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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2012

Victim relieved
Croote pleads guilty

HILLTOWNS — A sense of justice and peace of mind hang in the balance for one Berne family as Adam Croote’s sentencing draws closer.

Last Friday, he pleaded guilty to attempting to rape and murder his Berne relative, a then-10-year-old girl. He will be sentenced on April 27, nearly a year after the crime committed last June.

The victim’s mother said that, while she and the father will be at the sentencing, the girl will not.

“It won’t do her any good to see him,” the mother told The Enterprise, though she said that learning of Croote’s plea has helped put her daughter’s mind at ease.

“When we watched it on the news Friday, there was a look of relief that washed over her face,” the mother said, holding back tears. “That’s really good to see.”

The victim has been in counseling, which has also been helpful, the mother said, and the girl has been using music to work through the traumatic experience.

“Her grades are starting to improve in school,” the mother said, “and she’s taken up the flute.”

Croote, a 23-year-old man with a troubled past of his own, was arrested last June for attempting to murder and rape the girl, for whom he was babysitting.

He was charged by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office with six felony and two misdemeanor counts.

In June, Craig Apple, now the county’s sheriff, described the events: Croote, who was babysitting for the girl for the first time, got her off the bus after school and took her to her house.

“She goes in the kitchen to get a snack, she comes back, and he’s naked, and he sexually assaults her,” Apple said then. “The young girl obviously screamed. He basically tried to snap her neck, and tried to strangle her. She continues to fight and scream, and I’m not sure what prompted him but, thank God, he got up and got out of there.”

Croote was already on the New York State sex offender registry for being convicted of a second-degree rape in Massachusetts in 2005, when he was 17. The registry says he raped a 25-year-old “non-stranger” without force. Croote was given five years of probation.

Croote will remain in Albany County’s jail until his sentencing. He pleaded guilty on Friday to predatory sexual assault against a child, a felony, before Judge Stephen Herrick at Albany County Court. In accordance with the plea agreement reached last week, Croote could face 25 years to life in state prison.

Shannon Sarfoh, bureau chief for the Special Victims Unit of the Albany County District Attorney’s office, will be prosecuting on April 27.

Croote’s attorney declined to comment on the case, and said that Croote himself would not comment until after the sentencing.

At the root of Croote

Croote’s arrest in June came years after his own violent childhood left the national spotlight.

As a child, he had witnessed his father, Michael Croote, shoot and kill his pregnant mother, Wendy Croote. Michael Croote was an Army private, stationed in Georgia. The family, with Hilltown roots, lived in a trailer in Hinesville near the Army base.

A custody battle between his grandparents ensued. His mother’s mother, Margaret Zibura, and her husband, Frank, took Adam Croote to Kansas; living under assumed names, they raised him as their child. After three years in Kansas, when Adam Croote was 6, the FBI arrested the Ziburas for custodial interference, and Linda Koerner, his father’s mother, who lived in Westerlo, was given custody.

Croote is a distant relative of the girl he was accused of abusing this summer. The girl’s mother, who is a relative of the murdered Wendy Croote, said her family had just recently gotten acquainted with Adam Croote.

According to the victim’s mother, Croote didn’t even know where his mother was buried.

“He didn’t know the circumstances around his mother’s death, so we’ve been trying to inform him without overwhelming him,” she said. Croote’s father, she said, is still in prison in Georgia.

She went on, “He was in the house when his mom was killed. He was only 2 years old. When he was on a visit with his maternal grandparents, when he was 2-and-a-half or 3, he told them he saw Daddy shoot Mommy. When they asked him in the last few months, he said he had no memory of it.”

After 20 years with no contact, the Berne family was introducing Adam Croote back into the family, she said.

“This was the only time he’s ever babysat for us,” the victim’s mother said in June. “One day, he was sitting there when we were talking about how we needed someone to baby-sit for an hour after school, and he volunteered. We had no idea about the thing in Massachusetts. We had no reason to distrust him.”


The mother said this week that she would feel that justice has been served only if Croote is kept off the streets for the rest of his life.

Sheriff Craig Apple, who said last year that this was “one of the most heinous cases” he had seen, thinks that Croote would be an ideal candidate for civil confinement, were he ever released from prison.

“Basically, you’re not in jail, but you’re in jail,” Apple said of civil confinement. “Everything you do is supervised, and basically, you’d be in a fenced-in area. You can wear normal clothes, and there’s TV and everything else, but you’re not free to go out and roam around the community, because of your history.”

Said Peter Cutler at the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, “It’s through the course of his confinement with us that it’ll be determined whether the guy should be civilly confined.”

All sex offenders are identified before being discharged from prison. The inmate’s records are provided to a multidisciplinary team at the New York State Office of Mental Health, and a case-review team for any inmates that require further review. The inmate is then interviewed by a clinician to “assess dangerousness.”

If the case-review team determines that the inmate is still at risk of committing new sex offenses, the attorney general’s office may look to establish probable cause and bring the case before a jury.

If the jury believes that the sex offender still poses a threat to society, the judge may then confine the offender at a secure facility operated by the office of mental health, or place the offender under strict and intensive supervision and treatment, or “SIST,” in the community.

It may be decided, at either step of the inmate’s review, that the inmate is ready for release.

Civil confinement is an expensive sentence, Apple said, estimating that it costs hundreds of dollars a day to confine a single offender.

“So, in this day that we’re in, the reality is that it’s probably not going to come to fruition,” Apple said. “This is your ideal candidate here. Not only does he reoffend, but he reoffends with a family member. I’m all about trying to rehabilitate people, and I’m all about giving people second chances, but what I’m not about is when you continually reoffend. And he’s what I’d consider a habitual offender.”

After learning of civil confinement, the victim’s mother said that, should Croote be released from prison years down the road, she hopes that he is at least confined, so as to keep him away from other potential victims.

“The DA is also working on civil confinement if he ever makes parole, for the duration of his life,” the victim’s mother said, though a spokesperson for the district attorney said Wednesday that his office could not comment on civil confinement.

“The DA’s making sure he’s never going to see the light of day again,” the mother said of Croote. “Basically, his life is over.”

By Zach Simeone

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