No death penalty for suspect in murder of Trooper

The following article appeared in the May 17 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, as well as the Elmira Star-Gazette newspaper.

Death penalty ruled out for trooper’s slaying

Jeff Murray
Elmira Star-Gazette

ELMIRA — The man accused of gunning down State Police Trooper Andrew Sperr, a native of Greece, won’t face the death penalty.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to pursue federal charges against Anthony Horton, Chemung County District Attorney John Trice said Tuesday. That’s the only way Horton would have faced execution if convicted. Rulings by the state Court of Appeals have suspended capital murder prosecutions in New York state.

Federal prosecutors expressed interest in taking the case to federal court, but a review of all the facts and Horton’s record didn’t support that, Trice said.

"For them to seek the death penalty, they have to look at Horton’s prior record. They were looking for aggravating factors," he said. "What they thought was an aggravating factor turned out to be not. That kicked the case out of death penalty considerations."

Trice didn’t elaborate on the aggravating factor except to say it involved Horton’s criminal record.

The case will now proceed in Chemung County Court, where Horton faces 10 counts — including aggravated murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence without chance of parole.

Trice said his team is ready to move ahead.

"I am disappointed that it did not go the way of the death penalty, but be that as it may; we are prepared to go forward with our prosecution," he said. "We strongly believe that we will prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Chemung County Judge James Hayden will hold a hearing at 1:30 p.m. May 30 to determine whether statements made to police by Horton will be admissible at his trial.

Police allege that Horton and two accomplices held up the Big Flats branch of Chemung Canal Trust Co. at noon on March 1 and that Horton shot Trooper Sperr minutes later on Lowe Road in Big Flats.

Investigators believe Trooper Sperr may not have been aware that a bank robbery had just occurred when he approached the car.

Brothers Wayne and Bryan Adams face second-degree murder and robbery charges in connection with the incident. All three suspects return to county court May 25 for motions.

The decision by the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to prosecute was good news for Horton’s attorney, Richard W. Rich Jr., who expressed concerns at Horton’s arraignment that he might be subjected to the death penalty. Rich said he hasn’t met with Horton since he heard the news.

"Obviously we’re always happy to know we’re not facing the death penalty. That is significant relief," Rich said. "It doesn’t change anything I’m going to do. It takes a little bit of the pressure off."