AUBURN — The man accused of stabbing with intent to kill a law enforcement officer put himself on the witness stand at his trial Thursday, acknowledging that he stabbed a sheriff's deputy but arguing he was justified in doing so.
Luke Gaffney, 42, is on trial in Cayuga County Court, facing charges of second-degree attempted murder and aggravated assault upon a police officer, both class B felonies. He is accused of stabbing Cayuga County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Adam Bacon, who was a deputy at the time of the incident in Aurelius on Oct. 23, 2020.
The Cayuga County District Attorney's Office rested its case Thursday before court went into recess for lunch. After the break, Michael Kasmarek, Gaffney's primary defense attorney, called the defendant as his first witness. Gaffney, who has been free on bail since September 2021, told the jury that he was charged in a different case on Oct. 22, 2020. Since there was an order of protection against him in that case, his concealed pistol license was being revoked, which meant he needed to give up possession of the firearms he owns.
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Gaffney, who has been wearing a dark jacket, dress shirt and tie during the trial, said that during his arraignment in the other case, a town-level judge said he would be allowed to turn in his guns to Christopher Riester, a federal firearm license holder legally able to handle firearms, by Oct. 26, 2020. Gaffney said in court that he believes he signed an order reflecting that. He went to Riester's place of business in Auburn on Oct. 23 to make arrangements to give Riester his weapons by the next day, Gaffney said.
But later on Oct. 23, Bacon, another sheriff's deputy and a New York State Police trooper came to Gaffney's home at 6616 Route 90 in the town of Aurelius with intent to take his firearms that day.
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When the officers came to a door at the residence, Gaffney's wife initially told the officers he was on the phone and closed the door afterward. Gaffney said he came to the door soon after and Bacon told him they had a letter from Cayuga County Judge Thomas Leone stating that Gaffney's weapons needed to be seized.
The defendant told the jury on Thursday that he informed the officers they were not coming into his home and they were not taking his guns. Gaffney added that he asked the officers "if it was worth killing me over."
In his testimony on Wednesday, Bacon said Gaffney told the officers "You're going to have to kill me" and told them to leave.
After that interaction, Gaffney said on Thursday, Bacon grabbed him. He added that he thought the officer was trying to push him into his home. Taking a knife by his belt buckle, Gaffney stabbed Bacon in the left leg twice, he said. The officers ran from the doorway, Gaffney continued, and he then ducked behind his door "because I didn't want to get shot." Bacon was transported to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse to receive treatment for his injuries.
Gaffney quickly had his wife take his children to his in-laws' residence because he did not want them to be harmed, he said. While he said police officers are sworn to serve and protect, situations where "one of their own" gets hurt can cause tensions to run high, so Gaffney said he figured at the time that if officers entered his home, they would come in "guns blazing."
Kasmarek asked Gaffney if his actions in the confrontation with Bacon were consistent with his training in the U.S. Marine Corps, an argument the prosecution has made, pointing out that Marines are taught in combat that cutting a person's femoral artery can cause them to bleed out. One of Bacon's stab wounds was close to that artery.
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In response to the question, Gaffney, a former captain in the U.S. Marines, said he wasn't using his Marine training. Gaffney said he had been trained that in close-quarters combat with a knife involving someone in body armor, it's important to keep the other person close, but he allowed Bacon to get away from the door. Gaffney added he had been trained to continue to try to hit different vital points on an opponent's body, not just one area.
Gaffney later told the jury that he did not intend to kill Bacon and he did not intend to sever the officer's femoral artery. The DA's office showed the jury a picture Wednesday of a small scar high up his leg that was close to his femoral artery, which Bacon himself confirmed. Dr. Amie Lucia, the trauma surgeon who treated Bacon at the time, also gave testimony that one cut Bacon received was close to that artery and that kind of wound can cause a person to bleed to death in around 30 minutes if untreated.
Gaffney testified that he called 911 to report his "in my opinion, assault." Gaffney described also covering the windows of his house and turning off the lights so officers could not see inside, and added he did not put body armor on immediately, but later put some on. Gaffney eventually surrendered to law enforcement without incident after several hours of crisis negotiation.
Kasmarek noted Gaffney inquired about Bacon's condition during the standoff. Gaffney said he spent eight years of his life where his job was essentially "you kill people for a living," which he said makes him seem like a "a very violent person," but he had never hurt someone and been happy about it, "and that includes Adam Bacon," he said.
Kasmarek also asked Gaffney if he believed his actions were consistent with his understanding of what "the U.S. Constitution permits," to which Gaffney answered yes.
A Cayuga County grand jury has handed up a new indictment against the man charged with stabbing a sheriff’s deputy in 2020.
When it came time for Cayuga County District Attorney Brittany Grome Antonacci to question Gaffney, she asked if he intentionally stabbed Bacon. Gaffney replied, "I reacted." Shortly after, she pointed out Gaffney said he stabbed Bacon twice, but pictures previously displayed in the proceedings showed Bacon received three wounds. Lucia had also confirmed three wounds. Grome Antonacci asked if a wound "just magically" appeared on Bacon close to his femoral artery. Gaffney said he doesn't know how that happened, and said he knows he thrust his knife forward twice.
Regarding his claims about being within his rights that day, Grome Antonacci asked Gaffney if "ignorance of the law" was a valid reason to break the law, and Gaffney said it wasn't. She asked if Gaffney went to law school or attended a police academy to gain an understanding of the law, to which he said he hadn't.
In some tense exchanges between the prosecution and the defendant, Grome Antonacci asked Gaffney about the court order Bacon and the officers arrived with, with Gaffney saying Bacon did not call it an order at the time but referred to it as a letter. Gaffney said he did not read the paperwork at the time.
Gaffney said he was "already in the process of giving up my firearms." When Grome Antonacci asked if he didn't want his guns seized, he replied, "I didn't want my right violated."
The district attorney later noted that Gaffney hadn't been injured or shot that day, and he left his home "without a scratch" on him, which Gaffney confirmed was true. Although Gaffney argued he did not intend to kill or seriously injury Bacon, Grome Antonacci noted his knife went through muscle. She asked if Gaffney stabbed Bacon "to just scare him?" Gaffney promptly said he did it "to get him off me."
Later, Grome Antonacci asked Gaffney if "according to you, you had the right to stab" Bacon, to which Gaffney said yes.
"And you'd do it again?" Grome Antonacci asked.
"I don't know," Gaffney answered.
After Gaffney was done testifying, Riester, the person to whom Gaffney had arranged to transfer his firearms, briefly served as a witness.
Earlier in Thursday's proceedings, one of the witnesses the DA's office called was Jordan Reynolds, physician assistant at Victory Sports Medicine & Orthopedics in Skaneateles, where Bacon had undergone physical therapy. Some nerve damage Bacon received had been noted, although Reynolds also said an MRI did not not find nerve damage on Bacon. Reynolds noted, though, that an MRI is "not perfect" for picking up nerve damage and it is better for muscle damage. He also noted a electromyography study did not find nerve damage either.
Robert Burke, a state trooper and member of the state police's SWAT unit, and Det. Robert Guarnieri of the sheriff's office also took the stand as prosecution witnesses. Master Sgt. William Kendall, retired from the U.S. Marines, talked about close-quarters knife combat training Marines receive.
Detective Michael Baim of the sheriff's office also testified. Baim, a deputy at the time of the incident, was the other sheriff's office member who accompanied Bacon to Gaffney's home in October 2020. Baim took pictures inside Gaffney's home after the defendant was taken into custody and a search warrant was executed. Baim noted firearms on the kitchen floor and said he observed a bulletproof vest that had been wet from sweat, "as if it had been worn that night."
The sheriff's office previously said officers arrived to take Gaffney's firearms due to a court order related to his arrest earlier that week in which he was charged with third-degree assault, criminal obstruction of breathing and fourth-degree criminal mischief for an incident involving a person in a relationship with Gaffney’s ex-girlfriend. That case against Gaffney was resolved in fall 2021 through an adjournment in contemplation of a dismissal that included an order of protection for the victim.
The defense is expected to call one more witness to testify Friday morning, with closing statements expected to follow before the jury will be instructed and deliberations can begin.
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.