A jury has found former Rochester City Court judge Leticia Astacio not guilty of violating her probation by attempting to purchase a firearm. The ruling means Astacio gets to keep her license for practicing law in New York State.
It remains to be seen how the verdict will affect her campaign, as she is currently running for a seat on Rochester City Council.
Astacio has been in and out of court, and local headlines, since her initial DWI conviction back in 2016 and was removed from the bench in October. Judge Melissa Barrett was appointed by Mayor Lovely Warren to fill her position.
Astacio was accused of violating the terms of her probation following her drunk driving conviction, specifically, for attempting to purchase a shotgun from Dick's Sporting Goods.
"It's been over a year this week, and having this pending and knowing the consequences of what could happen if she was convicted, is an extraordinary weight, and what you saw was that weight being lifted off her shoulders. We knew this was the right result all along, but to finally have it happen is an extraordinary experience,” said Astacio’s attorney, Mark Foti.
The case was moved to Syracuse after an earlier ruling found Astacio could not get a fair and impartial jury in Monroe County. Foti said that after surveying all 23 members of a Monroe County grand jury to hear Astacio case, each member of the panel had heard of the former judge. Foti argued it was evidence she could not get an impartial jury to consider any part of her case in Rochester.
Following opening statements on Tuesday, 12 jurors watched on as surveillance video from a Dick's Sporting Goods store in Greece showed Astacio inquiring about a shotgun. The recording had no audio; however, it showed a sales associate engaging Astacio and answering questions about the kind of shotgun someone would need for home security. Prosecutors allege that Astacio told the associate she was asking about a gun because she'd received death threats on social media.
Mark Derhey, the sales associate who assisted Astacio, testified that she entered the store and appeared to be very emotional. He claims she became more emotional as he described how the shotgun would work. The sales associate did not let Astacio buy the gun because of what he called an obvious lack of knowledge of firearms and her emotional state.
When he told Astacio he wouldn't sell her a shotgun, she allegedly said that she would just go to another store. Derhey later testified that, per store policy, he alerted the other Dick’s Sporting Goods stores in Monroe County of the denied firearm sale.
Not long after she left the outlet in Greece, Astacio traveled to the Dick’s Sporting Goods in Henrietta and again asked about a shotgun. She was again denied.
The chain of events led to her arrest one week later on the felony count of attempting to purchase a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors said it violated condition nine of the terms of her probation.
During day two of testimony, Special Prosecutor Mark Sienkiewicz called Dick's Sporting Goods Assistant Manager Cristina Teriassi to the stand.
Terriasi testified that she encountered Astacio at the store in Henrietta last year where she inquired about purchasing a shotgun for self-defense. The prosecutor again introduced the model of the Maverick 88 Self-Defense Shotgun that Astacio was handed at the store's counter.
The witness testified that she explained to Astacio why she was denied the opportunity to purchase the shotgun after an associate at a Greece location denied her the same day.
It’s the company’s policy that once a firearm sale is denied at one store, it is denied at all Dick’s stores.
In cross-examination, Foti focused in on whether the interaction ever reached a point where she attempted to purchase the gun.
In order to purchase a firearm at Dick's, all customers are required to fill out a federally mandated form. Foti said Astacio never received the form.
Later Wednesday, a deputy from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office testified to processing the shotgun Astacio considered at the Henrietta store. After that, the prosecution rested.
In day three of testimony in the trial Thursday, just one witness was called — Ontario County Assistant District Attorney Zachary Maurer, the prosecutor present during Astacio’s sentencing. He testified that she did not receive an explanation of the terms of her probation at that hearing.
"The court of public opinion, as any of you have seen during the course of the trial, [is] vastly different than an actual court of law, the rules of evidence as handed down by Judge Cuffy apply in a court of law, I feel like we presented every ounce of evidence available to us that was held to be admissible by the judge, I think that the issues for the jury were issues of first impression, they're not heavily litigated," said Prosecutor Mark Sinkiewicz.
Astacio will now remain on probation.