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Reduced charge is ruled out for doctor Negligent homicide isn't a Corasanti jury option

Jurors will not consider criminally negligent homicide as a lesser offense to the second-degree manslaughter charge that Dr. James G. Corasanti faces, among other counts, in the hit-and-run death of teenage longboard skater Alexandria "Alix" Rice.

Neither Corasanti's lawyers nor the prosecutors asked for the lesser charge in Erie County Court on Thursday.

"The defense is not requesting a charge down to 'crim neg,' " defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said.

In fact, prosecutors did not ask for lesser charges to be considered by jurors for any of the counts against the 56-year-old Getzville physician.

"We're not requesting any charge-downs," prosecutor Kelley A. Omel said.

Conviction on second-degree manslaughter, the most serious charge Corasanti faces, carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Criminally negligent homicide, a lesser felony, has a maximum four-year prison term.

With both the prosecution and the defense opting against including a lesser charge for second-degree manslaughter, jurors will not have a compromise charge to consider.

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers declined to comment after the court session.

"I'm surprised the prosecution did not ask for that," said Paul J. Cambria Jr., a prominent criminal-defense lawyer not involved in the Corasanti case.

"I think the toughest charge for them to achieve is a conviction on the manslaughter. It would seem to me they'd have a better chance at persuading the jury to compromise and go with the negligent homicide."

Cambria added, "I totally agree with the defense not asking for a charge-down. The last thing they want is a compromise.

"When you're charged with several felonies, and you're a professional, it's like having five hand grenades and defusing four of the five. The last one still puts your lights out."

By law, a felony conviction would end Corasanti's medical career.

"You want a full acquittal," Cambria said. "You don't want any compromise."

To convict Corasanti of second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors have to prove that criminal recklessness caused the death of Rice, 18, on the night of July 8. That's why prosecutors questioned witnesses about Corasanti's texting and drinking, his car's speed, and the gouge in the shoulder on Heim Road in Amherst, which prosecutors say indicates a point of impact in the bike lane.

To convict the doctor of vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors need to prove that drunken driving directly caused the death of the victim.

Judge Sheila A. DiTullio granted the defense team's request to include drunken and impaired driving as lesser offenses to the vehicular-manslaughter count.

Corasanti also faces a charge of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, resulting in death.

Daniels asked the judge to allow jurors to consider a lesser charge of leaving the scene of a property damage accident. The judge denied the defense request.

"We request the charge that reflects the law in New York State," Omel said, arguing against allowing a property damage count to be added as a lesser charge.

Omel successfully argued for the standard leaving-the-scene charge.

Daniels has contended that Corasanti, by calling lawyer Thomas H. Burton soon after the fatal incident, set in motion his surrender.

"Calling a lawyer does not obviate the obligation to call police," Omel said. "That is not what the law in New York State says. That cannot be delegated."

Daniels, as he has done in previous court appearances, challenged the leaving-the-scene charge as vague.

The statute is intended to punish drivers seeking to evade consequences before anybody identifies who they are and what they did, Daniels said.

In this case, Corasanti made arrangements through Burton to meet with Amherst police within the first hour after the accident, Daniels said. "The bottom line is, this law has a lot of loose ends," Daniels said.

Corasanti "did comply with the statute," Daniels said. "He didn't hide. He contacted his lawyer. Soon after, he did surrender to police."

During the trial, when asked about his call to Burton during cross-examination Monday, Corasanti testified that he "didn't call him because I needed an attorney. I just needed advice on what to do."

Leaving the scene of a fatal incident carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, the same as second-degree vehicular manslaughter. There are no lesser charges available for the two evidence-tampering counts Corasanti faces.

Prosecutors have accused Corasanti of removing the victim's body tissue from his BMW and deleting text messages from his mobile telephone.

In all, conviction on the five counts could send Corasanti to prison for up to 23 years.

The prosecutors and defense lawyers appeared before DiTullio to consider the lesser charges and instructions that the judge will read to jurors.

Jurors will hear closing arguments and the judge's instructions Tuesday before beginning deliberations.

Daniels asked the judge to explain to jurors why Laureen Corasanti, the defendant's wife, did not attend the trial. The judge denied his request.

Laureen Corasanti received a subpoena to appear as a witness for the prosecution, so she was not permitted to watch the proceedings, even though prosecutors did not end up calling her, Daniels said.

Daniels said he requested she be allowed to attend the trial after the prosecution finished its case. But prosecutors refused the request, saying they might call her as a rebuttal witness after the defense case. Prosecutors did not call her as a rebuttal witness, either.

"Her husband was here for four weeks, and she wasn't able to attend," Daniels said. "One or more jurors may question why she wasn't here."

Prosecutors opposed the request that the judge instruct the jury on why Corasanti's spouse was not present. "It's kind of significant she's not even here today," Omel said. Laureen Corasanti could have attended Thursday's hearing without prosecution consent.

During the 16-day trial, prosecutors have not turned around and talked with the victim's loved ones, who have sat in the second and third rows -- behind the prosecution table -- in the gallery.

"I'm instructing that continue," DiTullio said.

The judge also said she does not want to see the defense lawyers or Corasanti on Tuesday turning around and talking, touching or kissing anyone in the gallery's reserved seats behind the defense table.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com