First of three men charged in N.Y. trooper's slaying goes on trial
ELMIRA, N.Y.- Trooper Andrew Sperr hadn't been notified about a bank robbery in a nearby hamlet an hour before he pulled over a pickup truck on an isolated road in March.
The 10-year police veteran was shot six times when he stepped out of his patrol car but managed to wound two suspected bank robbers before falling dead, state police said.
Anthony Horton, a 34-year-old career criminal identified by police as the triggerman, went on trial Monday for armed robbery and murder, including an aggravated murder count that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
A jury was seated Monday, and opening statements were scheduled for Tuesday.
The trial will likely draw extra public attention because Sperr was the first of four troopers slain this year _ an unusually high toll in the state police ranks.
"It is the single largest such loss in the 89-year history of the state police in such a brief period of time," state police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said at the funeral of Joseph Longobardo, 32, one of three troopers that Ralph "Bucky" Phillips is suspected of shooting while on the run this summer.
In April, Trooper Craig Todeschini was killed when his police SUV hit a tree as he tried to pursue a speeding biker through the hamlet of Pompey Hill near Syracuse. Another trooper, John McKenna IV, a Marine Corps captain, was killed Aug. 16 while on foot patrol in Fallujah, Iraq.
On the early afternoon of March 1, Sperr chanced upon two of the three men suspected of robbing a bank at midday in the hamlet of Big Flats, midway between Corning and Elmira.
Sperr, who grew up the youngest of 11 siblings in suburban Rochester, apparently was unaware of the robbery, which netted $1,900 but was not relayed to police through the 911 emergency system, authorities said.
Soon after the shootout, Horton was captured when he was dropped off at an Elmira hospital with a bullet wound in the back. A suspected accomplice, Bryan Adams, 45, was also wounded by Sperr and surrendered after retreating to a nearby motel, police said.
Wayne Adams, his 42-year-old brother, was captured the next morning and accused of serving as a lookout during the robbery.
All three have pleaded not guilty. If convicted of second-degree murder and robbery - their trial date has not been set - the Adams brothers could get 25 years to life in prison.
The U.S. attorney's office decided not to press federal charges that would have made Horton eligible for the death penalty. New York does not have a death penalty statute on the books.
In all, 115 state troopers have been killed on duty over the last 89 years, seven while on military service. Before this year, the most recent gunshot victim was Lawrence Gleason, a rookie fatally shot in the back by a suicidal gunman during a domestic dispute in an Adirondacks hamlet in 2002.
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