Prosecutors begin NY State Sen. Hiram Monserrate felony assault case

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

At the opening of the criminal trial against New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate on Monday on charges of felony assault, prosecutors explained the motive behind his alleged attack on his girlfriend Karla Giraldo.

Hiram Monserrate in 2009
Image: Matt Ryan.

During opening arguments in the case, prosecutor Scott Kessler stated that when Monserrate discovered that his girlfriend had the business card of another man, he chose to strike out at her. According to prosecutor Kessler, Monserrate "struck her in a jealous rage". Monserrate has entered a plea of not guilty to charges he sliced his girlfriend's face with broken glass during a conflict at their apartment in December 2008.

"He struck her in a jealous rage."

—Prosecutor Scott Kessler

According to the account given in court by prosecutors, Giraldo asked her boyfriend Monserrate for a glass of water. Prosecutors said that in response, Monserrate stated "You want the water? You want the water? Here’s your water!" – and proceeded to cut her face using the glass. At the hospital, Giraldo reportedly told healthcare workers: "I can’t believe he did this to me. My face! My face!".

"What happened was an accident."

—Monserrate's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina

The defense team denied that the injury to the woman by Monserrate was intentional, instead claiming that the incident was "an accident". Monserrate's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said "What happened was an accident. There were only two people behind those closed doors and they both say it was an accident. You wonder why they even brought this case. It's nothing more than rank speculation." In Tacopina's account of the incident, Monserrate was bringing his girlfriend a glass of water and tripped – and Giraldo woke up and the glass collided into her face. Tacopina characterized her injuries as "a freak accident".

Kessler asserted that the incident was not an accident on the part of Monserrate. Referring to Monserrate's emotions at the time of the incident, Kessler said "This case is about power and control. He didn't just want that card thrown out, he wanted it destroyed." According to prosecutors in the case, Giraldo originally stated to law enforcement officials that she had been attacked, and said to a nurse at the hospital where she was treated that her boyfriend had cut her face. The injuries to Giraldo's face necessitated 20 stitches in the area surrounding her left eye. After Giraldo found out that Monserrate would be arrested in the matter, she recanted her statements.

Supreme Court Justice William Erlbaum will judge the case without a jury, as Monserrate waived his right for a trial before his peers. If convicted, Democrat Sen. Monserrate could serve prison time and lose his New York State Senate seat.

"Send a message that violence against women must be stopped and perpetrators must be brought to justice."

National Organization for Women

The group National Organization for Women has requested that the judge rule Monserrate should be given "the maximum sentence allowable by law". In an email to supporters, the organization said: "Call or write the Honorable William M. Erlbaum. Send a message that violence against women must be stopped and perpetrators must be brought to justice." Included was a form letter with the message: "I implore you to do the right thing by punishing Senator Monserrate, giving him the maximum sentence allowable by law. By doing so, you will be sending a very important message and that is that violence against women is a serious crime."

In response to complaints from Monserrate's attorney that the group's actions were inappropriate, the president of the organization in New York Marcia Pappas said "We’re imploring him to do the right thing. I’m sure the judge knows what he needs to do, so his position is not compromised."

Monserrate is a former city councilman. He became a member of the New York State Senate weeks after the conflict with Giraldo, and was made chair of the committee overseeing consumer affairs. Along with Democrat Pedro Espada Jr., Monserrate started a shift in control of the Senate by aligning with the Republican Party.


  Learn more about Assault and Hiram Monserrate on Wikipedia.