Finger Lakes Times: Getting all the facts is key

Experienced DA concluded no way he could prove guilt in HWS case


The recent New York Times article about an incident on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges campus was one of the most slanted, biased articles that I have ever read. The article said that the Colleges could not investigate a charge so serious "that it could be a felony with a jail sentence." Rape is one of the most serious charges in penal law and forcible rape in the first degree can carry a 25-year prison sentence. The district attorney must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt - the highest standard in our legal system. Such cases usually have threats with a knife or a weapon, physical beatings and serious injuries. My former office prosecuted scores of such cases where the victim filed charges, cooperated with the local police department and testified in open court. Consensual intercourse, even with multiple partners, is not a crime.

The HWS security personnel and the Geneva Police Department investigated this incident and made numerous requests to the complainant to file a sworn statement charging the potential defendants. Such efforts were completely rebuffed until six months later when the complainant's second attorney requested that the district attorney investigate the incident and file charges.

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo is an outstanding prosecutor with years of experience successfully prosecuting such cases. He came to the conclusion that there was no way he could prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt the facts in this case. I completely agree with his decision. It should also be noted that the presence of seminal fluid and a nurse's notes do not prove rape. Far more proof is necessary.

The second phase of this case was a hearing held by a panel to determine whether the Colleges should discipline any students involved in this incident. The standard of proof in that hearing was preponderance of evidence showing misconduct - the lowest standard of proof in our legal system. The panel had to find misconduct with 51 percent of the evidence, no more. That is far below proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A panel of HWS personnel found no basis for disciplinary action and a completely separate panel on appeal found the determination was consistent with the evidence presented. Thus, the complainant could not meet the minimal legal standard for action.

If the New York Times reporter had made the slightest effort to get real factual information, he would have learned that there is no criminal case here - no felony, no misdemeanor, no anything. He also would have learned that the HWS security department and the Geneva Police Department handled their responsibilities in the most professional manner. Our community knows the care and effort that HWS President Mark Gearan and DA Tantillo bring to their jobs. If anyone has shown leadership in these situations, as they have, they will continue to do so.

One final thought - most people read the first story and form conclusions without learning the real facts. The Finger Lakes Times has presented all sides of this event with comments from numerous community members. Its coverage and continuing stories have been light years above the less-than-factual story in the supposed flagship of journalism.

Howard Relin lives in Romulus. He was the Monroe County district attorney from 1983 to 2003.


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