News10NBC Investigates: Emerson Tohafjian’s history with the legal system

July 13, 2018 10:18 AM

The suspect in the double homicide in Waterloo, Emerson “John” Tohafjian, has a lengthy criminal history that spans nearly 30 years.

A News10NBC investigation revealed Tohafjian was first arrested back in 1990 and convicted of robbery. Since then, he’s been in and out of jail on a number of violent crimes.   

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On June 3rd of this year, Tohafjian was charged with assault, obstruction of breathing, menacing, and criminal mischief for allegedly hitting and choking one of the victims in the homicide. He was arraigned in the Town of Fayette Court where Judge Duane Riegel set bail at $500 and issued an order of protection.  

Two weeks later, on June 19th, Tohafjian is accused of ignoring that order of protection. Court paperwork indicates this time, he raped and choked the woman to the point where she thought she would die. He then picked up and threw a cat carrier, with a cat named “Ollie" inside, onto a road causing an injury to the cat. He appeared in front of Judge Riegel again who, this time set bail at $10,000.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke spoke with Judge Riegel on Thursday to see why bail was set that low on a violent felony charge.

Judge Riegel said he followed the recommendation of the Seneca County District Attorney’s office. At a press conference on Thursday, DA Barry Porch said, “in New York State bail is to ensure that the defendant returns to court. We don't have preventable detention in New York.”

Judicial sources tell News10NBC that while $10,000 bail may seem low in some counties, it’s not unheard of in smaller, rural counties even on a serious felony charge. The judge has ultimate discretion.  

On June 21st, a family member posted Tohafjian’s bail.

"He was scheduled to appear in the town court on June 27, 2018. He failed to appear on that day and my office requested a bench warrant and recommendation of an additional $10,000 bail of $20,000 bond and the judge refused that request,” Porch said.

That was the Town of Varick Court. News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke spoke with Judge Jeff Houge on Thursday but he declined to comment on the case, saying he is not legally able to.  

News10NBC has learned from three separate sources that it is unconstitutional to double someone’s bail without them being present in the courtroom.

The Town of Varick Court was assured by Tohafjian’s attorney that his failure to appear in court on the June 27 was a scheduling misunderstanding and all parties knew about and agreed to a new, July 11th court date.

Typically, when a defendant does not show up for court and has a private attorney, the court attempts to reach that attorney to make sure there wasn’t a scheduling error or assumed adjournment before issuing a bench warrant. A bench warrant should only be issued if the court believes the defendant willfully avoided the appearance.

“We all want to put blame on somebody and we have, there's a system of laws in our country but when it's all said and done, the person that pulled the trigger, is the person that should be held accountable and he's really the real one to be blamed here,” New York State Police Captain Barry Chase says.


Jennifer Lewke

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