Former Prosecutor’s Case Goes To Trial
Michael Donohue’s attorney withdraws from defending him; deputy attorney general adds three new charges against Donohue.
At the Delaware County Court House in Media on Friday morning, William Davis repeatedly requested to have Michael Donohue’s, a former prosecutor for the county’s DA’s office, preliminary hearing continued for another time because Davis withdrew as counsel.
Donohue is accused of hitting Jake Vantrieste with his 2005 dark gray Jeep Cherokee on Friday, Nov. 4, on Township Line Road and then leaving the scene of the accident. Authorities say that they found Donohue’s SUV at a Roxborough residence. He was a prosecutor during the alleged accident but resigned before police pressed charges against him the following week.
Hausman—a judge from Lehigh County who was selected because the state did not want to show a conflict of interest to have a Delaware County judge to preside over the case—denied Davis’ requests and said that if he had a problem, he could take it up to the state Supreme Court and have her remanded.
Deputy Attorney General Joe McGettigan said it was "unbecoming" of Davis to file a withdraw as Donohue’s lawyer two days before the preliminary hearing.
During a recess where another lawyer could be found for Donohue, Davis explained to Patch the reason why he withdrew as counsel for the former prosecutor.
"My reason is that there was a breakdown with a attorney-client relationship," he said, but would not go into detail as to what the breakdown was.
Kevin Vantrieste, father of Jake Vantrieste, felt that Davis’ withdraw was to "buy (Donohue) more time," he said to Patch.
But Davis replied to that accusation, saying, "I withdrew as his lawyer and he has every right to get a lawyer of his choosing."
After the short recess, attorney Mark Much agreed to represent Donohue, but requested a continuance as well because he was currently starting a double-murder trial. Hausman denied his request, stating again that an accused does not need to be present during a preliminary hearing. After a longer recess, Much made a formal statement that he would represent Donohue but had to leave, which Hausman agreed with.
Before McGettigan presented nearly 20 people to the stand, he added additional charges against Donohue:
- Aggravated assault with a vehicle
- Aggravated assault with a vehicle while DUI
Donohue had been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, leaving the scene of an accident and other related charges for his alleged involvement in the accident.
The first person to take the stand was Jake Vantrieste, who recounted the night of the accident. He testified that he was with his friends at around 10:25 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4, and was skate boarding down Bryan Street and stopped in the middle of Township Line Road, when he picked up his skateboard and saw headlights. He said the next thing he remembered was waking up at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia the next day.
Jake Vantrieste, 14, suffered two brain bleeds, two fractures to one of his hips and internal injuries.
Supervisor Special Agent with the state’s Attorney General’s Office Michael Davis testified that based off of the skid marks on the road, the vehicle that hit Jake Vantrieste was going between 48 and 59 mph on the 35-mph Township Line Road, sending the teenager 167 feet away from the point of impact.
During a recess Dawn Vantrieste told Patch that her son has returned to Haverford High School this past Monday.
“I still have my worries, but he is doing better,” she said.
At one point during the testimony, McGettigan had Michael Davis explain a video from a Haverford Township Police Department dashboard camera that was presented, which showed the scene of the accident that night. The video showed an unconscious Jake Vantrieste on the road as two Haverford Township police officers came to help him.
Dawn Vantrieste buried her face in her husband’s shoulder during this point of the video as Jake watched blankly at himself on the screen from the back of the courtroom.
Authorities were able to find pieces of a headlight at the scene of the accident that matched the broken headlight of Donohue’s SUV, Michael Davis testified, adding the SUV recovered at Roxborough was registered to Donohue.
Most of the people called to the stand were assistant district attorneys and court employees, in additional to a waitress who allegedly served Donohue, who testified that they saw Donohue, a 31-year-old Havertown resident, at Sligo Irish Pub in Media on Friday evening, Nov. 4, allegedly drinking at least seven 20 oz Guinness beers from about 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
Michael Davis read a lab report requested by McGettigan on the effects an individual who drank the same amount of alcohol for the same time period that Donohue allegedly did would be. According to the report, the individual would have a blood alcohol level of 0.157 and would not be able to operate a vehicle.
Sandra Urban, a friend of Donohue, testified that the night of the accident she was speaking with Donohue on a cell phone when he was driving when she heard him scream, "Oh sh-t" and then heard "Are you OK? Are you OK?" and then there was a disconnection.
The following evening Donohue allegedly texted her, stating that he dropped the phone and that he was OK, she testified, before she started crying and left the stand.
Because Donohue had no counsel, he declined to cross-examine any of the witnesses and he did not take the stand.
Hausman said that based on the evidence that was presented Donohue’s case would go to trial, but there would be no bail increase. Donohue posted 10 percent of his $25,000 bail.
Both Donohue and McGettigan declined to comment to Patch and Much could not be reached for comment.