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Assistant State’s Attorney Lawrence Tytla said he plans to offer substitute information in order to drop a capital felony charge in the case of an 18-year-old Old Lyme man who shot at a state trooper last April. The defendant, Van Schryver, was accused of criminal attempt to commit capital felony for firing six shots at State Trooper Joseph Mercer. Tytla says Schryver might see 50 years on four other counts, and that he does not plan to pursue the capital felony charge. “It’s not a case where we would ever consider the death penalty,” Tytla said. “It [the capital felony charge] has become a distraction, it is not something we were ever going to seriously pursue.” Schryver was also charged with criminal attempt to commit murder, interfering with a police officer, first-degree burglary and carrying a dangerous weapon in connection with a standoff with state police on April 23 around the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Schryver’s public defenders, Gail A. Heller and Elizabeth M. Inkster, fought from the beginning to get the capital felony charged dismissed, claming there was no such offense as attempted capital felony, and that the legislature never intended an attempted shooting to qualify as a death-eligible offense. If Schryver were to be convicted of a criminal capital felony he could have faced a death sentence of life in prison without parole. Heller and Inkster did not return telephone calls made by The Law Tribune, but stated in their July 17 court motion, calling for the dismissal of the capital felony charge, that because there was no homicide, there could be no charge of capital felony. “Although the defendant is alleged to have fired shots at a state police officer, there is no allegation that any police officer was even wounded, much less killed,” Heller and Inkster wrote. “And yet, amazingly, the state posits that it can exact the punishment of life imprisonment without parole or the death penalty where there has been no homicide, much less the statutory prerequisite-intentional murder. Capital felony is a statutorily defined form of murder.” Schryver was charged with criminal attempt to commit capital felony under a state law which allows a person to be charged with criminal attempt to commit a crime if they believe that person tried to commit a crime but failed. But according to Patrick J. Culligan, chief of capital defense and trial services for the chief public defender’s office, the state law was designed more for the criminal attempt to commit murder charge. Heller and Inkster agreed in their motion, arguing that such reasoning does not apply in capital felony cases where the state legislature has been very specific about the wording of the law. Under the state law there are nine instances where capital felony can be applied, including murder of a police officer, murder for hire, murder in the commission of a rape or kidnapping, and murder of two or more people at the same time. Tytla said although he thought Heller and Inkster’s reasoning was a “legally cognizable defense,” he disagreed with parts of their court brief. He declined to comment further. Preston Tisdale, Director of Special Public Defenders for the Chief Public Defender’s office said although he has not seen such a charge in his many years as a public defender, it seemed that Heller and Inkster’s arguments were “right on target.” “I’d have to defer to the public defenders handling the case, but it seems like a novel approach,” Tisdale said. In 1989 Leroy Gordon was accused of shooting at two Hartford police officers, and was initially charged with criminal attempt to commit capital felony, but the charge was later dropped for the same reasons. In 1997, the Supreme Court, ruling en banc in State v. Johnson, held that a felony murder conviction cannot serve as the basis for a charge of capital felony if a murder was not intentional.

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