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Monserrate case hinges on testimony of ER doc

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During the second week of the domestic violence trial of state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), an emergency room doctor at Long Island Jewish Hospital testified that a frantic, sobbing Karla Giraldo repeatedly told her Monserrate had attacked her with a drinking glass.

Her testimony last Thursday was crucial to prosecutors trying to convict Monserrate on assault charges without Giraldo’s help. But Monserrate’s defense attorney, Joseph Tacopina, was hot on Dr. Dawne Kort’s heels, exposing the inconsistencies in Giraldo’s comments and calling into question Kort’s ability to understand what Giraldo said.

Giraldo, who now maintains she was injured accidentally by Monserrate, was subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution this week, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

If convicted, Monserrate, 42, faces up to seven years in prison and would have to step down from his Senate post, halving the Democrats’ two-vote majority in that chamber.

Early in the morning of Dec. 19, 2008, Monserrate and Giraldo got into a fight in his Jackson Heights apartment over another man’s police union card he had found in her purse. What happened next is up for debate.

Prosecutors say the couple continued to fight for two hours until Giraldo asked for a glass of water and Monserrate smashed the glass into her face.

Tacopina says the couple calmed down and Monserrate got up to get Giraldo some water, but tripped in the bedroom where she was lying down. According to Tacopina, a half-asleep Giraldo shot upright in bed after being doused with the water, colliding with the glass in Monserrate’s hand.

Tacopina has played up the confusion over whether Monserrate allegedly broke the glass beforehand and sliced her with a piece of it or whether the glass shattered on impact with her face. Kort testified that Giraldo at one point said the glass was intact when it hit her face, but at another point she said Monserrate cut her with a piece of glass.

“She kept changing her stories,” Kort said under cross-examination, but later emphasized that Giraldo was unwavering about Monserrate attacking her.

Because Giraldo has recanted her initial statements that Monserrate attacked her, prosecutors were relying on the testimony of medical staff to carry the case. Tacopina has focused on calling into question the dependability of those statements. But Giraldo’s expected appearance this week could force her to disclose more details.

Monserrate’s lawyer pointed out that Kort’s deposition was taken Jan. 6, not when the incident was fresh in her mind.

“Eighteen days later, by your own estimation ... you had seen between 100 and 175 patients,” he said.

He also called into question whether she could understand Giraldo, an Ecuadorian immigrant.

Kort is the daughter of Puerto Rican and Panamanian parents and earned a bachelor’s in Spanish from Duke University.

Tacopina also highlighted inconsistencies between Kort’s testimony last Thursday and a grand jury testimony in March, noting she had said at her earlier appearance that Giraldo “could not” answer some questions in English and that she refused to have the smaller cuts on her face cleaned because she allegedly wanted to leave.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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