After 15 months and more than $200,000 of taxpayers’ money, the criminal case against two Wilson High School baseball coaches came to naught Monday.
Instead of beginning to select a jury, Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco moved to dismiss the charges
against suspended coaches William M. Atlas and Thomas J. Baia.
Zucco offered no explanation for the decision. He and defense attorneys said they did not want to comment while Town Justice George R. Berger is still considering his verdict in the trial of two former players who were charged with roughing up some of their teammates on the team bus April 17, 2008, as it headed home from a game in Niagara Falls.
The State Police is conducting an internal investigation of how the case was handled.
Another source close to the case said the prosecution might have decided weeks ago to abandon the case against the coaches. The source said witnesses who expected to testify at the Baia-Atlas trial were wondering why they never received subpoenas.
Asked why the prosecution gave up now instead of months ago, Viola said, “Let’s just say a case matures.”
At 9 a. m. Monday, Zucco rose in the Town Hall courtroom and told Berger, “It is the people’s intention not to go forward with this prosecution.”
“Obviously, we have no objection,” Greenman said.
Berger dismissed the case to the loud applause of about 20 family members and other supporters of the coaches.
“Given that the other charge [against the players] is still under consideration by the judge, we’re not going to comment at all,” Zucco said.
Wilson School Superintendent Michael S. Wendt met with Baia and Atlas in his office after the court session. The Board of Education will meet next week, he said, and it is expected to vote on reinstating them to their jobs
. Both have been suspended with pay since they were arrested.
“I’m sure the board will make a decision based on the new information that was made public [Monday],” Wendt said. “We will work within the guidelines and procedures to regularly and fully correct the present situation.”
School Board President Timothy F. Kropp said the coaches were suspended on advice of the school’s attorneys.
It was done as a “precautionary measure,” Kropp said, and no hearings were held before the suspensions were imposed.
The $200,000-plus cost of the case to Wilson taxpayers
does not include the coaches’ pay, Wendt said, but it does include salaries of about $35,000 each for two long-term substitutes to take their places, as well as legal fees for Greenman and Viola.
Under the contract with the teachers union, the district had to absorb the cost of defending Atlas and Baia.
More legal costs are coming, as Terrence M. Connors, the attorney hired by the parents of a junior varsity baseball player who said he was abused on the bus ride, reiterated Monday that he will be suing the district by the end of this month.
Zucco argued in a motion made available to The News that there was a history of hazing on the Wilson baseball team, dating back several seasons, in which older players would strike younger, smaller players.
One of the players who said he was a past victim was one of those tried as a perpetrator last week, according to statements Zucco unsuccessfully sought to use as trial evidence.
Connors said his argument remains the same: “Those who were charged with the responsibility of protecting those kids failed in their responsibility, and that’s from the top down.”