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CORASANTI IS ACQUITTED OF ALL FELONY CHARGES Jury finds doctor guilty only on misdemeanor DWI count in fatal hit-run Defendant's Testimony Was Crucial 13 hours of deliberations rule out manslaughter

For 13 days, prosecutors pounded away at Dr. James G. Corasanti.

They brought the crumpled hood of his BMW into the courtroom.

Toxicologists detailed his over-the-legal-limit alcohol reading.

And a motorist summoned to the witness stand recalled the teenage victim as highly visible as she skated along the side of the road.

But in the end, a day and a half of listening to the 56-year-old Getzville doctor testify in Erie County Court helped sway a jury Wednesday that Alexandria "Alix" Rice was killed in a terrible but understandable accident.

Jurors acquitted Corasanti on all felony charges related to the death of the 18-year-old longboard skater last July in Amherst. Rice was on her way home from her job at a Hopkins Road pizzeria when Corasanti's car struck and killed her at about 11:20 p.m. July 8 on Heim Road.

"My sense of things was the case was sold by Dr. Corasanti's testimony," said Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III. "I could be wrong about that. But that's my best judgment having followed the case and having talked to my prosecutors every day about the case."

Sedita called the case "well-investigated, rich with evidence, tried by three terrific, experienced prosecutors." But jurors found reasonable doubt, he said. "They believed the claims and explanations of Dr. Corasanti," he said. "Personally, I didn't believe them. But I wasn't on the jury."

Defense attorney Joel L. Daniels, too, said he believed that Corasanti's testimony -- on the 14th and 15th days of the 16-day trial -- proved to be the turning point leading to acquittal. "Fortunately, the jury agreed with it," Daniels said.

Jurors convicted Corasanti on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated, for which he could serve up to a year in jail. His sentencing for the misdemeanor DWI is Aug. 16. Corasanti could have faced up to 23 years in prison had he been convicted of the felony charges.

The doctor did not remain in the courthouse with his lawyers after the verdict. When leaving the basement courtroom, he was asked by reporters if he had anything to say. He said nothing and headed up the stairs away from the gathered media and his defense team.

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.

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

Corasanti's lawyers have maintained that he could not have saved Rice even if he had stopped at the scene. She died almost instantly from a broken neck.

"When I heard the jury acquit the defendant of leaving the scene, I was absolutely astonished," Sedita said. "I don't know how you could possibly prove that charge better."

Corasanti, it turned out, convinced jurors he did not know he had struck Rice.

At times, the soft-spoken physician wept on the witness stand May 18 as he recounted his version of what happened that night.

"I didn't see her," Corasanti said.

Would he have stopped had he known he struck the young woman? his lawyer asked.

"Of course," Corasanti said.

What would you have done for her?

"Whatever I could," he replied.

"I spent my whole life trying to take care of people," he recalled telling two neighbors who found him after he bolted from his home after realizing he struck a person.

The doctor, sobbing in court that day, said he realized "I hit a person" when his wife told him she saw an ambulance and police cars at the spot on Heim where his car "ran over something."

The defense's star witness underwent a withering and occasionally sarcastic cross-examination by prosecutor James F. Bargnesi.

Bargnesi and fellow prosecutors Christopher J. Belling and Kelley A. Omel tried to convince jurors that Corasanti was drunk, speeding, driving partially in the shoulder and texting on his way home from a country club outing when he struck the young woman and drove away.

"I don't know if she could be seen or not," Corasanti said of Rice. "I didn't see her."

"To see Alix that night," Bargnesi asked him, "you'd have to be looking, true?"

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

To convict him of second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors had to show that criminal recklessness caused her death.

During her closing argument Tuesday, defense lawyer Cheryl Meyers-Buth portrayed Corasanti as a good man who struck a "small, dark silhouette" as he drove on Heim but did not realize he struck a person until after arriving home. And then he panicked. "He wasn't driving recklessly," she said, also noting the dark clothing the longboard skater was wearing at night. "He just couldn't see her."

"Now, you can't discount on the other side that they have some pretty good lawyers, too," Sedita said. He said he had not talked with Rice's family members before they left the courthouse.

Sedita said he would tell them, "I'm sorry. I wish the verdict was different. But I hope you understand and I hope you believe that we tried the case as well as we could, as hard as we could."

"Something everybody should remember here is there were no winners tonight," said defense lawyer Thomas H. Burton. "There is a family there who lost a loved one.

"We believe the jury saw it for what it was -- a tragic, horrible accident," Burton said.

Burton extended condolences to Rice's family.

"No one is leaving here with any great joy," Burton said. " It is a time to heal, and we are very appreciative the jury here did its job and did it courageously."

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 13 hours over two days.

Corasanti wept as he put his head down on his arms on the defense table after the jury delivered the verdict.

Meyers-Buth gently patted him on the back.

Then Corasanti, who appeared overcome with emotion, hugged Burton, his friend of 30 years.

Burton, describing that moment at the defense table, was himself overcome with emotion when asked what Corasanti told him.

"Thank you for being my friend," Corasanti said, according to Burton.

Corasanti shook the hand of Daniels. The doctor also made a couple of gentle nods to jurors as they exited the courtroom.

Emotions were far different on the other side of the courtroom.

The boyfriend of Tammy A. Schueler, Rice's mother, shouted an expletive at jurors as they walked out of the courtroom.

A court officer escorted him out of the courtroom, but he re-entered minutes later.

Corasanti, who already had posted bail when charged with the felonies, continues to be free on that bail. He is being sued in State Supreme Court by Alexandria Rice's estate.

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