Gaughan captures DA race

| 19 May 2015 | 10:32

By Nathan Mayberg
Local attorney Kelly Gaughan pulled away to a 192 vote victory in the Republican Party primary race for district attorney over incumbent Ray Tonkin on Tuesday in a politically shocking outcome.

Tonkin, who is in the middle of a high profile death penalty prosecution of Eric Frein, could be out of office by the end of the year as a result of the primary results, setting into question the timing of a future trial. Tonkin could seek to run in November as an independent candidate or on another party line.

Gaughan utilized a 65-vote advantage in Blooming Grove and a 71-vote advantage in Dingman Townshup to overtake Tonkin.

Gaughan pulled away to a commanding lead after results from Delaware Township boosted her advantage by another 125 votes.

Gaughan led unofficially 2,166 to 1,974 in the ballot counting.

The Pike County Board of Elections said those figures include write-ins and absentees though Gaughan said there may still be some outstanding write-ins. It doesn't appear as though the outcome is in question. Tonkin indicated in an email on Wednesday that he may continue to run for re-election in November, referring to Tuesday's outcome as the "beginning" of his campaign.

The election is a stunning defeat for Tonkin, who was the county's district attorney for the past seven years and had not faced a serious challenge.

"I think it shows that my message resonated with the voters," Gaughan said on Wednesday morning.

Gaughan said her support for a drug court and sentencing alternatives for drug offenders and veterans was important to voters.

Voters "want to see an active DA." Gaughan said, who will "reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars."

Gaughan said she would show "zero toleration for anybody who abuses a child."

Gaughan would like to establish a child advocacy center in the county. In an emailed statement on Wednesday afternooon regarding the race, Tonkin said "thank you to my family especially my wonderful wife Michelle and my two boys Garrett and Grant. I would not be who I am today without your love and support. Also, I extend a huge thank you to each and everyone of my supporters and volunteers. Everyone has contributed so much to this beginning part of my campaign, where we were outspent by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. I deeply appreciate all of their hard work in my campaign efforts toward re-election. While we await the final tally of all votes cast by each person who exercised their sacred American right to vote yesterday, I will continue to focus on doing the best job I can to keep Pike County a safe place to live, work and raise a family."

Gaughan and Tonkin were neck and neck after votes in Milford Borough, Shohola and the first precinct of Lackawaxen were counted.

Tonkin opened up a lead by picking up ballots at a 2-1 margin in Greene putting him ahead by a tally of 514 votes to 409.

The two split votes in Matamoras, Palmyra, Porter and Westfall.

Ironically, the way the voting results were posted by the Pike County Board of Elections, it was Blooming Grove which was credited with changing the outcome of the race.

The 203 to 138 advantage Gaughan received from Blooming Grove voters sent her ahead in the ballot counting by the Board of Elections.

The quiet town of Blooming Grove had been shaken up by the September shootings of two state troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks, resulting in residents fleeing their homes in the early days of the shooting, as a manhunt began for the shooter.

Tonkin was in the middle of prosecuting Eric Frein for allegedly shooting two state troopers in the September ambush. One of the troopers, Corporal Bryon Dickson, was killed. Another trooper, Alex Douglass, was seriously wounded.

The shootings sparked a nearly seven-week manhunt in the forests around Frein's hometown of nearby Canadensis. Frein was ultimately captured by U.S. Marshalls in an abandoned airport hangar in Tannersville.

Gaughan was backed by two associations of state troopers as well as a long list of local attorneys.

Gaughan said she could do a better job coordinating with local agencies involved in the criminal justice system and made prosecuting child abuse and domestic abuse cases a priority. Gaughan also supported a drug court and veteran's court to reroute non-violent drug offenders.

Tonkin said he increased drug convictions and touted a 97 percent conviction rate and 100 percent murder trial conviction rate.

Tonkin was backed by Pike County Sheriff Phil Bueki.

Tonkin said Gaughan didn't have the criminal jury trial experience necessary for the job of the county's top prosecutor.

Tonkin cited his experience in murder trials as important during the time of a death penalty trial for Frein.

Gaughan said she will continue to seek the death penalty against Frein. A trial is not expected to begin for months. It is not clear as to whether a change in the leadership of the district attorney's office may delay a trial.

Gaughan said she expects it "will be a smooth transition" in taking over the office and prosecuting Frein.

Gaughan said Frein will be prosecuted "to the fullest extent" and "with efficiency."