Driver Pleads Guilty to Hit and Run

Friends of the late John Judge of Amagansett express dismay over plea deal
Friends of the victim gathered together Monday night, calling for a stiff penalty on Edward Orr, who plead guilty to being the driver in the hit-and-run accident that killed Mr. Judge in October. T. E. McMorrow

    Edward Orr, the Montauk man accused of the hit-and-run death of John Judge of Amagansett on the hamlet’s Main Street last October, then driving east without stopping, pleaded guilty last week in Suffolk County Supreme Court to leaving the scene of a fatal accident, a Class D felony, as well as tampering with evidence, a Class E felony.
    The plea, which Mr. Orr’s attorney, Gordon Ryan,  stressed on Tuesday had not been negotiated, was accepted in Justice William J. Condon’s chambers by Ian Fitzgerald, an assistant district attorney who works out of the new Vehicular Bureau of the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office. “There was no bargaining,” Mr. Ryan, a Montauk lawyer, said. He explained that he had consulted with Mr. Orr and said the evidence against him was “insurmountable.” He wanted “to get him into state prison as soon as possible,” he said, so that he can start serving his time.
    According to Mr. Ryan, Justice Condon had asked Mr. Fitzgerald what the people were thinking of in the way of sentencing. “Two to six years,” the assistant district attorney responded. Mr. Ryan declined to make a counter request. Sentencing is scheduled for April 24. Class D felonies are punishable by up to seven years in prison.
    “The system failed before and it is failing again,” Allison Lupo said Monday before leading a brief vigil in the wintry weather that night within feet of where Mr. Judge died. The group is asking for justice for Mr. Judge, which they think requires a much longer sentence. “I don’t understand why the district attorney would make [that] offer,” Ms. Lupo said.
    Commenting on the prison term, Mr. Ryan said, “The system is not going to do any favors for this guy. I would guess he’ll end up doing four to five years,” he said, adding, “His record is going to haunt him, and the gravity of what happened is going to haunt him,” when he comes up for parole in the future.
    Robert Clifford, the district attorney’s spokesman, did not return calls seeking comment on the suggested length of sentence.
    Mr. Ryan said Mr. Orr had thought he hit a deer when he struck and killed Mr. Judge shortly before 8 p.m. on Oct. 23. He said his client didn’t learn Mr. Judge had been killed until the next morning, when he heard a news account on the radio. Mr. Ryan added that his client ran because he has a criminal record and was frightened of the consequences.
    Mr. Orr gave police a detailed, five-page statement after being brought to East Hampton Town Police headquarters on Feb. 7, following an intensive search for the hit-and-run driver. The statement has not been released.
    Police had closed Montauk Highway for seven hours following the incident, combing the roadway for evidence that might lead to the driver. Three months later, they linked debris to a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee in a New Jersey auction lot. Combined with cellphone records, they brought in Mr. Orr for questioning.
    “He did not cause the accident,” Mr. Ryan said, pointing out that the car was not swerving and apparently was in the correct lane when it struck Mr. Judge. “Everybody assumes [Mr. Orr] was intoxicated. I’ve got drug tests that says he was clean,” Mr. Ryan added. Mr. Orr had been attending counseling sessions at Phoenix House, an East Hampton rehabilitation center, which included periodic drug testing. The drug tests from Phoenix House will be presented to Justice Condon before sentencing.
    However, Mr. Ryan said that contrary to published reports, Mr. Orr had not been drug-tested between late September and the night he killed John Judge in October.
    Mr. Orr’s criminal record includes a 2009 conviction for embezzling $36,000 from a company for which he was a bookkeeper. It was a Class D felony, the same level as the more serious of the two crimes he pleaded guilty to last week. Justice Condon was on the bench at that time as well.
    The previous year, he had been convicted of two misdemeanors, the result of two different charges: fleeing a police officer and aggravated driving while intoxicated.
    Mr. Orr told the police in 2009 that he had been stealing to feed his cocaine and liquor habit. He was sentenced to probation with strict requirements: “Refrain from violating any federal, state, or local law; Avoid injurious or vicious habits; Abstain from the use of intoxicating beverages.”
    In November 2011, however, Mr. Orr was charged in an attack on his father, with choking as a felony, according to court documents. The incident arose after his father had reported that his son had been drinking heavily. The case was plea-bargained down in February 2012 to a violation, in part because of the reluctance of the senior Mr. Orr to press charges. The younger Mr. Orr admitted having four shots of vodka and taking Xanax shortly before the midday attack.
    He pleaded guilty on Feb. 8 to violating probation, and Justice Condon put off sentencing until November to allow him time to attend drug treatment programs. Standing before Justice Condon for sentencing on Nov. 13, Mr. Orr knew, according to his subsequent statement to police, that he had killed a man three weeks earlier but said nothing. Justice Condon restored Mr. Orr’s probation status, extending its time until June 2015.
    “Last year, the judge didn’t have hundreds of people signing petitions, saying please, please, take action,” Ms. Lupo said. Her husband, Tony Lupo, met John Judge 42 years ago, in Hampton Bays. The two became lifelong friends. “Somebody is getting something,” he said.
    Ms. Lupo plans to attend the sentencing next month, along with her family. “John has nobody to speak for him,” she said. “He just has us.”