Taped in court: Judge Williams orders defendant’s mouth sealed

kt logoCounty Court Judge Donald Williams sentenced an Internet predator to a long stretch in state prison for sending bestiality videos to a teenage girl, but not before imposing a literal “gag order” that left the disruptive defendant pleading his case through duct tape.

Clifford William Wares, 40, was in Williams’ courtroom on Wednesday, Jan. 16 for sentencing on three felony counts of disseminating indecent materials to a minor. In February and March of 2011, authorities said, Wares, using the Internet handle “Dogsex845” sent the videos, along with nude photos and invitations to meet in person, to a 14-year-old UlsterCounty girl. Wares’ record includes at least three prior convictions for harassment, stalking and coercion dating back to 2004. At the time of his last arrest, he was on felony probation for a 2010 case in which he was accused of using fake profiles to discuss bestiality with adolescent girls. Two previous convictions stemmed from Wares use of the internet to threaten women with rape and murder.

In February 2012, Wares pleaded guilty to three of 37 counts contained in the indictment with the understanding that he would receive a sentence of nine to 18 years in state prison. Wares later moved to withdraw the plea. Eleven months later, (during which time he was convicted of felony assault on a police officer in OrangeCounty) Wares was back in court after Williams denied his motion to withdraw the plea and moved ahead with sentencing.

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During the hearing, according to Wares’ attorney Dennis McClure and Ulster County Assistant District Attorney Gerald Van Loan, Wares became disruptive, repeatedly interrupting Williams. According to Van Loan, Wares also said that he “knew where the victim lived” and threatened “repercussions.” According to McClure, after a warning and a contempt citation failed to quell Wares’ tirade, Williams ordered court officers to take him from the courtroom and gag him. When he returned, Van Loan and McClure said, Wares had duct tape covering his mouth. Finally, after Wares continued to disrupt the proceedings even while gagged, Williams ordered him removed from the courtroom once more. This time, according to McClure and Van Loan, Williams — who declined to comment on the case — opted to sentence Wares in absentia to 9-18 years in state prison, and 30 days in jail for contempt.

Van Loan, McClure and other local attorneys said it was the first time they had ever seen or heard of a defendant gagged in Ulster County Court. But David Bookstaver, spokesman for the State Office of Court Administration said that while unusual, gagging a defendant to preserve order in the courtroom was legal and acceptable under state guidelines which grant judges wide latitude when it comes to maintaining an orderly atmosphere. Such restraint, Bookstaver said, serves as an intermediate step intended to preserve the accused’s right to be present during legal proceedings while allowing a judge to control his courtroom.

“It’s certainly unusual,” said Bookstaver. “But it’s not unheard of.”

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