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Corasanti mistrial bid follows spate of hit-runs ; Judge rejects request based on reports in newspaper

Their case has been high-profile enough, but lawyers for Dr. James G. Corasanti now worry about other hit-and-run incidents making the news, too.

Defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels on Monday asked Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio to declare a mistrial in Corasanti's manslaughter and hit-and-run case.

Daniels cited reports in The Buffalo News on the spate of other hit-and-run incidents over the weekend.

"What bothers us, judge, and gives us grave concern is how this might influence jurors," Daniels said of the newspaper's reports about the incidents alongside its Corasanti trial coverage.

DiTullio denied his request for a mistrial. After meeting separately with each of the jurors in her chambers, DiTullio said in court that none would be discharged from the jury.

On each of the seven days of Corasanti's trial, the judge has admonished jurors not to read or view any media coverage of the trial.

Daniels said he is not criticizing The News or other media outlets for reporting the incidents.

But, he said, "it came at a tough time for us."

Daniels, however, did single out for criticism the comments made by Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III in one of the articles.

The News published articles Saturday about two hit-and-run incidents, one of which concerned 14-year-old Bryce W. Buchholz of Elma, who died after he was struck by an SUV in Lancaster.

The article about Buchholz's death was published on the front page near the one about the sixth day of Corasanti's trial. The Corasanti coverage included a photograph of the buckled hood and damaged fender of Corasanti's 2010 BMW that struck 18-year-old skateboarder Alexandria "Alix" Rice late at night last summer.

The same day's paper also included an article about former professional boxer Leslie "Les" Ralston of Cheektowaga, who faces multiple charges in the City of Tonawanda in connection with a hit-and-run incident that injured two young pedestrians near Niawanda Park.

While making his motion Monday, Daniels told DiTullio of his worry that the jurors might think to themselves that "there are just too many of these cases, and we have to send a message to the community that we're going to do something about it."

Daniels said he was disturbed by comments Sedita made to The News in an article published Sunday. The article detailed how four people were struck in three separate incidents, between 3 a.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday, including the Elma boy who was killed, and three others sent to area hospitals.

All three drivers fled, and alcohol is a possible factor in the incidents.

The article noted how the three incidents happened right in the middle of Corasanti's trial, which has received heavy news coverage.

"How many more people have to die before people get the message not to drink and drive?" Sedita asked, calling the epidemic mind-boggling.

"How many more people have to go to the funeral and wake of their teenage son or daughter before people get it?" Sedita continued. "How many more families have to be devastated?"

Daniels cited Sedita's comments in asking for the mistrial, complaining that the district attorney's comments are "very harmful" to Corasanti's defense.

"If Mr. Sedita wants to think that to himself, that's fine," Daniels said.

But Daniels said Sedita should not have made the comments "in the middle of this trial."

"He may well have poisoned our ability to continue," Daniels said.

A prosecutor in the Corasanti trial said Sedita's comments were not about Corasanti's case, but about the other incidents.

"He carefully avoided saying anything about the Corasanti case," prosecutor Christopher J. Belling said.

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 doctor could face up to 23 years in prison if convicted on the felony charges.

"Does Joel have to make a motion? Yes," said Sunil Bakshi, a defense attorney who is not involved in the case. "But I'm not surprised it wasn't granted."

Judges, he said, do not grant mistrials over what happens outside the courtroom.

"Jurors are supposed to base their decision only on what they hear in the courtroom," he said. "The instructions by Judge DiTullio are they are to follow the law and rule on the evidence. The jury will listen to Judge DiTullio."

In other developments Monday:

*An alternate was discharged from the jury because of her need to be in Florida with her extremely ill mother. Two alternates remain.

*Amherst police "continue to monitor garbage" from Corasanti's house, but no trash has been put out in the last eight weeks, testified Kevin Murphy, a senior investigator for the Amherst Police Traffic Accident Investigation Bureau.

Police "mined the garbage" 11 days after the fatal July 8 incident when investigators arranged to have Corasanti's garbage picked up on the normal trash day and then delivered to the police station, where it was examined, Murphy said.

Murphy said he and another investigator picked through 10 plastic bags and two paper bags of garbage. They recovered a rag with two types of maggots and "an ungodly smell to it," Murphy said. But prosecutors did not ask Murphy to describe what else was on the rag.

*Police investigators went to Corasanti's house with a search warrant for his cellphone more than two weeks after the fatal Heim Road incident, Murphy said. Corasanti met them at the door and told them he got a new phone, with a new service provider.

Corasanti told police he was no longer using the phone he had at the time of the incident and that it "was no longer working," Murphy said.

*The closest streetlight is 33 feet away from the point of impact, Murphy said. And Corasanti's car has "very high-tech, efficient" headlights that shine a brighter light than many other car models, he said.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Thomas H. Burton asked Murphy to confirm that many of the photographs being used as evidence came from a camera with a flash that illuminated the scene.

*Small shards of wood from Rice's nearly 4-foot-long longboard were found in the undercarriage of Corasanti's car, Murphy said. The longboard was run over by the passenger side front and rear tires.

*There were no steering-induced tire marks from the incident attributed to Corasanti's car, Murphy said.

*The buckled hood of Corasanti's car is made of aluminum that is designed to fold up when it hits something, Murphy said. There was no damage to the hood near the windshield, he said. Under questioning from Burton, Murphy said there was no damage to the car's roof, trunk or windshield, nor did the tires go flat.

"Did you see any evidence, in any fashion, that Miss Rice ended up over the top of that car," Burton asked Murphy.

"No evidence of that," Murphy replied.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com