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THE MONSERRATE VERDICT: Odd moments, crossed wires marked trial

The four-week trial of state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) may have ended with his acquittal on the felony charges against him, but it was not for lack of trying on the part of the prosecution.

Assistant District Attorney Scott Kessler tenaciously argued his points, securing a misdemeanor assault conviction against Monserrate for recklessly injuring his girlfriend Karla Giraldo in a trial marked by unusual diversions and even occasional humor

In an apparent effort to show that Giraldo’s cousin, Jasmina Rojas, was hostile to the prosecution, he embarked on a side dispute over whether Rojas threw a subpoena out of her car after a detective pushed it through the window to her two months ago, resulting in 20 minutes of he-said, she-said testimony.

Kessler accused her of rolling the window up while the detective’s hand was still inside.

“I had to close it. It was August. I was tired and I had to close it because I had the air conditioning on,” Rojas said finally. “Then he tried to put the paper in and it fell and then I had to go.”

The trial also took an unusual turn — one that probably did not help Kessler’s contention that nothing was lost in translation between Giraldo and hospital staff — when a translator for Rojas tried to explain that there are two words for “drunk” in Spanish: “mareada,” which means “buzzed,” and “borracha,” which comes closer to “blitzed.”

At one point Kessler tried to discredit the argument that Giraldo’s words were so hard to understand by having “it was an accident” — “fue un accidente” — read into the record in Spanish.

Queens Supreme Court Judge William Erlbaum also provided some humor from time to time.

Kessler performed a delicate dance with Giraldo when she took the stand, avoiding any testimony about the incident in the apartment to prevent Tacopina from being able to cross-examine her. He also tried hard to get her declared a hostile witness, but failed.

When Tacopina attempted to bring up how Giraldo was injured during cross-examination, Tacopina stopped him.

“If you want to cross that Rubicon and ask what wasn’t asked ... then you’ve made her your witness,” Erlbaum said.

During closing arguments, Kessler, talking about Monserrate drinking a soda as he walked Giraldo into North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital, first waxed poetic and then took an almost forensic approach to the video images.

“He doesn’t have the decency to hold her bag. He’s got a can of refreshment in his hand,” Kessler said.

Later during summation, he played the tape back.

“There’s a sip, right there at 3:24 and 15 seconds,” he said.

Kessler also ambitiously invoked two presidential assassinations during his closing statement, first comparing Monserrate’s state of mind to Jackie Kennedy’s as she stood on Air Force One with her husband’s blood on her dress as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office.

“Her appearance was the furthest thing from her mind,” he said, arguing Monserrate had changed out of a bloody T-shirt before leaving his apartment. “The defendant’s appearance was the foremost thing on his mind because they bore evidence of the crime.”

A few minutes later, Kessler argued Monserrate ordered Giraldo to call a facialist as a possible alternative to taking her to a public hospital.

“Neffie Toro is his Dr. Mudd,” Kessler said, referring to the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth for a broken leg after he shot Abraham Lincoln and leaped from a balcony in Ford’s Theatre.

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

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