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Defense tests jury prospects over reaction to Rice injury

A fractured neck was among the injuries Alexandria "Alix" Rice sustained last summer when she was killed in a hit-and-run incident on Heim Road in Amherst.

Defense attorney Joel L. Daniels revealed that specific injury during the first day of jury selection Thursday for James G. Corasanti's manslaughter trial in Erie County Court.

Daniels told prospective jurors to expect a lot of testimony, some of it graphic, about the teenage skateboarder's fatal injuries.

He mentioned her injuries to gauge how such testimony would affect the ability of prospective jurors to serve in the trial.

"Will that make a difference?" he asked during his turn to question prospective jurors.

By day's end, six jurors were picked for the Corasanti trial. Proceedings resume today. Six more jurors and four alternates still need to be selected.

Given the number of jurors picked Thursday, Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio said the trial could begin Monday or Tuesday.

She also told prospective jurors that the trial could last through May.

"Obviously, it's a significant amount of time," she said in court.

At the start of jury selection, prosecutors submitted names of 88 potential witnesses, although not all of them will necessarily testify.

Corasanti, 56, faces charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting resulting in death, and tampering with physical evidence.

The Getzville physician is accused with striking the 18-year-old skateboarder with his BMW and driving away from the scene.

Rice was on a longboard -- larger than a normal skateboard -- on her way home from her job at a Hopkins Road pizzeria when she was killed at about 11:20 p.m. July 8.

In an earlier court hearing last fall, Daniels said Corasanti would have stopped if he knew he had hit someone.

"This was an accident," Daniels said in September. "It happened at night. It was dark. This young lady was on a skateboard."

Thursday, Daniels acknowledged all of the media coverage of the incident. As he questioned prospective jurors, he told them, "There's another side."

Meanwhile, prosecutor James F. Bargnesi devoted some of his questioning to deal with the "there but for the grace of God go I" sentiment that some prospective jurors might hold.

People go out to dinner and have some drinks, Bargnesi said. Corasanti was returning from an outing at the Transit Valley Country Club.

So some prospective jurors might look at Corasanti at the defense table and think, "with a little bit of bad luck, that could be me," Bargnesi said.

"You can't have sympathy in deciding this case," Bargnesi told the prospective jurors.

"You have someone whose unintended actions caused someone's death," he said. "No one is saying this was done on purpose. But it's a crime nonetheless."

"You have to set sympathy aside," Bargnesi told them, and render a verdict "based on facts, not sympathy."

email: plakamp@buffnews.com