Trial set for mid-September in Ontario County Court

CANANDAIGUA — A trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 13 for Robert J. Clegg, 18, of Canandaigua, who is accused of intentionally murdering 21-year-old Nicholas Bice Sept. 30 in his Camelot Square apartment and setting the residence on fire.

Clegg Wednesday would not accept a plea offer from Ontario County District Attorney Jim Ritts that would have allowed him to plead guilty to fewer counts in exchange for a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, with restitution to be determined at a later hearing.

Clegg, who is being held in Ontario County Jail without bail, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Bice's death; two counts each of first-degree burglary and first-degree robbery for allegedly entering Bice's apartment, threatening him with a baton type flashlight, forcibly stealing property from Bice and causing him serious physical injury; and second-degree arson for allegedly setting the fire in Bice's apartment.

He was arrested on Oct. 1 on a charge of fourth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, an arrest his attorney, Robert Zimmerman of Shortsville, has called a pretext to hold Clegg, saying Clegg was not in possession of marijuana at that time.

Ritts offered to allow Clegg to plead guilty to just the murder and arson charges, but Zimmerman said he needed more time to get all of the items he asked for, in what is called the discovery process, to see what evidence prosecutors have so he can properly assist his client in making a decision.

Zimmerman told Ontario County Court Judge William Kocher he just received the complete autopsy report that morning, although he noted it was earlier than he expected.

Zimmerman is also asking for copies of information taken from Bice's cell phone and the cell phones of three other people who were not identified in open court or afterward; and DNA data gathered from the scene, along with reports of the process investigators used to try to match it to samples taken from Clegg, Bice and two others.

Zimmerman said he wants GPS tracking reports of where a K-9 searched after the crime, videos and photos from drone surveillance used at the scene and information prosecutors gathered from Bice's Facebook and Snapchat accounts.

Ritts said discovery has been extensive and that every document prosecutors received had been turned over to Zimmerman, but he would review the request and see if the material he is asking for exists.

He added there is overwhelming evidence, from his perspective, that Clegg is the person who was in the apartment at the time of Bice's murder.

Canandaigua firefighters were called to the apartment complex late in the morning on Sept. 30 for an apartment fire. After extinguishing the blaze, they discovered Bice's body.

Ritts said Bice died of multiple blunt force trauma. Outside the courtroom, he said Clegg and Bice are believed to have been the only two people in the apartment at the time.

“There is no indication anybody else was involved at this point, but certainly we'll have conversations if people have other information,” he said.

Clegg was on interim probation at the time of Bice's murder, awaiting sentencing on a burglary charge to which he pleaded guilty earlier in 2017 in connection with an unlawful entry into a Farmington home — so the marijuana charge resulted in an alleged violation, allowing Clegg to be held without bail pending the outcome of that disposition.

Kocher revoked bail in December when Clegg was arraigned on the current charges.

After Ritts said he was withdrawing the plea offer, Kocher turned to Zimmerman, who said his client was in no position to make a decision without complete discovery and that he would need a month or two to get the information and have it reviewed by his own expert.

Kocher told Clegg he was required to explain that if he is convicted at trial of all counts, he would be looking at life without parole, which Ritts noted would be the maximum sentence.

Zimmerman said he saw it as raising the issue of effective assistance of counsel on appeal if Clegg were to accept the offer without having the additional evidence items he requested.

“So, he's rejecting the offer?” asked Kocher.

“No, he's not,” said Zimmerman. “He's not rejecting it. He's not accepting it.”

He then questioned what he called a warrantless search of a backpack belonging to Clegg that had been seized from a third-party vehicle in which he had been a passenger, but the court ruled Clegg had no legal expectation of privacy.

Outside the courtroom, Ritts declined to reveal the car's owner, but Zimmerman said it belonged to the parents of Clegg's girlfriend. Zimmerman said Clegg's girlfriend had been called in for an interview with prosecutors who he said claim she gave them permission to take the backpack. Zimmerman said the backpack contained marijuana and money.

Kocher scheduled a hearing for April 19 to hear testimony to determine if statements Clegg made to authorities may be used against him at trial.