Corasanti Acquitted

An Erie County jury yesterday acquitted Dr. James Corasanti of 2nd degree vehicular manslaughter, 2nd degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death without reporting it, and two counts of tampering with evidence. He was convicted of one lesser, misdemeanor charge of DWI.

The vehicular manslaughter charge requires a finding of “criminal negligence“, which basically means he fails to see or perceive something that he should have, and that his failure to do so represents a “gross departure” from the reasonable person standard of care. If the defendant was DWI, there is a rebuttable presumption that his mental condition contributed to the death. 

The 2nd degree manslaughter charge requires a finding of “reckless” culpable conduct. As compared with criminal negligence, recklessness requires a finding that the defendant was aware of a substantial risk of unnecessary harm, and disregarded it. 

In this case, Corasanti took the stand – something he was under no obligation to do as a criminal defendant. His legal team took a calculated risk in exposing him to the scrutiny of cross-examination, and it was completely up to the jury whether to believe him when he said he didn’t see Alix Rice on her longboard; that he didn’t know he had hit a person – much less killed her; that he wasn’t drunk; that he wasn’t texting; that he wasn’t speeding or weaving. The jury bought it. 

That’s not the fault of the prosecution, or the judge, or the jury. That’s no one’s fault at all. That’s just how it shook out.

Mad at Corasanti? Of course. He hit and killed a girl with his car. Privileged rich guy with a 5-series and a low-number EC license plate. The very embodiment of local WNY monied privilege. But that wasn’t the issue – whether he committed that act, but whether he had the culpable mental conduct in doing so that would justify sending him to jail.  His wealth and prominence weren’t an issue, either in the commission of the crime. Mere accident, or something that would have/could have been prevented had Corasanti acted like any reasonable person? This jury found that this was a tragic accident, not one punishable by jail time – not one that he could have prevented. 

Face it – if you were in Corasanti’s shoes, you’d have paid every penny to buy the best damn criminal defense you could afford, too. 

Alix Rice, via Facebook

A jury is specifically instructed – carefully selected – to be impartial; to set aside prejudices or sympathies they may have. They most certainly didn’t insult the memory of Alix Rice last night – they couldn’t have; weren’t allowed to.  The judge explicitly told them to set any such feeling aside. Juries aren’t supposed to convict people because they feel badly for the victim or her family. Juries aren’t supposed to convict people because popular opinion will be outraged at what they did. Juries aren’t supposed to decide based on sympathy or empathy. 

Juries are specifically instructed to analyze the facts presented to them in the courtroom, and apply the law to the facts as they find them. Jurors are uniquely empowered to make determinations about the credibility of evidence and witnesses before them. This jury worked hard and did what was asked of them. They were careful, methodical, and thoughtful. They analyzed the evidence. It just so happened that they had what they considered to be a reasonable doubt about Corasanti’s guilt on the homicide counts. 

They apparently found that Corasanti never saw Rice – that she was operating her longboard in such a way that she was very difficult to be seen. They may have found that Rice contributed to her own death by the way in which she was operating the longboard. That’s enough to conclude that Corasanti was neither criminally negligent nor reckless. 

But the public outcry – it’s totally reasonable for people to be outraged. A young girl is dead, and a wealthy, prominent person was able to buy himself the best local criminal defense team he could afford. In this case, he probably dropped six figures to buy accident reconstructionists, expert witnesses, and some of the most effective criminal defense lawyers in town. Is it fair? Are the people who are outraged going to agitate to change the laws so that indigent or middle-income criminal defendants have equal access to expert defense witnesses?  A turning point in this case was the expert testimony that Rice’s longboard may have veered across the fog line into Corasanti’s path. That testimony cost a lot of money, and likely saved Corasanti from prison.

Left the body in the brambles? Call Joel Daniels. Caught by a sleuth? Call Cheryl Meyers-Buth. Need a jury uncertain? Call Tom Burton. 

Most people would have probably taken a plea. This trial was a huge gamble. A massive risk. All or nothing for Corasanti. Insert your big-win-gambling-analogy here. 

Had Alix Rice ran down a prominent doctor late at night after leaving “martini night” at a friend’s house, and registering a .1 BAC a few hours later have gotten away with it? We’ll never know, but I doubt it. Maybe it depends on the defense her family could have afforded. 

Justice? Justice is what you make of it. Corasanti probably thinks he found justice. Supporters of Alix Rice don’t. But this isn’t over. Civil suits have been brought against Corasanti on behalf of Rice’s estate. There, the standard of proof for a plaintiff is significantly lower than in criminal court. Corasanti may never go to jail, but depending on how well-insured he is, he very well may be financially destroyed. If his personal assets are exposed, all his wealth will be at risk, his future and his legacy demolished. Is that justice? 

After the verdict, Corasanti’s legal team started in with “nobody’s a winner here” and other mouth-noises about how sad this all is for everybody. I’d suggest that the legal team is better at defending criminals than public relations. Now is a great time for them to keep quiet. No one wants to hear their platitudes about winning and losing. Quite palpably, Dr. Corasanti is the winner and Alix Rice is the loser. Corasanti woke up this morning in his own home, convicted only of a first-offense misdemeanor. He’s surrounded by his wife and family. Alix Rice remains dead, her life gone, her future destroyed, her friends and family even more distraught and filled with loss. It’s quite clear that there was a winner and a loser in this case. Corasanti’s team should dummy up and let Rice’s family grieve, and let her supporters be outraged. 

Judge DiTullio did not allow reporters to live-blog or Tweet during the trial. She didn’t allow the proceedings to be televised, as is the norm in New York State. I think it’s long past the time to change that rule. If we’re going to subject ourselves to criminal trial porn, then it’d be helpful if the general public was better informed about what was going on in court, in real time. 500-word summaries of a day’s worth of testimony don’t cut it. Unless you were in that courtroom for the entirety of the proceedings, you have only a generalized, condensed idea what that jury saw and heard. Court proceedings are public in nature, but the public works for a living. It’s time New York changed its rules to permit electronic media in court as a general rule, and leave judges discretion to exclude them, not the other way around. 

Please don’t vilify the jurors. They did what they were supposed to do, and they did it thoughtfully. You can disagree with their verdict, but they aren’t the bad guys and they aren’t your enemy. If jurors start fearing for their lives or start getting harassed because they fulfilled their civic duty, you deal a blow to our system – an imperfect one in an imperfect world.  Please, media, stay away from the roadside shrine to Alix Rice. Let people grieve and remember in peace. Get man-in-the-street voxpops somewhere else. Anywhere else. 

Lawyers win, lawyers lose. Juries get it right, juries get it wrong. The guilty go to jail, and the guilty get off. The innocent get off, and the innocent go to jail. The innocent sometimes die. Life isn’t fair, money is important, and sometimes things don’t go the way you expect them to go. As long as the matter was tried fairly – and no one, anywhere, has suggested otherwise – we must accept what happened last night. We don’t have to like it, and we can analyze it every which-way, but if you’re ever charged with a crime, you’ll come to appreciate the inherent fairness of our system, and the protections it affords the accused.  Neither sending Corasanti to jail, nor sending him to the poorhouse will ever bring Alix Rice back. But the latter will make him literally pay for what he did that night. 

After all, the jury in the civil suit will only need to find that he was culpable for Alix Rice’s death by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard than that within which the criminal jury worked. 

Perhaps then, the public will feel that justice has been done. 

//

When Abuse Becomes Murder

I can’t wrap my head around a parent doing this to a child: 

The boy was tied to a chair with duct tape, a sock stuffed in his mouth, and he was beaten with a stick or blunt object in the basement of their Guilford Street home, near the Broadway Market, authorities said.

The stepfather was angry because the boy, a fifth-grader at the International Preparatory School on Clinton Street, had fallen behind in his homework, law enforcement officials said.

The Buffalo News’ report reveals that a neighbor encountered the boy literally running for his life, on the street, from his father. The neighbor is wracked with guilt because she intervened and the father caught up with the boy, who was brutally murdered just a few hours later. 

I look forward to Buffalo’s right-wing commentariat blaming the perpetrator’s heritage or religion; he has an Islamic name, so they’ll suggest that it’s Jihadism to blame, and snidely refer to the “religion of peace”.  (Of course, the man’s religion didn’t swing the blunt object that killed Abdifatah Mohamud, and not every Muslim father beats his kids to death or beheads his wife).  Sometimes, people like Ali Mohamed Mohamud are simply monsters, without regard to their faith.

 

 

Discovery’s Last Flight

Space Shuttle Over DC

Courtesy mringlein on Flickr

Yesterday, a NASA Space Shuttle took to the skies for the last time in history. The Shuttle program came to be during the 70s, as I was growing up. Apollo missions to the moon had ended earlier that decade, and we were sending missions to Skylab, but the Shuttle held the promise of regular space exploration for decades.  It didn’t look like a spaceship or a capsule – it looked like an airplane – an everyday thing. 

I vividly recall watching the first Shuttle mission takeoff, and by 1986 they were so routine that our high school didn’t wheel out the TVs to watch the tragic Challenger explosion until after it had happened. 

But with all of this, it’s downright disappointing that the Shuttles have been mothballed, and NASA has nothing new in the pipeline to replace them. Certainly the technology to create a reusable spacecraft has improved since the mid-70s, and certainly we oughtn’t rely on the Russian space program to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, and the private carriers are suborbital, not equipped for complex missions. 

Yesterday, the Shuttle Discovery was ferried aboard a 747 from Cape Canaveral to Dulles Airport in Virginia. Adjacent to Dulles is the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum annex hangar, which houses all manner of historic aircraft from the time of the Wright Brothers to Concorde. It’s massive, majestic, and pure eye candy for a fan of airplanes. Discovery will replace a replica Shuttle that’s been there since the facility opened. 

Before landing in Virginia, the Shuttle flew by Reagan Airport and along the National Mall. People poured out of their offices and shops to watch the spectacle, and applauded.  It was a bittersweet event.  

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=109615

We should have something new to applaud. I echo the sentiment expressed last night by comedian Lewis Black. 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/TheLewisBlack/status/192384427840643072″]


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Discovery's Last Flight

Space Shuttle Over DC

Courtesy mringlein on Flickr

Yesterday, a NASA Space Shuttle took to the skies for the last time in history. The Shuttle program came to be during the 70s, as I was growing up. Apollo missions to the moon had ended earlier that decade, and we were sending missions to Skylab, but the Shuttle held the promise of regular space exploration for decades.  It didn’t look like a spaceship or a capsule – it looked like an airplane – an everyday thing. 

I vividly recall watching the first Shuttle mission takeoff, and by 1986 they were so routine that our high school didn’t wheel out the TVs to watch the tragic Challenger explosion until after it had happened. 

But with all of this, it’s downright disappointing that the Shuttles have been mothballed, and NASA has nothing new in the pipeline to replace them. Certainly the technology to create a reusable spacecraft has improved since the mid-70s, and certainly we oughtn’t rely on the Russian space program to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, and the private carriers are suborbital, not equipped for complex missions. 

Yesterday, the Shuttle Discovery was ferried aboard a 747 from Cape Canaveral to Dulles Airport in Virginia. Adjacent to Dulles is the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum annex hangar, which houses all manner of historic aircraft from the time of the Wright Brothers to Concorde. It’s massive, majestic, and pure eye candy for a fan of airplanes. Discovery will replace a replica Shuttle that’s been there since the facility opened. 

Before landing in Virginia, the Shuttle flew by Reagan Airport and along the National Mall. People poured out of their offices and shops to watch the spectacle, and applauded.  It was a bittersweet event.  

We should have something new to applaud. I echo the sentiment expressed last night by comedian Lewis Black. 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/TheLewisBlack/status/192384427840643072″]


Komen Fights More than just Cancer

As the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation steps deeper and deeper into a steaming pile of its own bullsh*t, consider that all of this is a very calculated political move. What this is is a grave betrayal of Komen’s mission statement:

OUR PROMISE: To save lives and end breast cancer forever by empowering people, ensuring quality care for all and energizing science to find the cures.

Planned Parenthood is under attack from the right because it has the audacity to provide clinical medical services exclusively to women. Most of Planned Parenthood’s mission has to do with reproductive health and services, and yes, 3% of what they do involves abortion services. Because it performs legal, safe abortions in a clinical setting, and because the Republican platform prefers that abortions be done like they were in the old days – by quacks with hangers in alleyways, or abroad – Planned Parenthood must be destroyed.

But Komen and its former funding of PP had nothing whatsoever to do with abortions or even contraception. That’s how we know this is not principled, but political. How is Komen empowering people or saving lives if it de-funds breast exam and mammography services at Planned Parenthood?  The Angry Black Lady sums it up nicely: 

In a press release today, Planned Parenthood announced that The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation will no longer provide Planned Parenthood the more than half million dollars in grant funds which Planned Parenthood uses to provide breast health education, screenings, and referrals for mammograms.

Turns out that Komen’s new Vice-President of Public Policy, Karen Handel, is a Forced Birther, and even ran for governor of Georgia on a platform of defunding Planned Parenthood.  Thus, it seems that Komen for the Cure, the purpose of which is to help women, has been taken hostage by Karen Handel and her right-wing Forced Birth views which undermine women and women’s reproductive choices.  In her own words, “Since I am pro-life [anti-choice] I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.”

The mission of Planned Parenthood? Lady, what are you talking about? Themission of Planned Parenthood is to provide health services, including breast cancer screening and education to primarily poor women who otherwise cannot not afford such services.  That is 90% of what Planned Parenthood does. The “mission” of Planned Parenthood aligns with the “mission” of Komen for the Cure — or, at least, it did.  Abortion comprises approximately 3% of the services Planned Parenthood provides.

Furthermore, just as the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion services, I presume that the Komen grant money previously provided to Planned Parenthood is used specifically for breast-health, and not for abortion.

This is part of the Republican effort to do to Planned Parenthood what they did to ACORN – destroy any foundation that exists to help the poor obtain some sort of services or rights. Exactly correct. When Komen isn’t busy pimping out the color pink, advocating against legislation to provide free breast and cervical cancer screening, and trademarking, then aggressively litigating any use of the term “for the cure”, it’s plotting to disassociate itself from Planned Parenthood for nakedly political reasons.

Komen’s official line on the reason for cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood was a newly-instituted rule that declared that the organization was not to give funds to organizations under investigation at the local, state, or federal level. According to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, former employees of Komen told him that the rule was, in fact, designed to single out Planned Parenthood.

If the new policy is to de-fund organizations that are under some form of investigation, then we ought to all eagerly await the imminent withdrawal of Komen’s $7.5 million for the health clinic at Penn State – an institution that is under administrative investigation arising out of charges of child rape. Komen’s new Vice President in charge of Public Policy is right-wing anti-Planned Parenthood activist Karen Handel, who re-tweeted (then quickly deleted) this:

The backlash has been swift and pointed. People are abandoning Komen in droves, and Planned Parenthood has already more than made up the lost funding through donations. 

There are thousands of national, regional, and local anti-cancer charities out there, but there’s only one Planned Parenthood. If you divest your women’s health organization from providing cancer screening for the poor and the underprivileged, you risk painting yourself unnecessarily into a political corner.  Komen may now become a sweetheart of the right-wing, but it will have long ago stopped fulfilling its mission. 

Komen isn’t so much a charity as it is a business, and it’s now firmly positioned itself as a business that’s right-wing-friendly and a footsoldier in the culture war. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate based on race, political affiliation, or voting history. That’s why Komen politicizing itself so blatantly is so shockingly sad and unnecessary. 

Congratulations

Congratulations to Councilman Richard Fontana, who is the new President of the Buffalo Common Council. Time will tell whether his tenure in that position will be as friendly to the Brown Administration as has been presumed.

Congratulations to Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, who is expected to be elected Chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature today at 2pm. She wasn’t in the running, really, and emerged as a consensus candidate among legislature Democrats, who were eager to leave two years of acrimony behind. The pick renders false the breathless speculation by some that key Dems would align with the Republicans, and Grant’s selection seems symbolic, as her most recent predecessor and she would get into extremely heated arguments during the last session. With a new administration and a newly downsized legislative body, there’s a chance that the legislature will feature significantly less bickering, and they’ll just do their jobs.

And then we can discuss a complete abolition of county government as a separate deliberative entity, seeing as only about 10% of its budget is at all discretionary.

Congratulations to Channel 4’s Melissa Holmes, who will be replacing the departing Marissa Bailey at WGRZ-TV Channel 2.

Congratulations to Ted Shredd and Tom Ragan from 103.3-FM WEDG (“The Edge”), whose show will be moving to morning drive. Shredd & Ragan is that rare radio talk program in Buffalo that (a) isn’t almost exclusively devoted to sports talk; (b) doesn’t feature elderly reactionaries; and/or (c) doesn’t feature short-statured mulleted half-witted omniphobes.

Congratulations to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy Party will be permitted to participate in the upcoming election. The Burmese military leadership has been liberalizing that country’s politics in recent months, as Burma has become an economic and social backwater due to economic sanctions, while many of its neighbors’ economies have been thriving.

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