An Auburn man will not face criminal charges for killing his neighbor this summer during an early-morning street fight.
After recently hearing testimony from the defendant and three witnesses, a Cayuga County grand jury determined there was not enough evidence against Jamie R. O'Hora, 42, to prosecute the defendant for criminally-negligent homicide and first-degree strangulation.
O'Hora was arrested around 1 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 27 after Auburn police rushed to Logan Street and found an unresponsive Michael Hannig lying face down on the pavement, not breathing.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Valdina said that although investigators could not definitively nail down what sparked the fight, police know the brawl that cost Hannig his life was not the neighbors' first altercation.
One witness alleged that O'Hora, of 29 Steel St., yelled at Hannig's children Saturday evening, hours before the deadly clash, Valdina said.
Soon after, Hannig got in a fight with another unnamed neighbor. Although O'Hora tried to break up the argument, Valdina said Hannig, of of 38 Logan St., allegedly punched the other neighbor.
But when police visited Logan Street to investigate the initial incident, Valdina said both witnesses and the men involved were too drunk to give reliable statements.
"O'Hora was intoxicated. Hannig was intoxicated. Everyone was intoxicated," he explained. "You had a drunken fight between people."
Valdina said police advised witnesses and participants to stop by the Auburn Police Department the next day — when they had sobered up — to discuss what happened, then left.
"That was the initial situation," he said. "Then, somehow, it reignited."
However, because the only three people who witnessed the fights were either connected to the defendant or the victim, Valdina said what happened later was hard to verify.
During both fights, Valdina said O'Hora ran from his home to Hannig's on both incidents, twice "engaging" Hannig.
"What was important was it all happened in front of Mr. Hannig's house," he said.
Instead of walking away from an angry Hannig during the second fight, Valdina said O'Hora got back up after the Auburn man knocked him down.
However, David Elkovitch, O'Hora's defense attorney, said Hannig beat O'Hora with a stick and poured gasoline on him.
"He got unconscious, and when he woke up, Mr. Hannig was on top of him, beating him," Elkovitch said, adding that Hannig said he was going to burn O'Hora alive.
That's when O'Hora put Hannig into a choke hold, the attorney explained.
"He did whatever he could to get him off," Elkovitch said. "Otherwise, he was dead."
When emergency personal arrived on Logan Street, Valdina said neither paramedics nor witnesses could determine how long O'Hora kept Hannig in a choke hold. The 47-year-old husband and father of five was rushed to Auburn Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Elkovitch said he was pleased with the grand jury's decision not to indict his client.
"I believe that's what the facts of the case showed, that it was self defense," Elkovitch said. "It was a homicide, but it was justified."
Valdina said he respectfully disagreed with the grand jury's ruling, explaining he believed O'Hora could have walked away from the fight without endangering himself or his family.
"I don't think it was a situation where anyone needed to die," he said. "He used deadly physical force in a situation where he didn't have to."
However, despite the "tremendous investigation" conducted by police over the past couple months, Valdina said O'Hora's case was very challenging.
With only biased witnesses to speak to, Valdina said it wasn't possible to prove O'Hora knew the level of force he was employing when he strangled Hannig, or how long Hannig was in a choke hold.
Although Valdina said the Cayuga County District Attorney's Office would've preferred to see O'Hora face some charges, he said his office respected the grand jury's verdict.
Either way, he said, Hannig's death would forever haunt O'Hora.
"Even if he doesn't have legal liability, he has to live with it," Valdina said. "It's a tragedy."