Arson trial case will wait until May

MAYVILLE – The trial of Barak Cornell, the Panama man who was convicted in 2011 of intentionally setting fire to his neighbor’s home, has been rescheduled to May.

According to Kathleen Krauza, chief clerk for Chautauqua County Court, the decision was the result of several scheduling conflicts in the court calendar.

“We don’t have a set date,” Krauza said. “But jury selection (which was originally scheduled for Tuesday) is expected to begin in May.”

Public Defender Ned Barone, who will represent Cornell, added that the rescheduling was likely necessary to provide a “good block of time” for the trial to remain free of other conflicts.

Krauza also said that Judge Stephen W. Cass, who was originally set to preside over the trial, will no longer do so, indicating that a different judge will be selected at a later date.

Assistant District Attorney Laurie Beckerlink is still set to represent the people, according to Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley.

The new developments are indeed the latest twists in a trial that has already been a long, winding and unpredictable road.

Cornell, 57, first pleaded guilty to second-degree arson on Dec. 8, 2008, 11 months after he allegedly spilled fire accelerants on the deck of his neighbor’s home and lit them with a cigarette. The neighbor, Jeff Lubi, was reportedly sleeping inside with his family at the time. All of the family safely escaped.

Despite Cornell’s guilty plea and a sentence of 14 years in prison with five years of post-release supervision, the case was appealed and overturned on procedural grounds.

Cornell was convicted for a second time in April 2011, with the additional charges of third-degree criminal mischief and three counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, all leading to a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.

In October 2013, this again was appealed and overturned on procedural grounds.

Barone, who was not involved in the case back in 2011, stated that these procedural grounds primarily dealt with evidence, wherein the appellate division believed “certain things were conducted incorrectly.”

According to Krauza, a pre-trial conference will likely take place before jury selection begins in May.