed Bargnare and he was going back to Pensacola. That would have ended the matter, except that Friday morning the district attorney's office received a fax from Escambia County prosecutors stating, without explanation, that they had decided not to extradite Bargnare after all.

Bargnare was freed after having spent 12 days in jail.

A disgusted Pitarresi said in court that he had received full cooperation from the Florida officials -- until they pulled the plug at the last step. He then headed to his office to write the Floridians a blistering letter of complaint.

The normally mellow Murphy announced that he will recuse himself if any other Escambia County fugitives are ever brought before him. "I don't think I would ever trust any future documents from that county," he said.

"I wish we could send them a bill," District Attorney Michael J. Violante said.


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