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New York: Contraband Convictions Vacated After Guard Admits Planting Weapon

On January 17, 2017, Cayuga County Court Judge Mark H. Fandrich set aside the convictions of two New York state prisoners serving additional time on contraband charges.

Naythen Aubain and Donnesia Brown had both been sentenced to two to four years after pleading guilty to first-degree promoting prison contraband. Fandrich vacated their convictions after Auburn Correctional Facility guard Matthew Cornell, 33, admitted he “put a weapon on an inmate” with the intention of breaking up a prison gang. Cornell, who had worked at the facility since July 2008, was suspended without pay but not criminally charged. Two unnamed guards were placed on administrative leave for their involvement in the incident; one was suspended while the other later returned to work.

Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelman said several other defendants charged in cases involving Cornell would have their cases dismissed or convictions vacated. One of those cases involved Thomas Ozzborn, who spent an extra year in prison on a bogus contraband weapons charge; he filed a notice of claim on March 15, 2017 indicating that he planned to file a lawsuit.

Another Auburn prisoner, Jose Muniz, also had his conviction vacated in January 2017, while contraband charges against Tyrell Ingram were dropped because Cornell was the only witness in his case. The prisoners charged with contraband had pleaded guilty to avoid potentially longer prison sentences had they gone to trial and lost.

“As it turns out, the least ‘credible’ people in our society were telling the truth while trusted officials fabricated evidence,” stated Adam Van Buskirk, Muniz’s attorney. “I hope this will be a lesson to those within the system and within society who assume all defendants to be guilty.”

The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision continues to investigate the weapons-planting allegations.