By Jeremy Walsh
An alert downstairs neighbor and a clearer picture of an injured woman’s statements to hospital staff were among the revelations uncorked during opening arguments in the trial of state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) on assault charges.
Monserrate, 42, was arrested Dec. 19 on suspicion of slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken glass during a fight. Monserrate and his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, both maintain the injury was an accident.
If convicted, Monserrate faces up to seven years in prison and would lose his Senate seat, where he is part of a narrow 32-30 majority. Last week he opted to be tried by a judge instead of a jury of his peers.
“This case is about power and control,” prosecutor Scott Kessler told Judge William Erlbaum in his opening argument, referring to Monserrate’s alleged anger over finding another man’s police union card in Giraldo’s purse and his behavior toward the injured woman.
“With a witness who exonerated the defendant before a grand jury, what prosecutor would bring this case?” Monserrate’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, said in his opening statement.
Kessler contended a triage nurse and a doctor at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital said Monserrate had attacked her during a fight.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Giraldo allegedly told her emergency room doctor. “We were fighting and he cut my face.”
Monserrate’s legal team fought to keep Giraldo’s statements out of the trial, but Judge William Erlbaum ruled the comments, otherwise inadmissible as hearsay, were valid because they fell under the legal category of “excited utterances” made without forethought.
Kessler also said downstairs neighbor Carolyn Loudon heard Monserrate and Giraldo fighting upstairs throughout the two hours between when he was caught on a security camera tossing the union card down the hallway incinerator chute and when an injured Giraldo ran out of the apartment with a towel on her face.
The footage shows Giraldo running to Loudon’s door and ringing the bell before Monserrate drags her away, Kessler said.
The security footage then shows Giraldo holding on to a bannister, then an individual stair and finally the door frame at the apartment building’s entrance as Monserrate takes her to his car. Once outside the building, she appears to accompany Monserrate voluntarily.
Tacopina first pointed out that Giraldo recanted her initial statements almost immediately. She now claims, like Monserrate, that he tripped and spilled water on her while she was half asleep in bed and she was injured when she shot upright and collided with the glass in his hand.
Tacopina also argued that staff at the hospital were predisposed to see the incident as domestic violence, a language barrier distorted Giraldo’s initial statements to the staff and Monserrate’s forceful behavior with Giraldo on video stemmed from a desire to get his drunken, panicked girlfriend to a hospital quickly.
Tacopina also disparaged the Spanish language skills of Dawn Kort, the emergency room doctor who questioned Giraldo.
“We’ll see where she got her training in Spanish,” he said. “She’s not fluent in Karla Giraldo Spanish.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at718-229-0300, Ext. 154.