BUFFALO, NY - It all comes down to Tuesday in the fatal hit-and-run trial of Dr. James Corasanti. That's when both sides will give their closing arguments to the jury, which should begin deliberating sometime in the afternoon.
In anticipation of the arguments, 2 On Your Side asked criminal defense attorney Tom Eoannou to predict how the prosecution and defense attorneys will handle this crucial and final phase of the trial.
We then asked two local titans in the legal community to square off-and deliver a closing argument as though they were trying the case. Former D-A Frank Clark played the role of prosecutor, while renowned criminal defense attorney Paul Cambria argues on behalf of Dr. Corasanti.
In less than 24 hours, Dr. Corasanti's fate will rest in the hands of 12 jurors, who must decide whether he should spend as much as the next 23 years behind bars for killing 18-year-old Alexandria Rice as she road her skateboard along Heim Road in Amherst on the night of July 8 last year.
"It's his career. It's his reputation in the community. It's his whole life," Eoannou said. "This, in terms of human tragedies, is a big one."
The big issues the jurors must resolve:
1. Whether Dr. Corasanti was drunk at the time of the crash.
2. And if he was, whether it caused the crash.
3. Whether he was criminally reckless that night, that is, was he speeding, texting, or drunk, or all of the above, at the moment of the crash.
4. Whether, when he drove away, he actually knew he had actually hit a person.
5. Also, whether he tampered with evidence, by deleting text messages or by wiping his car with a rag.
Eoannou believes attorneys for each side will take vastly different approaches in their closing arguments.
For the prosecution, "I think Mr. Bargnesi will do a very long summation. And, again, build it block by block. He will attack the logic of Dr. Corasanti's testimony as it relates to the deleting of the texts, and not knowing he hit someone contrasted to the crushed hood, he'll go over the drinks, things like that," Eoannou said.
For Dr. Corasanti's defense team and attorney Joel Daniels, the goal is to create uncertainty.
"One of the things you want to do as a defense attorney, because the prosecution has the burden, is you want your expert to cancel their expert out," Eoannou said. "Basically, at the end of the day, for the defense, if the juror doesn't know which expert is right, it's a win for the defense. Mr. Daniels summation, I believe, will be shorter. That summation is going to be, if you believe the doctor, you must acquit."
Next, Clark and Cambria squared off, offering the following portions of what would be their closing arguments.
THE BIG PICTURE
CLARK: I would start with what brought us all here. And that's the death of a young girl in the flower of her youth snuffed out by a drunken driver who didn't even have the consideration to stop and see what he had done.
CAMBRIA: Proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That doesn't mean guesswork. That doesn't mean I think so, or maybe, or perhaps, or it must have been something. All of those words are words of doubt.
DID HE KNOW HE HIT SOMEONE?
CLARK: If you hit a deer in the road do you think you wouldn't know you hit something? It defies common sense. Look at the damage to the car. The front end was caved in. Of course he knew he hit her.
CAMBRIA: We have people who have now testified that this is a very heavy car, that it's very much sound-proof. In fact, we all know that these cars tout themselves as being sound-proof. No doubt (the) radio was on, and so on. He testified he feels a thump. He runs over something. When we look at the experts, they say that there is tissue low on the car. There is damage low on the car. And so there is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he should have, would have, or did see a body careen, if you will, off the top of his car.
CLARK: Why didn't he stop? And the answer is as plain as the nose on your face. Because he was intoxicated and he knew he was intoxicated.
CAMBRIA: Well, he's a very short distance from his home, so it's not unreasonable for someone to say, well, I don't know what that was. He looks. He doesn't see anything, but I just live up the street here, and when I get home, we'll see what that's all about.
CAMBRIA: He deserves the trial that, if he were sitting here throughout this entire case, and had his back toward you, and you had never saw his face, and you never knew his name, and you had to analyze the proof against him, and just before you were going to walk into that jury room, they turned him around, and it turned out to be someone near and dear to you, he deserves the same treatment you would give them.
CLARK: Justice cries for something to be done here. And it's in your hands. And you stand for us all. And we live with your verdict, whatever it is. But be sure your verdict is true to your conscience. It's most important that you be able to live with your verdict. And I'd let them go.