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Local TV Acquits Itself Well on Corasanti Verdict


I understand where Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita is coming from when he says he hasn’t been as “astonished” by a jury verdict in 24 years as a prosecutor.

He was referring to the acquittal of Dr. James Corasanti Wednesday on all major charges related to the death of 18-year-old Alix Rice almost a year ago.

I haven’t been as astonished by a local verdict in almost 40 years. That’s when I covered a trial in which a jury acquitted a Buffalo policeman of all charges even though his own attorney asked for him to be convicted of lower charges.

My memory is the jury – which was lambasted by the judge – looked at the defendant as if he were their son and decided to let him off.

To paraphrase Jay Leno’s famous question to Hugh Grant, Western New Yorkers want to ask Corasanti jury members “what were you thinking?”

The verdict is just a reminder that predicting jury verdicts is a dangerous exercise. Unless some members of the jury are eventually persuaded to talk, we’ll have to live with speculation about their thoughts. (Update: Patrick Lakamp of the Buffalo News just posted an interview with the jury foreman).

Before the verdict came in, I suggested to a friend that the jury just may conclude ”there but the grace of God go I” and let the doctor off. I made this comment after visiting a friend Tuesday night who lives off of Heim Road. I remarked to my driver that the road was so dark that I could see having trouble seeing someone crouched low on a skateboard wearing dark clothes even if I were sober.

Perhaps that was what the jury was thinking despite evidence that made most of WNY conclude Dr. Corasanti deserved to be convicted at the very least of leaving the scene of an accident.

The danger of predicting verdicts was highlighted Wednesday when former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark predicted on Channel 4’s noon news that Dr. Corasanti would be convicted of at least two serious counts about seven hours before he was acquitted of all charges except of a misdemeanor. Some legal experts also were surprised that Corasanti’s lead attorney, Joel Daniels, didn’t deliver the closing statement and questioned whether having Cheryl Meyers-Buth do it was a good idea. In hindsight, it sure didn’t hurt.

As I pointed out Wednesday, almost all the legal experts on the local channels weren’t at the trial 24/7 so they might have seen things differently from a jury who sat through everything.

Though quick comparisons were made to the acquittal in the O.J. Simpson case, there were significant differences. Except for the opening and closing statements, the Corasanti trial wasn’t televised so most WNYers didn’t hear everything or much of anything. There was no racial element. And perhaps most significantly, Simpson didn’t testify while Corasanti did.

As I’ve written a few times, I wish Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio had allowed cameras in the court when Corasanti testified if she had been able to allow it since I felt his testimony would be key to the verdict.

Almost all the experts on local TV’s coverage Wednesday speculated Wednesday that Corasanti won his own case with his own testimony because the jury found it credible and believable. District Attorney Sedita acknowledged as much in his post-verdict press conference, adding he didn’t agree with the jury about the credibility of Corasanti’s testimony. (The jury foreman told The News’ Lakamp that Corasanti’s testimony wasn’t as ”pivotal” as lawyers suggested post-verdict.)

Without being able to have cameras in the court for most of the trial, local TV news did itself proud Wednesday. Every station covered almost every angle of the verdict. During the early news, all the stations had experts speculating about an acquittal on the serious charges because the jury was considering lower charges that the judge had told them to ignore if they convicted on the serious charges.

Kudos to Channel 4’s Luke Moretti, George Richert and Rachel Kingston, Channel 2’s Michael Wooten, Melissa Holmes and Claudine Ewing and Channel 7’s Ed Reilly and John Borsa. Interestingly, the answer to Ewing’s question to defense lawyer Thomas Burton about what Corasanti said to him after the verdict was played by all three stations even though the question was only heard on Channel 2. “Thank you for being my friend,” answered Burton.  

I just wish the stations had been allowed to carry the verdict live to see that exchange and the emotional reaction inside the court room.

There were a few things I could have done without. Channel 4 and Channel 2 kept on shouting “Breaking News” from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. about the verdict even when nothing new was happening. It almost felt like a “Saturday Night Live” bit after a while. I also could have done without a Channel 4 story about whether Dr. Corasanti was continuing to practice and would be able to practice if he was convicted of a felony. The story seemed predicated on a guilty verdict on the serious charges that never came.

But those are minor criticisms. The larger questions now are a) whether Dr. Corasanti’s notoriety will enable him to practice in WNY or whether he’ll have to leave town to practice b) whether he will go to jail on the misdemeanor charge that could land him behind bars for a year c) will any jury members ever defend or explain their verdict and d) who will win the civil trial brought against Dr. Corasanti by the Rice family if a settlement isn’t reached. Time will tell and I’m sure TV news and the Buffalo News will be all over those questions.  

Except for those minor criticisms, the local stations acquitted themselves very well on a “shocking” must-see TV night.


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5 responses to "Local TV Acquits Itself Well on Corasanti Verdict"

  1. GMan says:

    This injustice gives hope to every person who wants to justify that it’s OK to drink and drive. All I can ask the jury is: ” WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?” What kind of “pool” were these jurors chosen from, a ” cesspool?”

    • alanp says:

      I don’t think the verdict in this case should or will persuade anyone that it is OK to drink and drive. He was acquitted of the major counts, but his reputation is ruined and if he has a conscience he has to live with the knowledge that he ended a teenager’s life.

  2. Tina says:

    It has only been a year since the Casey Anthony trial and now I feel as if the justice system failed yet again. The news coverage was quite good and I got the feeling that most of the anchors/reporters were also shocked at the verdict. It is a shame to say the least how obvious it is that the jury blamed the victim, again, in such a tragic situation.

  3. Larry says:

    AP, a thought and a question and a thought. I mix it up in am and at 10 with the news. I switch between 2 and 4 and I agree I can’t stand the ten o’clock countdown on 2 the other thing I notice about the news on two at ten is that Melissa Holmes has seemed to have lost a spark she had at 4. She seems to stumble a lot on words and just doesn’t seem as smooth. The question I had was I was wondering if you have heard who is going to replace John Murphy?

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