D.A.: Varying witness accounts likely convinced grand jury of Tony Stewart’s innocence

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During Wednesday afternoon’s press conference announcing that a grand jury had cleared Tony Stewart of potential criminal charges in the death of Kevin Ward Jr., Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo said that varying accounts by witnesses in the sprint car accident that claimed Ward’s life likely swayed the grand jury in its eventual decision.

“When I reviewed the investigation that had been prepared by the sheriff’s department, it was clear that a number of the witnesses interviewed had different perspectives of what they had seen and what they had heard,” Tantillo said. “There were varying versions of what had actually taken place.

“So there was not one clear monolithic story that was presented to me. Additionally, several of the witnesses, important witnesses, chose not to make statements to the police. They did not want to make any statements. So the only way I could find out what they had to say or what they had to offer was to subpoena them and compel them to testify, which I did.

“Finally, when you have a case of this magnitude, of this interest, I think it’s important that the public knows a large group of citizens drawn at random from the community heard all of the evidence in the case and collectively returned a judgment. I think it’s something people can rely on. That’s important, too.”

The entire task of collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses — including those Tantillo was forced to subpoena — as well as reviewing all of the statements and evidence was a massive undertaking, Tantillo noted.

“It’s not unlike most other cases that we present,” he said. “As much evidence as possible is collected, that involves statements from witnesses to what they observed, statements from witnesses who may have spoken to important participants in this matter.

“There was a lot of technical work done. There was two accident reconstructionists who worked on things like speed, distance, reaction times available and so on. You do whatever you have to in a particular case to try to provide as big a picture as possible, and I think that’s what was done in this case.”

Tantillo said he spoke to Ward’s father, Kevin Ward Sr., prior to the press conference.

“I did speak with Mr. Ward,” Tantillo said. “Mr. Ward, I would suspect, was probably disappointed by the outcome, but he was very appreciative of the work the Ontario County sheriff’s department and the District Attorney’s office had put into the case.”

Tantillo did not speak directly to Stewart, but rather to Stewart’s attorney, informing him that his client had been absolved of any potential criminal charges.

“I have no idea (what Stewart’s reaction is),” Tantillo said. “I did notify his attorney of the outcome, but beyond that, I don’t know.”

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