Wally Backman, right, walking toward Riverhead Justice Court with his attorney Stephen Civardi Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The criminal trial of L.I. Ducks manager and former N.Y. Mets second baseman Wally Backman on charges of harassment and criminal mischief got underway in Riverhead Town Justice Court today.

The charges against Backman stem from an incident on Aug. 30 at the Riverhead home of his ex-girlfriend, Amanda Byrnes. Byrnes, 39, accused Backman, 60, of pushing her against a wall, twisting her arm behind her back causing a sprained wrist and pressing on her chest in a way that affected her pacemaker and of preventing her from calling 911. 

In proceedings today in the nonjury trial before Town Justice Lori Hulse, the court heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense and testimony from the arresting officer, Riverhead Town Police Officer Timothy Murphy.

Prosecutor Kyle Grasser in his opening statement said the court would hear testimony that Backman pushed Byrnes against a wall, causing lacerations to her left hand. He acknowledged the court will hear about Byrnes’ “tumultuous relationships.” He said Byrnes is “far from perfect,” but her allegations will be corroborated by the pictures, medical records, statements from the arresting office and all other evidence.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Stephen Civardi said the defense will show that Byrnes reacted violently to Backman breaking up with her. Byrnes, he said, has a history of cutting herself. Her medical records indicate she had issues with her pacemaker for six months. Civardi also said the defense would show Byrnes has had a history of making false accusations. 

If Backman assaulted Byrnes, Civardi asked, why is he not being charged with assault? How was Byrnes able to call a co-worker and her mom if she did not have her cellphone? Why did she call her mom to ask her to call the police?

Murphy , the first witness, testified that he was on a routine patrol when he was dispatched to check on the well-being of a woman whose mother had called police to ask they check on her daughter who had been in a fight with her boyfriend. 

Murphy responded to Byrnes’ residence and took her statement. She stated there was an ongoing fight with cursing which escalated to Backman pushing her against the wall, twisting her arm and grabbing the phone from her hand causing lacerations, Murphy testified.

“She had shown me some marks on her hand,” Murphy said. 

Photos taken of her hand at the scene show lacerations with open skin and some blood. 

Murphy said in a report completed after arresting Backman that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs “from last night.” 

On cross-examination by defense attorney Bill Keahon, Murphy acknowledged that he had been called to Byrnes’ home “maybe three to four times.” He said recalled one domestic incident involving Byrnes and a boyfriend. 

Murphy said he responded to a call at Byrnes’ home on Nov. 17, when Byrnes accused a man of threatening to kill her and choking her. He was charged with criminal obstruction of breathing. 

Under questioning, Murphy said he did not observe obvious signs of drunkenness in Backman. Nor did he see any blood on Backman’s clothing. 

According to an audio recording made in Murphy’s patrol car, Backman asked Murphy if he had Backman’s cell phone, stating that Byrne had stolen his phone the night of the incident.

Byrne filed a civil suit against Backman and the L.I. Ducks a month after the alleged incident. In her complaint, filed in State Supreme Court, Byrnes accuses Backman of being drunk and assaulting her on Aug. 30. She accuses the L.I. Ducks of providing Backman with alcohol and allowing him to become intoxicated at their baseball stadium during games. The baseball club, Byrnes says in the complaint, knew or should have known that Backman became “belligerent, angry, irrational and abusive” when intoxicated. 

The criminal trial continues tomorrow afternoon and is expected to conclude on Thursday.

We need your help.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.

Julia-Anna Searson
Julia-Anna is a Riverhead native and a recent graduate of Stony Brook University, with a degree in Biology and minor in Anthropology. She currently lives in Cutchogue.