After Justice William Erlbaum declined to allow videotaping and restricted the photography in his courtroom stating that he has been inappropriately lobbied by people who want him to decide on a sentence before the trial, the case of the People v. Hiram Monserrate began.
Those who sat in courtroom K-4 of the Queens Supreme Court on Monday, September 21, 2009 finally listened to opening arguments from District Attorney (DA) Scott Kessler and State Senator Monserrate’s defense attorneys led by Joseph Tacopina – and three prosecution witness – on a bizarre case that has had a frenzy of the public and media attention from the of moment Monserrate’s arrest on the morning of December 19, 2008.
“We are here to support our senator who is being accused unjustly,” said Angelica Mazariegas, a domestic violence survivor from Flushing who along with about a dozen women members of the organization Community Prevention Alternatives for Families in Crisis cheered Monserrate when he walked in the Court today.
Once again, the defense tried to get Judge Erlbaum to find the testimony that victim Karla Giraldo gave to medical personal inadmissible as hearsay, the testimony will be admitted. And though at pre-trial hearings the defense had tried to also find the video surveillance tape inadmissible, Tacopina has found a different use for the tape from the hallways, vestibule and parking lot of Monserrate’s building – as a strategy to show Giraldo’s intoxicated, incoherent and irrational behavior compared to Monserrate’s calm, cool and collected one.
From the beginning Kessler attempted to paint an image of Monserrate as an enraged man who after finding another man 2007 Police Benevolence Association (PBA) card in Giraldo’s possession, wanted to exert power and control over the victim, his then live-in girlfriend Karla Giraldo, 30. Since the arrest the two have been separated by an order of protection issued by Judge Erlbaum.
However, the defense’s opening countered, after noting his time in the New York Police Department and Marine Corps Reserves, that Monserrate’s character kept him cool and throughout the late hours of the night while tried to calm an intoxicated girlfriend had been escorted home after being asked to leave a party.
So, when Giraldo arrived at the apartment at 12:54 a.m. on the night of December 19, 2008, in a fit of jealous rage, according to the DA, Monserrate decided to get rid of the PBA card by throwing it down the garbage shoot of his 37-20 83rd Street building in Jackson Heights. The detective who found the card, Detective Michael Markle of Emergency Service Unit 10, served as a witness for the prosecution on this day and authenticated the piece of evidence.
The district attorney then argued that between 12:54 a.m. and 2:40 a.m. a downstairs neighbor heard the pair arguing because she couldn’t sleep from the noise.
From here, the prosecutor attempted to recreate – from notes taken by the emergency room doctor – the ten minutes before a bloody Giraldo appeared in the hallway at 2:50 a.m.
According to the DA, Giraldo told the ER doctor that “we were fighting and I ask for water and he brought the water, but he said, ‘you want the water! You want the water!’”
Kessler said that Giraldo then reenacted this taunting to the ER doctor, showing how Monserrate moved in towards her. Suddenly the glass broke in his hand – also causing him injury – and he then cut her face. Kessler said the downstairs neighbor – who did not appear in court today – said she heard a body fall to the floor, a woman start crying, and a man who in a stern voice said, “listen to me!” Kessler said Giraldo fell to the floor.
During the defense’s opening, Tacopina refuted these points by first reminding that the since Giraldo had been intoxicated – not that he blamed the victim – she may have been impaired which may have added to her panicking.
So that when Giraldo arrived at home and interrupted Monserrate, who had been up working, he did find the PBA card and yes he did throw the card away in the garbage shoot but that despite Giraldo jumping, pushing and shoving him in attempts to prevent the card’s loss, Monserrate maintained his composure.
Then when both retreated into the apartment soon after, Giraldo fell asleep and Monserrate continued to work.
At 2:40 a.m. Giraldo, from where she laid on the right side of the bed asked Monserrate for water. As a result of the “confines of a small pitch black room,” Monserrate stumbled, splashing the water on Giraldo, who became startled, jerked upward and collided with the glass in Monserrate’s hand. At which point, Monserrate fell to the floor, Giraldo screamed and Monserrate in a soft voice said, “listen to me.”
“It was a freak accident in no uncertain terms,” said Tacopina.
The video surveillance tape, which did not make a debut on the first day of the case, might be on the DA’s plans for Tuesday. The DA hopes the tape shows a frantic Giraldo trying to knock on neighbor’s doors in an attempt to get help. The defense hopes the tape shows Monserrate trying to encourage Giraldo to go to the hospital, since she kept refusing because she was afraid of getting stitches that could scar her face.
At the end of day one Martha Flores-Vasquez, director of the Community Prevention Alternatives for Families in Crisis, said outside of the courthouse that she felt like the case was more balanced now. “This is the other side that had always been there, but no one talked about,” she said.
Also outside on the sidewalk, Hector Monserrate, the defendant’s uncle sported a “Hiram Monserrate is innocent” t-shirt. The elder Monserrate flew from Puerto Rico for the trial.
“Tomorrow there will be victory,” he said. “My nephew has to leave absolved.”
The District Attorney will call its next witness at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 22.