Sparks flew in State Senator Hiram Monserrate’s assault trial on Thursday when the emergency room attending physician who authorized that the police department be called got grilled by defense attorney Joseph Tacopina.
“It did not seem like a safe discharge,” said Dr. Dawne Kort, who on the night of December 19, 2008 observed and spoke with a hysterical and sobbing Giraldo, and decided that she should not be released to Monserrate. “She indicated that it was not an accident. She indicated that he had cut her face.”
In pre-trial hearings, the defense had sought to suppress the incendiary testimony of Kort citing hearsay, but Justice William Erlbaum allowed the statement. In her words, when Kort asked Giraldo what had happened, Giraldo responded that “I can’t believe he did this to me. My face, my face. I can’t believe, my face.”
“We were fighting and I asked for a glass of water and he shoved it in my face," the doctor said reenacting that Giraldo cupped her hand aggressively and made fast upward motions away from her body.
However during cross examination, Tacopina hammered Kort as to when she had actually written down her recollection of that night. Turned out, the doctor waited 18 days to do so.
“I think [the doctor] is officially impeached, but I’m not the fact finder that’s up to the judge,” said a confident Tacopina outside the courtroom to the news media. “Clearly, she said things very differently in the grand jury than she did on December 19, 2008 the date of the accident.”
According to Kort, no one had asked her to memorialize and expand on the two lines she had written in her attending report the night of the incident. But, Tacopina pushed her whether she could actually remember the exact words Giraldo said 18 days later and after seeing about 100 patients. To which the doctor responded, “This was memorable.”
Kort, who majored in Spanish at Duke University and whose mother is Puerto Rican and dad is Panamanian, was brought in to speak to Giraldo. Kort characterized Giraldo’s wounds as suspicious because it looked like a stab wound. She said that all stab wounds – regardless of whether an accident or not – requires that the NYPD be called.
Some drama ensued late in the afternoon session.
A third witness expected to testify, Dr. Daniel Frogel, the chief resident at Long Island Jewish and the person who spoke to Monserrate while the attending physician treated Giraldo, did not appear in court but in a hand written statement that was read out loud for the record said Monserrate told him that he and Giraldo had sex, then had an argument and then she became upset.
Afterwards, said the statement, the senator told him she asked for the glass of water and "[when he handed her the glass he] tripped, slipped, and consequently glass shattered, there was glass everywhere.”
Frogel, unlike the Cabibbo and Kort, wrote his recollection of the night on January 2, and included that the he remembers Giraldo telling him that “it was not an accident” and that “she was adamant about not getting stitches.”
He wrote that when the police began to escort Monserrate, Giraldo latched onto him and Monserrate “soothingly told her to ‘relax, calm down, that everything would be okay and to go to bed.’”
At no point that night did Frogel hear Giraldo tell nurse Cabibbo, “he’s crazy, he’s crazy,” a comment that Cabibbo had written in her January 21 notes but not in her triage nurse, which she typed as Giraldo spoke to her.
Tacopina nailed her – and Kort – on their notes that night since the LIJ domestic violence policy requires that they “quote the informant/patient much as possible.” Both doctors admitted they had not done so that night and not till they had to over two weeks later.
During day three of the trial, Judge William Erlbaum added another letter he had received to the record, that attempted to lobby for him to give the Democrat the toughest sentence allowable.
But the real drama of Monserrate’s trial unfolded on Tuesday, September 22 – day two – when the much-anticipated surveillance video recorded on the night of the alleged assault that left Karla Giraldo in need of 20 stitches was shown publicly for the first time.
“Much has been made about this video tape. I’ve read stories how it shows horrific acts of violence on behalf of Senator Monserrate, how he was kicking her, pulling her, assaulting her,” defense attorney Joseph Tacopina told reporters on Tuesday. “Clearly anyone looking at her objectively would see that he did none of the sort.”
Although blood dripped down the left side of Giraldo’s face – which was covered with a towel – it was not until after she walked down the stairs and toward a neighbor’s door, that the Senator’s first contact with Giraldo appears. At that point, the video shows Monserrate forcibly pulling her away from the door and forcing her out of the building.
The silent video, played at normal speed, could be viewed as affirming the defense’s assertions that Monserrate, 42, had tried to convince Giraldo, 30, to seek proper medical attention for her injury versus what Giraldo might testify to – if she testifies at all.
The testimony of the downstairs neighbor, Carolyn Loudon, shed more light on the events of that “chaotic” night, when she heard a commotion, verbal intercourse and “crazy energy” coming from above.
Just before her doorbell rang three times, Loudon testified that she heard a loud thump on her ceiling – like a body falling on the floor – followed by a woman’s cry.
Loudon went on to reenact the scream she heard after her doorbell rang – a sound that startled the entire courtroom.
The few seconds of video that followed Loudon’s testimony could be the most damaging to the Senator.
They show him pulling Giraldo away from Loudon’s door and into the 83rd Street building’s vestibule, where a freeze frame from the video captures a look of apparent terror on her face.
Monserrate then seemingly drags the petite 118-pound woman – who was apparently off balance by then – out the door.
However, as the couple walked through the courtyard and turned north on 83rd Street, away from Elmhurst Hospital, the camera recorded Monserrate putting his arm around the shoulder of a unresisting Giraldo.
Since the trial began on Monday, September 21, the defense and prosecution have presented two clearly different stories.
Prosecutors have painted Monserrate as an enraged man who, after finding another man’s 2007 Police Benevolent Association (PBA) card in his girlfriend’s possession, wanted to exert power and control her by striking her in the face with a glass.
The defense argues that Giraldo came home drunk and that Monserrate was bringing her a glass of water in a small, pitch-black room when he stumbled, splashing the water on her.
They say a startled Giraldo jerked upward and collided with the glass in Monserrate’s hand.
If convicted, Monserrate could face seven years in jail and lose his position in the State Senate.