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More brewing in Harold Handy case?

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HUDSON—Charges against all four defendants indicted in the July 2020 beating of Harold Handy have been dismissed, but the case is not over.

An appeal of the dismissal by a special prosecutor is in the works. New criminal charges in the case are also brewing and many aspects of what transpired still remain a mystery.

In Columbia County Court May 10, State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Marcelle threw out all charges remaining in the case that has been marked by Covid delays, twists and turns, revelations, public interest and protest for nearly three years.

Mr. Handy of Kinderhook, a local mechanic, was beaten during a drunken brawl in the early morning hours of July 5, 2020 at a Fourth of July party at the home of Alex and Kelly Rosenstrach, 319 County Route 21 in Kinderhook. Mrs. Rosenstrach is a Columbia County Sheriff’s deputy and remains on administrative leave, according to a May 17 statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

Defendants in the case of the July 2020 beating of Harold Handy and their attorneys appeared in Columbia County Court May 10. Photo by Lance Wheeler

Columbia 911 dispatched Sheriff’s deputies to assist the Valatie Rescue Squad at the Rosenstrach residence July 5 at 1:27 a.m. Deputies arrived on scene and found Mr. Handy was the victim of an assault. He was taken to Albany Medical Center by ambulance for treatment of head and eye injuries. He suffered a concussion and a fractured eye socket.

Four defendants, Mr. Rosenstrach, a gym owner; his wife Kelly; Bryan Haag, an IRS agent, and Cory Gaylord, a local contractor, were indicted on 12 counts related to their actions that night/morning by a grand jury in October 2020.

Mr. Rosenstrach, 37 at the time, initially faced the longest list of charges: second-degree gang assault, a class C felony; second-degree assault, a class D felony; two counts of third-degree assault, class A misdemeanors; first-degree unlawful imprisonment, a class E felony; third-degree coercion, a class A misdemeanor; second-degree reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.

The most serious charge, second degree gang assault, a class C violent felony, was subsequently dismissed against all four defendants by Judge Richard Koweek in December 2021.

He also dismissed the charge of second degree assault, a class D violent felony, against Mr. Rosenstrach and Mr. Haag. The charge alleges that while acting in concert with each other, the two men intended and did cause serious physical injury to Mr. Handy.

Judge Koweek wrote in that decision that there is insufficient evidence to support the two counts, which require proof of serious injury.

Subsequently, revelations about clandestine settlement negotiations between the attorneys for some or all of the defendants and the victim’s attorney have come to light. Sometime in November 2022 Judge Koweek recused himself from the case for reasons not made public, and Judge Marcelle took over beginning in January 2023.

In his statements about the dismissal which appear in the May 10 court transcript, Judge Marcelle said he did not think the defendants are being wrongfully prosecuted.

“To the contrary,… I believe, for many reasons, that the evidence is extremely convincing that on the night of July 4th and the early morning of July 5th, that Defendants beat Mr. Handy without justification and that they prevented, now Mrs. Handy, from getting help. I believe they did all these things in violation of the State Penal Law. What happened to Mr. Handy was wrong, was a crime, and I believe, based on the evidence, Defendants are responsible. Mr. Rosenstrach’s conduct was particularly troubling to the Court.”

Noting that the “case has been steeped in politics and publicity and money,” Judge Marcelle had nothing but “admiration” for District Attorney Paul Czajka, saying, “He has been a ferocious advocate for justice in this case … He has honed in and focused on what would be a proper conviction … And he has discharged that duty with a sense of loyalty to justice and to the outcome that justice would require.”

Judge Marcelle described “one event [that] created incalculable problems in the prosecution of this case” and was brought to the court’s attention by Mr. Czajka alone, when he became aware at some point that Mr. Handy had retained counsel to represent him on a civil matter.

While seeking criminal and civil justice simultaneously is part of the nation’s “dual justice system,” the judge said, “the two can never overlap. No one may use the fact that there’s a criminal prosecution to leverage or otherwise take advantage to secure a civil judgment.”

As part of a motion exhibit, the judge read a text between two lawyers which discusses money. “It’s not equivocal, it’s not hidden, it’s not implied, it’s express, [that Mr. Handy’s civil attorney, Paul Freeman] expressly demand[s] $650,000 on behalf of his client to make the criminal charges disappear.”

Further on in the exhibit the text says that the $650,000 payment will be made, once confirmation from the District Attorney’s Office is received that criminal charges against the defendants will no longer be pursued.

Realizing he could become a witness in the case and wanting no part of the deal, Mr. Czajka called for a special prosecutor. The judge said, “[Mr. Czajka] came before this Court and acknowledged that that fact would be proper for cross examination of the complaining witness, a fact that would be to the detriment of your case. When you became aware of this… you didn’t make yourself complicit in this. You resisted it. You told him to pound sand, in essence, from what I’ve read in the transcript, which was the right thing to do.”

The judge placed that problem, “squarely at the feet of the Handys. They wanted money. And I don’t blame them. They were entitled to it but they were looking for money not because of their injuries but because they used the criminal charges to say there’s a value in me dropping the criminal charges.” The judge said, “The word that comes to mind is extortion. It may be bribe solicitation, but it was absolutely wrong.” Whether there will be criminal charges forthcoming against anyone involved will be a matter for Special Prosecutor Thomas Capezza to investigate. A special prosecutor, and it could be the same person, will also be assigned to handle the appeal of the dismissed charges and prosecution of a new indictment if there is one.

In giving the reasoning for his dismissal decision, Judge Marcelle referred to the length of time it will take a special prosecutor to get up to speed on the case (months) and to the probability that when Mr. or Mrs. Handy would take the stand, they would invoke their right to remain silent, which would cause defense attorneys to leap to their feet and demand a mistrial and dismissal, which the judge said he would grant.

“This case is gasping and wheezing and is in the throes of death. I’m going to end it,” said the judge. “I’m going to grant the motions to dismiss this case in the interest of justice.”

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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