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Hassan judge warns against 'grandstanding' ; News conference prompts reprimand

An irritated Judge Thomas P. Franczyk warned attorneys in the murder case of Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan on Friday that any further out-of-court "grandstanding" will lead to stiff sanctions.

The Erie County Court judge specifically reprimanded District Attorney Frank A. Sedita for his "carefully orchestrated" news conference Thursday and accused the DA of taking a personal shot at him in his remarks to the media.

Meanwhile, Hassan's lawyer said Friday he won't disclose whether he will present witnesses to support Hassan's contention that he was a battered spouse until after the prosecution presents its case at trial.

Sedita had publicly criticized the defense Thursday for providing "misleading and fraudulent" information that has led to lengthy delays in the case. He also drew comparisons between the Hassan case and the far more rapid resolutions of the notorious O.J. Simpson case and the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Clarence.

Hassan, 46, a former banker and cable television entrepreneur, contends he suffers from battered spouse syndrome. He has been jailed since he turned himself in to Orchard Park police about an hour after he allegedly beheaded his estranged wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, 37, on Feb. 12, 2009.

Jury selection begins Monday.

Franczyk denied motions by defense lawyer Jeremy Schwartz on Friday to either dismiss the case, remove the Erie County District Attorney's Office as the prosecutorial agency, sanction Sedita or bar prosecutors from personally questioning prospective jurors next week.

The judge also ordered Schwartz to list all potential defense witnesses he may call during the trial. Franczyk said he needs the list so he can run the names by prospective jurors and weed out those who may have a conflict of interest.

After appearing in court, Schwartz said he and Hassan have "significant concerns" about the ability to get a fair and unbiased jury in their case.

He said Sedita contacted every news media outlet in the region to complain about numerous alleged delays in the case caused by the defense. Schwartz told the judge he viewed that as an attempt by prosecutors to improperly "taint the jury pool" with "reckless disregard" to his client's right to a fair trial.

Sedita responded Friday afternoon by saying, "That was not my intent whatsoever; I disagree with those statements."

Chief prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable had told Franczyk on Thursday that while Hassan's lawyers had named several possible psychiatric experts who would support the defendant's contention that he was an abused spouse, prosecutors discovered on their own Wednesday that those experts had cut ties with the case.

She wanted confirmation that Schwartz still planned to move forward with a battered spouse defense and provide the names of any experts he planned to call.

Schwartz said Friday he is in the process of "reengaging" with several proposed expert witnesses, but did not state that he had any such witnesses ready for trial.

He pointed out the prosecution still has the burden of proof to disprove Hassan's claims of being a battered spouse and said he won't decide who to call to the stand until after prosecutors rest their case.

The judge Friday mildly chided the prosecution's "sleuthing," which led to Thursday's disclosure that forensic psychiatrist Dr. Ana N. Cervantes had returned her financial retainer and dropped out of the case in November.

But Franczyk also noted that prosecutors' contact with proposed expert defense witnesses was prompted by Schwartz' "somewhat of a cryptic answer" when Curtin Gable asked him during a closed, pretrial conference Tuesday to confirm the experts he planned to put on the stand.

The judge was openly contemptuous of the prosecution's refusal to tell either Schwartz or his court staff in advance why they called for Thursday's hearing and asked for such antics to end.

Schwartz has predicted the jury selection could be a lengthy process, particularly given all the negative publicity surrounding the case.

e-mail: mgyta@buffnews.com and stan@buffnews.com

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