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Judge drops two charges in Monserrate slash trial

A Queens Supreme Court judge threw out two of the assault charges against state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) Tuesday as his legal team called their first witness.

Justice William Erlbaum dismissed second- and third-degree assault counts that alleged the senator recklessly caused injury to his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, a spokesman for the Queens district attorney’s office said. The top assault charge, alleging that Monserrate intentionally injured Giraldo, still stands.

If convicted, Monserrate could face up to seven years in prison. A conviction would also force him from office, endangering the Senate Democrats’ two-vote majority.

Monserrate and Giraldo got into a fight in December over another man’s police union card that Monserrate found in her purse. Medical staff from North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital have testified she told them Monserrate deliberately thrust the glass into her face during the argument, resulting in wounds that required between 35 and 40 stitches.

But Giraldo, 30, now claims the injury was an accident and that doctors and police were overeager to disgrace Monserrate.

Monserrate took his bleeding girlfriend through a back entrance to the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Hospital that morning, security camera footage shown in court revealed Tuesday.

Prosecutor Scott Kessler appeared to use the footage, along with testimony from the hospital’s security manager, to depict the behavior of a man trying to avoid detection, noting Monserrate drove by the emergency room parking area and a visitor parking structure and parked his car on the street.

But defense attorney Joseph Tacopina suggested prosecutors had conveniently deleted the camera footage that showed Karla Giraldo embracing Monserrate as cops took him into custody.

She broke down in tears on the stand Sept. 30 while viewing video footage during a full day of tense questioning from Kessler.

“Do I have to watch this?” she asked Judge William Erlbaum after looking at a security camera tape of herself running down the stairs of Monserrate’s Jackson Heights apartment building Dec. 19 with him hot on her heels.

She was visibly scornful of Kessler and at one point said she did not trust him, but Judge William Erlbaum refused Kessler’s request to treat Giraldo as a hostile witness.

Kessler’s most interesting extraction from Giraldo was that she had undergone elective surgery more than once in the past, weakening the defense’s contention that Giraldo is seen on the video resisting Monserrate because she was terrified of needles and hospitals.

Kessler also pointed out numerous instances in which Giraldo’s testimony contradicted what she had told a grand jury several months earlier.

Wherever possible, Giraldo inserted into her answers that she had been drunk that night and her injury was an accident, although Kessler pointed out she had testified to a grand jury she was not drunk that night. Giraldo explained she had not understood the question when she went before the grand jury.

It was unclear, however, how it would benefit prosecutors, who have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Monserrate deliberately cut her face open.

“I don’t think they came close to making out a case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Joseph Tacopina, Monserrate’s lawyer.

Giraldo also testified that she told Dr. Dawne Kort the injury was an accident and Kort, a bilingual doctor with Puerto Rican and Panamanian parents, had misunderstood her Spanish.

Kessler took great pains not to ask Giraldo about how she was injured, which would have opened the door to cross-examination on the subject.

“They didn’t ask her one question about how she got the cut,” Tacopina said.

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

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