At least one probation officer has been fired and another demoted in the horrifying New York case of a federal child pornography suspect who raped a 10-year-old and murdered the girl’s mother while the suspect was under court-ordered supervision. The top official supervising the federal court system, Judge Thomas Hogan, wrote in a letter to the local congressman that the suspect in the March 14 crime, David Renz, “was not supervised in a manner typical of federal probation and pretrial services practices.”
Hogan also blamed federal budget reductions for the carjacking murder of a school librarian, who police say was stabbed to death after trying to save her daughter from Renz.
“Funding for salaries and operations in the probation and pretrial services system has been reduced 14 percent this fiscal year,” Hogan wrote in his letter to Rep. Dan Maffei, New York Democrat, adding that “resources for monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment have been cut 20 percent.”
Officials in the Syracuse office charged with supervising Renz after he was released by a federal magistrate in January “have denied that personnel shortages played any role in the Renz case,” according to the Syracuse Post Standard. However, Maffei cited the case Monday in a speech on the House floor, saying that “an innocent woman was stabbed to death [and] an innocent child was sexually assaulted” and that the ability of federal courts “to keep this from happening again is limited because their funding was cut.”
Renz was arrested in January on federal child pornography charges. Authorities say the 29-year-old from Cicero, N.Y., had more than more than 500 videos and 3,000 sexually explicit images of children on his computer when he was arrested Jan. 9. Two days later, however, with the agreement of the federal prosecutor in the case, Renz was released by U.S. Magistrate Andrew T. Baxter. Court documents indicate officials were aware that Renz had a juvenile record of child molestation, yet the suspect was not even required to post bail before his pre-trial release.
Renz was required to wear an electronic monitoring device, but officials say he managed to evade the GPS tracking system. On March 14, police say, Renz followed a 10-year-old girl out of a gymnastics class at Great Northern Mall in the suburbs of Syracuse, N.Y. In the parking lot, police say, Renz brandished a weapon at the girl and her mother, 47-year-old Lori Brasnahan, and used plastic zip ties to bind them both inside Brasnahan’s vehicle. Renz raped the girl in front of her mother and then drove them both away from the mall, police say. After the car became stuck in the snow, Renz was trying to further tie up Brasnahan, police say, when the mother shouted for her daughter to run. The girl managed to escape and was rescued by a passing motorist; she told police she saw her mother also running from the car. Police say Renz fatally stabbed Brasnahan; he was apprehended in nearby woods. Brasnahan’s daughter was taken to a hospital where she required surgery for traumatic injuries resulting from the rape.
A grand jury in Onondaga County, N.Y., returned a 37-count indictment against Renz in April. Prosecutors say that when Renz was apprehended by police near the scene of the crime, he had Bresnahan’s car keys in his pocket and blood on his clothes that was matched by DNA to the girl he raped.
After the case made headlines, a woman told reporters that she was molested as a child by Renz. She said that in 1999, when she was 9 years old and he was 15, Renz sexually assaulted her. That case was handled in family court and the records were sealed, but at the January hearing on the child pornography case against Renz, court documents indicate, the federal magistrate mentioned Renz’s criminal history as a juvenile before authorizing the suspect’s release.
Monday, the congressman who represents the upstate New York district blamed federal spending cuts for the crime, saying that ending the curent budget sequester — implemented to reduce the federal deficit — is an obligation Congress owes to Renz’s victims. “We owe them a guarantee that this cannot happen again,” Maffei said in his House floor speech. “We owe them an end to sequester cuts affecting our federal probation system.”
Maffei had written to Hogan and Attorney General Eric Holder last month asking them to investigate the federal probation office in charge of monitoring Renz’s pre-trial release. Chief Probation Officer Matthew Brown and others in the Syracuse office have denied that the failures in supervising Renz were a result of personnel shortages or other consequences of budget cuts. Hogan’s letter to Maffei did not name the employees who were fired or demoted, but the Post-Standard had previously reported that Steven Acquilano, the probation officer responsible for monitoring Renz, was no longer employed at the U.S. Probation Office for the Northern District of New York.
- Mark Weiner, Syracuse Post-Standard: U.S. probation officers in Syracuse fired, demoted over handling of David Renz case
- Sara Patterson, Syracuse Post-Standard: Lori Bresnahan died trying to save 10-year-old, Onondaga County DA says
- Marnie Eisenstadt, Syracuse Post-Standard: Accused killer David Renz outsmarted electronic monitoring system before police say he raped child, killed librarian