LIVINGSTON COUNTY – A heated argument has erupted at the Livingston County courthouse as Public Defender Marcea Clark Tetamore expressed complete disgust and fundamental disagreement with District Attorney Greg McCaffrey’s Office and felony sex crime law, saying that her client was unjustly forced to plead guilty and accept an excessive prison sentence to avoid possible life in prison.
Tetamore believes that McCaffrey unfairly took advantage of the vague language in sex crime law to threaten her client, Matthew Bennett, 43, with an indictment for Predatory Sexual Assault Against a Child that could put him away for life, forcing him to accept a plea deal for 15 years in prison. Tetamore mentioned that Richard Cassada, 61, had in recent weeks been sentenced in county court to 1 1/2 years for raping his teenage adopted daughter, when Bennett’s sexual contact with his three-year-old niece was not as offensive.
“I think the sentence is excessive, it could be as low as 5 years, and the law is being used in a heavy-handed manner,” said Clark Tetamore. “Certainly there are cases that warrant the [predatory] statute, but this is not one of those cases […] My belief is that the DA’s office, not only in Livingston County but in all counties, should seek justice and not punishment. The differences between Cassada and my client do not reflect that.”
McCaffrey said that the conduct and facts underpinning each of these cases varied widely, and both plea offers were designed to protect victims from the trauma of having to testify at Grand Jury or at trial.
“My job is to seek justice and protect the community,” said McCaffrey. “There are completely different ends to Cassada’s case and the Bennett case. With Cassada, the idea is that he never has access to kids again as a level 3 sex offender, and with Bennett, it’s that he doesn’t get out of prison for a long, long time. And I would rather plead out every sex case and not revictimize the victims. In both cases, the victims never, ever had to testify, and the victims and their families are happy, and that’s what matters.”
Both McCaffrey and Tetamore said that part of the disagreement concerns the law itself.
“My issue is also with the Predatory Sexual Assault law. It is poorly written,” said Tetamore. “It doesn’t define ‘predatory conduct’ and so is used to force defendants who admit to lesser offenses into plea deals. The law was written without any purpose. I get the concept of such a law, but this one has no purpose.”
“I think Mrs. Tetamore’s argument is with the law and what sentences are allowed,” said McCaffrey. “Both Cassada and Bennett got middle-of-the-road deals for their separate sentence parameters. Bennett was charged with a B felony where Cassada was charged with an E. The legal sentences for those two offenses are not even close.”
The future of the case is now firmly in the hands of Mr. Bennett. Judge Robert Wiggins indicated that he would allow Bennett to withdraw his guilty plea, meaning that the DA’s Office would have to present the case to a Grand Jury, get an indictment, and take the matter to trial. However, McCaffrey said that in that case he would be seeking life in prison, and there would be no deal.
“It’s entirely my client’s decision,” said Tetamore. “The risk is high. At trial he would face 15 to life instead of just the 15.”