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Judge reduces one charge, vacates another in Massena burglary case

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CANTON — The evidence used to indict a Massena man on two felony charges in mid-June was insufficient, ruled Judge Jerome J. Richards on Wednesday morning in St. Lawrence County Court.

Now, Justin M. Mendies, 22, of 104 Stoughton Ave., will face only a reduced count of second-degree burglary.

Though still a felony, sentencing would be more severe if convicted of the first-degree burglary and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon charges he was originally indicted on June 18.

“I hoped we weren’t going to have to go here, but the truth of the matter is that you had a burglary second,” Judge Richards told Assistant District Attorney Joshua Haberkornhalm. “This is not a burglary first ... and there’s your mistake.”

Mr. Mendies is accused of illegally entering former girlfriend Katie Snyder’s 153 E. Orvis St., Massena apartment on April 30.

Once inside, Mr. Mendies allegedly threatened her and her boyfriend, James Plourde, with a collapsible baton, and pushed Ms. Snyder and held her wrist.

He “then made threats both to the boyfriend and to (Ms. Snyder), strongly implying to her that he would cause her to lose the unborn child she was carrying,” according to court documents.

To sustain a first-degree burglary charge, the prosecution needed to prove the “baton-like device” Mr. Mendies allegedly brandished was a “dangerous or deadly weapon.”

The defense, led by Public Defender Stephen D. Button, claimed that was never done.

“We don’t know what the consistency of the item was. We don’t even really know if it was in fact a ‘baton thing’ as described,” Mr. Button said. “We don’t know enough, and that’s why I thought the court got it completely right.”

In the grand jury hearing, the prosecution relied on testimony from a witness who said “Justin took out this, like, baton thing and he, like, extended it by swinging it,” according to court documents.

Mr. Haberkornhalm argued the testimony was enough to prove Mr. Mendies’s intentions.

“Can’t the grand jury infer, by the description of the object, the circumstances under which it was used and the only possible purpose in which that object could serve?” he argued.

Judge Richards, however, upheld the decision to reduce the burglary charge to second-degree.

“Do not overestimate your facts. It’s unfair, and this is what happens,” Judge Richards said. “You get caught with your pants down because when it comes time to prove it, you can’t prove it. And that’s why it was dismissed.”

He also vacated the weapons charge, as it was determined that a previous conviction the ADA used to elevate the charge to third-degree was, in fact, ineligible.

Mr. Mendies was granted youthful offender status in relation to sexual misconduct charges he faced in 2010, making the case unavailable for the prosecution to use.

The decision came less than two weeks after Zachary D. Linsky, 19, Norwood, was sentenced for a misdemeanor drug conviction.

Mr. Linsky originally faced a felony charge but it was reduced after, as in Mr. Mendies’s case, the judge disagreed with the argument by an assistant district attorney, Andrew Botts.

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