October 22, 2021

Cop shooter convicted on all counts

Defendant testifies, but attempted murder charges stick

Kevin Conlon/file photo

Zachary L. Clark enters the courtroom June 21 at Cortland County Court during jury selection for his trial on charges including attempted first- and second-degree murder in connection with the March 2020 shooting of a Cortland police officer. He was convicted Monday night.

A jury convicted a Cortland man on all 12 counts Monday evening for shooting a city of Cortland police officer in March 2020 as the officer responded to a report of a domestic violence incident at the man’s house involving a rifle.

The verdict was read just after 7:40 p.m. in Cortland County Court — after less then 3 ½ hours of deliberations — as Zachary L. Clark sat expressionless with his two defense attorneys.

The defense case hinged on Clark’s claim that he did not realize that Officer Chad Knapp was a police officer when Knapp entered the house at 12 Elm St. at dusk on March 27.

Jack Tillotson of Marathon, a member of the jury, agreed after the verdict was read that this was the point on which the jury had spent most of its time since it began deliberations about 4:15 p.m.

“He knew it (Knapp) was a cop,”  Tillotson said in the rotunda of the County Courthouse. “The prosecution did a good job of presenting its case.”

Clark was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder; attempted second-degree murder; first-degree assault; two counts of menacing a police officer or peace officer; and aggravated assault upon a police officer, felonies, according to court documents.

He was also found guilty of third-degree assault; fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon; use of a dangerous weapon; two counts of second-degree menacing, misdemeanors; and disorderly conduct, a violation.

Judge Julie Campbell set sentencing for Sept. 9.

City Police Chief Paul Sandy sat in the back row of the courtroom as the verdict was read and hugged county District Attorney Patrick Perfetti as the courtroom began to clear.

Clark testified in the morning that an unknown man entered his home and shot at him. Clark’s explanation was in stark contrast to testimony last week of the city police Officer Chad Knapp, who Clark shot that night.

Clark, who shot Knapp three times in the leg as the officer retreated from the house, claimed Knapp fired first after entering his kitchen. Knapp testified that Clark shot first at him after he responded to a report of a domestic dispute involving a rifle.

Clark was shot in the arm during the exchange.

After summations by the defense and prosecution Monday afternoon in Cortland County Court,  Campbell spent more than an hour and 15 minutes reading her instructions to jurors. Campbell then sent the dozen jurors to a private room to begin deliberations at about 4:15 p.m..

Clark testified in court earlier in the day that he did not recognize the man who entered his house as a police officer.

“It took a couple of seconds to realize I had a gun pointed at me,” he said. “I didn’t really know what was going on.”

In response to a question from county Perfetti, Clark said he did not recognize the man he shot among those who testified earlier in the trial. Among them was Knapp. He also could not recall if Knapp was wearing clothing that was black, blue or gray.

After Clark testified, his brother, Bryant Holl was called back to the stand by the defense and supported some of Clark’s description of events.

Both Clark and Holl said Clark did not leave the house during the shooting, as Knapp retreated outside.

The defense contends that in the dimming light at dusk, just before 8 p.m., Clark did not recognize Knapp was a police officer. Knapp was wearing his navy blue police uniform with large department patches on the sleeves. He and Clark both said the lights were on in the kitchen when Knapp walked in.

For some of the charges, Clark is claiming self defense, contending he thought an unknown person was threatening his life.

“Perception is incredibly subjective,” one of his lawyers, Madeline Weiss said during her summation. “Three people can see the same things in three very different ways.”

She said she was referring to Knapp, Clark and Holl.

“There was no justification here,” Perfetti said as he neared the conclusion of his own summation.