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Monserrate escapes felony charge in slash trial, convicted of misdemeanor

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State Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) was found not guilty on the most serious charge of slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken glass but was convicted of a misdemeanor over his violent actions against the woman following the incident, a Queens Supreme Court judge ruled Thursday.

“The defendant was convicted in a crime of recklessness, not of intent, and we’re certainly not giving him a medal,” Justice William Erlbaum said.

After a three-week bench trial and six hours of closing arguments, Erlbaum ruled mostly in favor of Monserrate, who faced up to seven years in prison and the loss of his Senate seat if convicted on a felony assault charge for the Dec. 19, 2008, incident.

He was not lenient on the senator on one misdemeanor charge, assault in the third degree, which stemmed from videotape evidence that showed Monserrate dragging his reluctant girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, 30, out of their apartment as he took her to Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

“Although there was some concern for her … it would certainly appear there was  another concern … to get her away from the home and away from the neighborhood where the defendant has roots,” the judge said.

Monserrate sat silent as the verdict was being read. After the hearing, he thanked his constituents and supporters.

“A terrible accident occurred to my girlfriend, Karla Giraldo. There were no winners here today,” he said.

Despite the exoneration on the serious charge, Queens district attorney Richard Brown commended assistant district attorney Scott Kessler and his team.

“They all did a remarkable job, especially with the victim’s failure to cooperate,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said during a press conference following the verdict.

In a statement released after the verdict, Brown said the verdict was a victory for opponents of domestic violence.

“Today’s decision holds a batterer accountable for his actions.,” he said. “It demonstrates the importance of our prosecuting these cases even without the cooperation or support of the victim who so often seeks — due to fear, confusion or misplaced loyalty — to withdraw from the case after the batterer is arrested only to thereafter find that the battering continues.”

Monserrate, 42, got into a fight with Giraldo on Dec. 19 when he found another man’s police union card in her purse. He threw the card down an incinerator chute in his hallway, causing Giraldo to rush toward the chute to retrieve it.

Part of the argument was videotaped on surveillance cameras in Monserrate’s apartment building.

Prosecutors alleged that the couple continued to fight for two hours before Giraldo asked for a glass of water and Monserrate shoved the glass in her face.

But defense attorney Joseph Tacopina said Monserrate was taking the glass of water to a drunken Giraldo, when he tripped, spilling some of the water on Giraldo, who was lying half-asleep on his bed. Giraldo shot upright and collided with the glass in his hand in a freak accident, Tacopina contended.

Giraldo initially told doctors at the hospital that Monserrate assaulted her but changed her story hours later. When she was on the stand as a prosecution witness, she insisted that the entire thing was an accident.

Tacopina said he would appeal the conviction.

Over the summer, Monserrate, along with state Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), brought Albany to a standstill when he allied himself with the Republican majority, depriving the Democrats of their recently attained majority. The coup was short-lived as two eventually returned to the Democrats after about a month.

Had Monserrate been found guilty of the felony count, he would have automatically removed from the Senate. It is unclear how Monserrate’s misdemeanor conviction, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail, will affect his status in Albany.

In a statement released by the state Democratic conference, state Senate majority leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) said state leaders are discussing “the potential for further disciplinary action” against Monserrate.

“Accusations against public officials are of the utmost concern to everyone in a just and civil society and I take them very seriously,” Sampson said.  “A court of law has now ruled and we respect the decision rendered by the justice system.”

Monserrate is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 4.

Reporter Ivan Pereira contributed to this story.

Updated 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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