Updated throughout until 12:59 p.m.:
A judge in state Superior Court in Stamford dismissed all charges against William Bryan Jennings of Darien after the prosecutor said he would not continue the case because the alleged victim had withheld evidence—the pen knife that cut his fingers.
Assistant State's Attorney Steven Weiss told Judge Kenneth B. Povodator that Mohammed Ammar, the Brooklyn taxi driver who drove Jennings from Manhattan to Darien late last December, had not turned over the knife to police, even though it was a significant piece of evidence.
Jennings, 47, of Knollwood Drive and a prominent banker with Morgan Stanley, had been in a violent dispute with Ammar over the fare. During that fight in the taxi, the cabbie was cut with Jennings' pen knife.
Weiss gave no explanation of why he waited five months—from the middle of May to the middle of October—to decide to drop the case. Ammar's attorney has said that as late as Oct. 5, Weiss had said he was prepared to start the trial on Oct. 15.
Weiss said that when Darien police first came to him with the case, he had decided to prosecute Jennings alone and not Ammar as well, even though Ammar could be charged with unlawful restraint for abducting Jennings for keeping him in the taxi cab against Jennings' will during a wild, late-night ride through Darien.
"In statements to police, [he] admitted committing unlawful restraint," Weiss said.
The prosecutor said he had made that decision because Ammar had gone to police as the physically injured victim, and Jennings had not gone to police for weeks.
"His [Jennings'] explanation as to why he didn't call police simply didn't wash, and I think that was the right decision [to prosecute] at the time," Weiss said.
With Ammar not giving police the knife until May, Weiss said, he realized he had two people who had each impeded a police investigation.
Six days or so after the night of the incident, which was also the night Ammar initially had reported the matter to police, Darien police visited Ammar in New York City and gathered evidence from the taxi cab, Weiss said.
"Since then, it was discovered that Ammar had the knife the whole time," Weiss said. "He had ample opportunity to tell that to police. [...] He didn't tell anybody he had the knife in his possession [until] the middle of May."
Weiss said he then could be fair and prosecute both or be fair and prosecute neither, and he chose the second option.
"I have two people where there's probable evidence they didn't cooperate with police," the prosecutor said. "We could have two trials or I can say I've got two cases where I've got victims that didn't cooperate with police.
"At this point, I don't think there's any public interest involved in having Mr. Ammar arrested, and I don't think there's any public interest in pressing the case with Mr. Jennings. [...] I simply can't go forward."
Jennings' lawyer, Eugene Riccio, then asked Judge Povodator to dismiss the charges entirely, and the judge did so, saying he had no choice.
After the court hearing, which lasted about 10 minutes, Riccio and Jennings both briefly spoke to reporters, but said very little.
Riccio and Jennings spoke once to reporters inside the courthouse and then again outside, mostly for television reporters. Each said they would have very little comment about the case, and each made very brief statements.
"We appreciate the prosecutor's decision—I think it was the right one under the circumstances, Riccio said.
"I think there's a lesson here," he added. "I think it's unfortunate when someone of prominence is arrested that the public, the press jump to conclusions about a situation, and perhaps the next time that occurs, judgment will be withheld until all of the facts are known."
Jennings had been with second-degree assault, sixth-degree larceny and intimidation by bias or bigotry. The larceny charge came from the cab fare dispute, the assault charge from the physical tussle, in which the cabbie said Jennings had reached out with the knife and the cabbie had kept it away with his hands, which then became cut (Jennings said the cabbie had grabbed the knife by the blade).
The intimidation by bias or bigotry charge came because the cab driver, a native of Egypt and now a citizen of the United States, said Jennings had told him he should go back to his own country. Jennings told police he never said that. On the basis of that disputed statement, many news accounts of the case said Jennings was charged with a "hate crime."
Jennings was just about as closed-mouthed:
"The outcome of the case, I think, speaks for itself," he said. He also said he wanted to thank "a very long list of friends and family" who supported him through his ordeal. Jennings said he was also very grateful for Riccio's services as a lawyer and a friend.
Jennings had no comment on whether he was or would be back at his job. Jennings reportedly had been suspended him from his job as a high-ranking banker with Morgan Stanley He was one of two heads of the company's North American fixed-income capital markets division.
Neither Ammar nor his lawyer, Hassan Ahmad of New York, were present at the courthouse, although on Friday Ahmad's law firm had announced he would be at the hearing.
Instead, Ammar and Ahmad decided over the weekend to hold a news conference at Ammar's mosque in Queens. The news conference takes place at 1:30 p.m. in the Astoria section of Queens.
Editor's note: See also Darien Patch's past coverage of the case:
- Darien Exec Charged with Assaulting Cabbie (March 3)
- Jennings Pleads Not Guilty (March 9)
- Jennings Case: No Charges for Cabbie (March 10)
- Jennings' Lawyer: Police Made False Statements (March 30)
- Charges Dropped Against Jennings in Taxi Case (Oct. 12)
- Attorney: Explanations Monday for Dropping Jennings Charges (Oct. 13)