I don’t know whether a judge will grant defense lawyer Tom Eoannou’s pre-trial wish to pry open grand jury records. But prosecutors trying to put Eoannou’s client, Gabrielle Ballowe, behind bars have more to worry about than grand jury testimony.
Make no mistake, I’m pleased that acting DA Mike Flaherty last month charged Ballowe with hitting Barry Moss and leaving him to die on a holiday-season night three years ago. I’m happy for the family and friends of the Evans handyman. My faith in institutional fairness was reaffirmed. All of which doesn’t, unfortunately, mean that Ballowe will ever relocate to a jail cell.
There are two words that should put a chill into prosecutors: James Corasanti.
We might believe a presumably blotto Ballowe slammed into Moss as he rode or walked his bicycle that December night along Route 5. But a court conviction is no slam-dunk – even though parts of her vehicle, with Moss’s DNA on them, were reportedly found at the scene. Even though she took the SUV to a distant body shop. Even though servers say she was drunk when she left a bar/restaurant minutes before the crash.
Look at what happened – or, pointedly, didn’t happen – in the infamous hit-and-run case involving Corasanti.
The physician’s sedan blasted 18-year-old Alix Rice off her longboard on a July night five years ago. He was headed home, after drinking at a nearby country club. Arrested 90 minutes later, he admitted he was at the wheel, conceded he left the scene of crash and said he knew he had hit “something.” Police said he was speeding and a blood test five hours later showed he had been drinking. Pavement gouges proved his car had drifted into the bike lane when it hit Rice.
Yet Corasanti – to the outrage of the community - was acquitted by jury of all felony charges, including leaving the scene of an accident. He was found guilty only of driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor.
Prosecutors have a rougher road with Ballowe than they did with Corasanti.
As defense attorney Terry Connors – who won a civil settlement in the Corasanti case – put it, “There are a lot of hurdles for the prosecution.”
In many ways, prosecutors have a tougher task in convicting Ballowe of vehicular manslaughter and other felonies than they faced with Corasanti.
Ballowe has never admitted to authorities she hit anything, much less anyone, or even was behind the wheel at the instant of impact. No one saw the crash. Although a server said Ballowe was drunk when she left a bar/restaurant shortly before Moss was struck, there was no Breathalyzer or blood test to confirm her inebriation.
Moss’s drunkenness – confirmed post-mortem – complicates matters for prosecutors, who need to prove he didn’t weave onto the road.
Connors knows what prosecutors are up against. It goes beyond proving Ballowe was behind the wheel.
“They also have to prove the crash was the result of her reckless driving,” the attorney said, “then prove she should have known she hit someone.”
True, there is a strong circumstantial case against Ballowe, including parts of her vehicle at the scene and the exclusion of other possible drivers. But that’s the problem – it’s mostly circumstantial.
“I’m confident with the proof,” acting D.A. Flaherty told me. “Circumstantial evidence is just as valid and admissable as direct evidence.”
Flaherty’s opponents in the September Democratic primary say politics was his main motivation in reviving the case. Flaherty counters that a recent change in testimony by a friend of Ballowe’s opened the door to an indictment.
“The easy thing for me to do would be to blame my predecessor and walk away,” Flaherty said.
Yes, it would have been the easy road. I’m glad Flaherty didn’t take it.
But he – and Barry Moss’s family – are a long way from home.