Monserrate leaves fate in judge’s hands

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Prosecutors appeared unfazed by state Sen. Hiram Monserrate’s (D-East Elmhurst) choice Monday to abandon a jury trial in favor of a verdict from a Queens Supreme Court judge.

Monserrate, who is accused of slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken glass during an argument last winter, will be tried by Judge William Erlbaum. If convicted on felony assault charges, Monserrate could face up to seven years in prison. The trial was scheduled to begin Monday.

“Justice Erlbaum is an experienced, fair and impartial jurist,” a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “We have full confidence that he will render a just verdict based on the facts of the case after hearing all of the evidence.”

A conviction would mean Monserrate would have to resign from the Senate, reducing the Dems’ majority to a single vote and imperiling their legislative agenda for the upcoming year.

Joseph Tacopina, Monserrate’s attorney, said they made the decision because he feared jurors would not be able to “overcome their sense of right and wrong in their own beliefs.”

“News coverage in this case has been mostly one-sided,” Tacopina said. “I am concerned that ... jurors are not going to be able to put aside all these collateral issues.”

Among these is a security camera tape that allegedly depicts Monserrate dragging his frantic girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, away from a neighbor’s door. Erlbaum has sealed the footage, claiming that it “makes the blood boil.” The tape does not show how Giraldo was injured.

Tacopina would not comment on whether reports that Monserrate turned down a plea deal were true.

“He wouldn’t plead guilty to anything … so it’s really irrelevant,” he said.

Erlbaum warned Monserrate that the choice meant prosecutors would have to convince only one man instead of 12 and that he would see all the evidence, even the inadmissible items, although he said would disregard them in his verdict.

Monserrate was arrested Dec. 19 after driving Giraldo to North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital to be treated for her injuries. He allegedly attacked her after finding another man’s police union card in her purse, smashing a drinking glass and striking her in the face, prosecutors said.

Giraldo later recanted her initial story that Monserrate attacked her during an argument, submitting a written deposition stating he tripped and fell into her while holding the glass.

Tacopina said Giraldo would not testify for the prosecution; the Queens district attorney’s office had no comment.

Monserrate and his legal team were met outside the courthouse by Senate Conference Leader John Samson (D-Brooklyn), who shook his colleague’s hand. Samson was noncommittal about what the state Democrats would do if Monserrate were convicted and forced to step down.

“At that point we will have a discussion if that happens,” he said. “It’s still too early to make these decisions.”

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

Posted 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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