SYRACUSE — The horrific murder of a former Oswego City School District librarian is the inspiration behind legislation proposed this week by U.S. Rep. John Katko aimed at reforming the process governing the release of accused criminals before their trial.
Katko, R-Camillus, announced the legislation this week at the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse, alongside victims rights activists, including Bill Cregg, for whom the bill is named.
“I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Bill’s Promise Act,” Katko said, “which will require a thorough review of our nation’s current laws surrounding monitoring practices for individuals on pre-trial release – including response protocols when an ankle monitor or other electronic monitoring device signals that an individual is violating the terms of their release.”
Cregg was first on the scene the evening of March 14, 2013, when he spotted the daughter of former Kingsford Park Elementary School librarian Lori Bresnahan running down Verplank Road in Cicero. Sensing something amiss, Cregg stopped to help. He had no idea he was about to become entangled in one of central New York’s most ghastly recent crimes.
“The young girl came towards my headlights and told me ‘he’ was trying to hurt her mother, to kill her mother,” said Cregg in an interview this week with The Palladium-Times.
Earlier in the day, David Renz, then 29, had removed the ankle-monitoring device he was wearing while awaiting trial on child pornography charges. Free of the device, he went to Great Northern Mall, where he kidnapped Bresnahan and her 10-year-old daughter and drove them to Verplank Road. Renz raped Bresnahan’s daughter and stabbed Bresnahan in the chest and head when she tried to stop him.
It’s still difficult for Bill Cregg to talk about what he saw that day. He remembers tapping into his U.S. Army training to assess the situation and his instincts as a father to momentarily comfort the young girl and secure her in his truck. He then turned back to the crime scene and saw Bresnahan for the first time.
“She had fought her way up from where their car was hidden in the woods and collapsed near my vehicle,” Cregg said. “There’s no doubt in my mind she was fighting for her little girl.”
Bresnahan would succumb to her wounds. Renz would later be sentenced to life in prison. But Cregg couldn’t let it go. Renz had tampered with his monitoring device a jaw dropping 46 times in the six weeks before the attack without registering enough danger to warrant a visit from his probation officer.
“As the days went on and there was more reporting about the failure in probation in electronic monitoring that led to the murder,” Cregg said. “It just fired me up. If I didn’t do something, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
It was a promise he made both to himself and to a dying Lori Bresnahan, Cregg said, that spurred him on his mission to stop preventable tragedies like the one that orphaned Bresnahan’s daughter.
“This bill is going to open the books. It will determine what is working and what is not working and develop a nationwide standard operating procedure for pre-trial release monitoring,” Cregg said.
Cregg’s public doggedness on the issue caught Katko’s attention and after roughly a year of collaboration, the bill was finally ready for rollout this week.
“Pre-trial release plays an important role in ensuring the efficiency of our nation’s justice system,” Katko said. “When properly administered, pre-trial release programs help to address the significant resource and capacity restrictions facing our courts. Unfortunately, as our community knows all too well, failures in this system have the potential to endanger innocent lives.”
The bill is supported by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs Association and Vera House.
“These organizations, alongside our local law enforcement, do tremendous work to keep victims safe while domestic violence and abuse offenders await trial,” Katko said. “This legislation is vital to supporting that work, and to helping keep victims safe.”
Kingsford Park Elementary School is tucked into a residential neighborhood in the city of Oswego. With its high brick walls and imposing sandstone entrances bordering a lush lawn with dense shade trees, it feels safe and it is. For 10 years, Lori Bresnahan served as its librarian.
“No matter the title or subject matter, she was an expert,” said Oswego City School District Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey. “Lori loved libraries and children’s literature; she loved reading aloud and all of it was what made her so great.”
Goewey and Bresnahan shared the space at the Kingsford Park library in the 1990s while he was a reading teacher there. They became fast friends and Bresnahan even babysat Goewey’s three sons, now grown.
“Finding out about her death was devastating for so many people who worked with her at Kingsford Park and those of us who were her friends,” Goewey said. “It was such a horrible thing to happen so close to home, it was terrifying for everyone whether they knew her or not.”
The aptly named Bill’s Promise Act will direct the federal Government Accountability Office to review monitoring practices for pre-trial release programs at the federal, state and local levels and outline response protocols when an ankle monitor or other electronic monitoring device signals that an individual is violating the terms of their release. It also mandates accessibility to data on offenses committed by individuals on pre-trial release over the past 10 years and will examine potential issues impacting officer retention and the administration of pre-trial release services, according to Katko’s office.
For Bill Cregg, the legislation that bears his name isn’t the ending but a jumping-off point for what he hopes will be a nationwide movement to protect innocent lives. The cold March night six years ago that began his unlikely march to Capitol Hill could have, should have been prevented.
“If they’d gone to [David Renz’s] house once, they’d have seen the device was tampered with, held together with duct tape but that never happened,” Cregg said. “When I hooked up with (Katko), he said ‘this has to be a priority’ and since then, his staff and I have interacted for countless hours, and now we have this legislation.”