Eleven months before Edward L. Orr allegedly ran over John Judge on Amagansett Main Street in his 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, driving on without stopping to aid the dying man, he was arrested by East Hampton Town police and charged with two Class A misdemeanors and a Class D felony. At that time he was on probation, as he still is, for a Class D felony conviction of grand larceny in 2009.
If he’d been convicted of any of the three charges leveled against him on Nov. 19, 2011, Mr. Orr might not have been driving on the night of Oct. 22, 2012, when Mr. Judge died. Instead, he might have been in jail.
But, thanks to a plea bargain, the case never went to trial. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota’s office made a deal in March 2012 with the defense attorney, Gordon Ryan, that freed Mr. Orr, in exchange for a guilty plea to disorderly conduct and a $500 fine. Eight months later, Mr. Judge was dead.
Melissa Aguanno, a former assistant D.A. in East Hampton who now practices criminal law as a defense attorney on the East End, was not surprised by the plea bargain. Obtaining convictions in cases involving domestic violence, as in the November 2011 incident, is extremely difficult, she said, because of the reluctance of family members to pursue charges.
Mr. Orr was arrested at the time after allegedly choking his father for 30 seconds, to the point where the older man began to faint, then threatening him with knives. In his statement to the police, he admitted choking his father “for about four seconds,” but denied brandishing the knives. He told police he’d taken a Xanax, and had had four shots of vodka that morning.
That statement would have been admissible if the case had gone to trial.
According to Ms. Aguanno, if a trial had been held in East Hampton Justice Court for someone facing similar charges, upon conviction either of the town justices, Catherine Cahill or Lisa Rana, would likely have sent the person to jail. Both justices are strong-minded and tough on crime, she said last week.
Susan Menu, an East End criminal defense attorney who is a regular in Justice Court, agreed with Ms. Aguanno’s assessment of the plea-bargain outcome. “If the victim doesn’t want to proceed, they’re not going to trial,” she said.
East Hampton Town detectives arrested Mr. Orr on Feb. 7, after an intense search for the vehicle that killed Mr. Judge led them to a car auction in New Jersey. Police had had possession of the car for some time, according to Detective Lt. Chris Anderson, while they worked to prove that the car’s owner and the driver of the hit-and-run vehicle were one and the same. They did so through cellphone records, according to the detective.
Justice Cahill set bail for Mr. Orr at $250,000 the morning after his arrest, and the district attorney’s office got an indictment against him from a grand jury the following Monday, for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, a felony.
On Feb. 13, the grand jury issued two more counts of indictment, including a felony charge of tampering with evidence. Mr. Orr allegedly tried to stage a fake accident after Mr. Judge’s death, in order to justify the front-end damage to the jeep.
Mr. Orr is currently serving five years’ probation, stemming from a felony conviction for skimming funds from Prado Fuels in Montauk between 2007 and 2008, totaling $34,600. The money was paid back, apparently by his family.
Even after accepting the plea bargain in March 2012, Mr. Orr could still have been sent to prison. New York State Supreme Court Justice William Condon, who accepted his plea of guilty to felony grand larceny in 2009, set stipulations, in sentencing him to probation, that he refrain from alcohol and drug consumption — something he admitted doing in a statement to town police after his 2011 arrest.
Three months later, on Feb. 8, 2012, Mr. Orr pleaded guilty to violating the terms of his probation. After a series of adjournments, he was restored to probation status on Nov. 13, three weeks after allegedly killing Mr. Judge.
Due to an editing error, a previous charge of aggravated drunken driving against Edward Orr, the accused driver in the John Judge hit-and-run case, was referred to as a felony in last Thursday’s edition; it was a misdemeanor.