Mayor’s court testimony becomes center of political debate
By Kym Soper
VERNON — Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s decision to testify at the February sentencing of a man convicted of sexual assault charges has turned into a political football with both party chairmen pointing fingers and laying blame.
During the public comment session of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Republican Town Committee Chairman Hal Cummings read a letter he wrote to his Democratic counterpart, Tom DiDio, berating Democrats for “bringing the politics of personal destruction to a new low.
“During this time of sorrow and suffering for all parties, your attempt to make political mileage out of this tragedy is reprehensible,” Cummings wrote.
DiDio, meanwhile, says Cummings’ remarks were misguided, as the committee never took action.
“Hal and the Republicans are the ones who are now playing politics with this issue,” DiDio responded.
The matter stems from a February court hearing of Christopher Bonet, 21, who was sentenced to four years in prison for the 2004 sexual assault of an incapacitated 17-year-old girl.
Bonet, who is the father of Deputy Mayor Diane Wheelock’s grandchild, pled guilty to charges of second-degree sexual assault and attempt to commit second-degree sexual assault just as jury selection for his trial was about to start.
At Wheelock’s request — suggested by Bonet’s lawyer — McCoy, a lawyer, testified on Bonet’s behalf at the sentencing hearing, causing some to question his judgment.
Cummings took exception to two letters to the editor printed in the Journal Inquirer that were highly critical of McCoy’s court appearance. One of the letters was from Democratic committee member Bill Dauphin, while the second, written by Joyce Millikin, had no political affiliation.
Cummings wrote to DiDio, “While appearing as a friend of Diane Wheelock’s, Jason, as an experienced defense attorney, made an appropriate argument in mitigation of the young man’s conduct. That is our criminal justice system at work.
“It is morally repugnant for you and other members of the Democrat Town Committee, now to attempt to make political mileage out of a tragic situation for the assault victim, her family, Diane Wheelock, and her family.”
Cummings also scolded DiDio for calling a special town committee meeting on March 6 to discuss McCoy’s actions.
But the two letters to the editor were personal viewpoints and not political banter, DiDio says.
“Although we did discuss this issue at length, our town committee decided to take no action,” DiDio responded. “The question was not with the case itself, but with Jason acting at the behest of the deputy mayor … as mayor, many felt this as inappropriate for him to intercede.”
DiDio further stated that the committee considered the various arguments Cummings made publicly, and “consequently we felt it inappropriate for us to act.
“The consensus was that this was more a private situation than a political one,” DiDio added. “The Wheelocks are a respected family and my personal support and prayers are with them. An overwhelming majority of our committee feels the same way.”
According to Bonet’s arrest warrant, on Dec. 26, 2004, while attending a Vernon house party where alcohol was served, the 17-year-old girl passed out in a bathroom.
Witnesses told police that Bonet entered the bathroom after her and they began to hear disturbing noises. The door was locked and partygoers broke in using a credit card, according to the arrest warrant.
Witnesses told police they saw Bonet forcing the nude girl to perform a sexual act, and two men pulled him out of the room.
However, witnesses told police that Bonet later forced the girl to perform sexual acts on him while they were in the backseat of a car, the warrant said.
Despite McCoy’s testimony, Bonet received the stiffest sentence allowed — four years — which the judge called “lenient.”
As part of a plea agreement with the state he was facing between two and four years in prison, as well as 10 years on the state’s sex offender registry when released from jail.
© Journal Inquirer 2008