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Jury foreman cites pivotal points in trial

Dr. James G. Corasanti's testimony may have been the most closely watched and dissected portion of his manslaughter hit-and-run trial, but the foreman of the jury that acquitted him Wednesday of all the felony charges he faced said that it was not the key factor in the verdict.

William Nixon, 63, of Buffalo, said testimony from other witnesses and other evidence played a much bigger role in the widely criticized verdict, including:

* The testimony of the Getzville motorist who testified about what he saw moments before Corasanti's car fatally struck 18-year-old longboard skater Alexandria "Alix" Rice, and whose account during the trial was different from his grand jury testimony.

* Damage to Corasanti's vehicle that, when seen from the angle of the driver's seat, caused Nixon to believe it was plausible that the doctor did not know he had hit a person.

* The prosecution's failure to rebut the contention that Corasanti's car was soundproof.

* Experts who testified for the defense and raised questions about the prosecution's theory of the case.

Jurors acquitted Corasanti on all felony charges related to the death of Rice last July in Amherst. Rice was on her way home from her job at a Hopkins Road pizzeria when Corasanti's car fatally struck her at about 11:20 p.m. July 8 on Heim Road.

Jurors acquitted Corasanti of second-degree manslaughter, the most serious charge he faced, and second-degree vehicular manslaughter. The jury also acquitted him of two evidence-tampering charges: deleting text messages from his mobile telephone and removing the victim's blood and body tissue from his car.

Corasanti also was acquitted of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, resulting in death.

"That was a hard thing for us, too," Nixon said of the leaving-the-scene acquittal.

Less than 24 hours after delivering a verdict that sent shock waves through the community, Nixon said he finds the widespread negative reaction to the doctor's acquittal on all felony charges to be disappointing.

"I feel disappointed that people who were not there didn't have the benefit of hearing everything," he said.

He also expressed sympathy for Rice's family.

"Our heart just goes out to the family," Nixon said. "To lose a child, I can't imagine where they are now."

Nixon said photos of the teenager reminded him of his daughter. But he said the jury tried to keep emotion out of their deliberations after the draining, monthlong trial. He called his jury experience "gut-wrenching."

After the verdict, he left Erie County Courthouse for home in tears.

"We did our very best," Nixon said. "We took the law and tried to apply it to this case. It was a very emotional case. We tried to keep emotion out of it as best we possibly could.

"We tried to our best to weigh the evidence and the testimony."

Nixon said Corasanti's day and a half of testifying was not as pivotal to the outcome as the lawyers involved in the trial have indicated.

"He seemed like a very nice man," Nixon said of the soft-spoken Corasanti. "He made a good impression on the stand. But I don't know if I believed everything he said. Some people did."

Nixon said he had doubts about the testimony of Mark Rowland, the Getzville motorist who testified about what he saw moments before Corasanti's car struck Rice.

Prosecutors called his testimony very damaging to Corasanti.

Rowland testified, for example, that Rice was highly visible as she skated along the side of the road. Rowland said he saw Corasanti's approaching car partly in the bike lane where she was riding her longboard.

Prosecutor James F. Bargnesi called Rowland a "phenomenal" witness.

Nixon was not so impressed.

Rowland had previously testified in front of a grand jury, which indicted Corasanti on the five felony charges.

"His grand jury testimony didn't quite jibe with what he said on the stand to us," Nixon said.

How did trial jurors react to that?

"It did make a difference," Nixon said.

Nixon said he questioned how much of the impact Corasanti could hear inside his BMW, given the size of the car and its engineering. It is possible he might not have heard the impact, even though neighbors did, Nixon said.

Nixon said prosecutors did a good job trying the case.

"But they never addressed the soundproofing of the car," Nixon said. "That's the reasonable doubt."

Also, George Meinschein, the mechanical expert who testified for the defense, "was believable," Nixon said.

Meinschein called the BMW's impact with Rice a "light hit."

Also, the damage to the dark blue car's hood was more noticeable when you looked at the hood when standing in front of the car. But when standing behind the hood in the courtroom, closer to the driver's perspective, "I could not tell the hood was buckled up from back there," Nixon said.

With doubts about what Corasanti could hear and see from inside the car, jurors acquitted him on the leaving-the-scene count.

What's more, the defense's accident-reconstruction expert raised reasonable doubt about where Rice was on Heim Road when Corasanti's BMW struck her. More of her longboard was on the road than the prosecution contended, that expert testified.

David Liske, a principal associate at Liske Forensic Professionals of Fonthill, Ont., testified Amherst police were "absolutely wrong" in how they reconstructed the fatal incident.

Liske testified that Corasanti was traveling 39.9 mph on Heim Road in Amherst when his BMW struck Rice. His testimony cast doubt on the Amherst Police Department's calculation that Corasanti was driving 46 to 52 mph in a 35 mph zone when he fatally struck Rice.

"I thought he was more professional," Nixon said of Liske.

Nixon said the seven men and five women on the jury bonded well since the first day of the trial April 26.

Of the emotional toll that the trial and the reaction to the verdict have taken on not only the jurors, but on their families, he said, "It has been hard."

email: plakamp@buffnews.com