One month after declaring a mistrial in the murder trial of Charles Tan ’17, County Court Judge James Piampiano shocked observers Thursday by dismissing all charges against the former Cornell student.
Tan was tried last month for allegedly fatally shooting his father in February. However, after eight days of deliberations, the jurors were dismissed without a verdict. The case was expected to be retried early next year.
Those expectations were shattered Thursday, when all parties returned to court for what was supposed to be a series of routine pre-trial proceedings. There, in response to the defense’s motion for dismissal, Piampiano told both sides that he thought the prosecution had failed to meet its burden in the first trial, prompting what The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported was visible celebration from Tan supporters in the gallery.
Piampiano justified his decision in part by saying that the prosecution had failed to even place the murder weapon — a 12-gauge shotgun — in Tan’s hands. During the ruling, Assistant District Attorney William Gargan, the prosecutor who tried the case against Tan, loudly interrupted the judge and resisted initial orders to keep quiet, according to The Democrat and Chronicle. Gargan later called the ruling the “most shocking” he had ever witnessed.
After the proceedings ended, Gargan suggested that the judge must have “amnesia” to have ignored what he claimed was clear evidence of Tan’s guilt, including statements made by both Tan and his mother. Gargan said he stands” by every decision” he made in trying the case and “was more than willing to have handcuffs placed on” him at one point during the proceedings, The Democrat and Chronicle reported.
Tan was a Cornell student until his arrest in February. After Thursday’s decision, his lawyers said he is likely to return to the Hill, according to The Democrat and Chronicle. However, the University was not immediately able to comment Thursday concerning whether Tan will be readmitted.
The defense team told The Democrat and Chronicle they were not surprised with Piampiano’s ruling, saying that the weakness of the prosecution’s case made dismissal seem like a valid possibility after the mistrial.
“He’s been living a nightmare for over a year with this case going on,” said James Nobles, one of Tan’s defense lawyers. “Certainly at this point in time he can move on with the rest of his life.”