A juror who explained his vote to acquit Dr. James G. Corasanti has been lauded by the Bar Association of Erie County for his civic service and brave public defense of the widely unpopular verdict.
The 3,800-member Bar Association issued an open letter to "Corasanti Juror 12" saluting his service, and that of his 11 fellow jurors.
"Against an emotionally charged factual backdrop, you enabled the rule of law to triumph over the frenzy of public opinion," the Bar Association's letter said.
Corasanti had faced charges that he was drunk, speeding, driving partly in the shoulder, texting and then fled the scene after he fatally struck 18-year-old Alexandria "Alix" Rice on her longboard last July 8 on Heim Road in Amherst.
The Corasanti jurors were pilloried across the community following their vote last week to acquit Corasanti of felony manslaughter, leaving-the-scene and evidence-tampering charges. The acquittal on the leaving-the-scene charge appears to have angered the community the most.
Jurors convicted the 56-year-old Getzville physician of driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor.
Amid the public uproar, juror John Jankowiak Jr. of Buffalo wrote a six-page statement that outlined his reasons for acquitting Corasanti.
The Buffalo News published lengthy excerpts of the juror's statement in Sunday's print edition and put his entire text on its website.
"Due to heated public outcry following your verdict, you bravely composed a revealing written explanation of your deliberative process in the Corasanti case," the Bar Association said in its letter.
"Experience counsels that, eventually, the community will come to understand the magnitude of your service," the letter continued. "In the meantime, each of you is owed a debt of gratitude for your commitment to the lofty ideals which are the bulwark of our country's system of criminal justice."
Jankowiak, 36, the father of a teenage daughter, said he has gradually begun to think less about the monthlong trial and the public reaction to the verdict.
"We knew it was going to be a tough verdict and people would be upset," he told The News on Thursday. "I never imagined it would be to this magnitude."
Jankowiak, a personal care aide for people who suffer from traumatic brain injuries, said he was touched by the Bar Association's show of support.
"I appreciate it. It's unexpected," he said. "Like I said before, we did the best job we could. We followed the judge's instructions and our oath, and we considered the evidence that was presented to us."
In its letter, the association cited the jurors' obligation to follow the court's legal instructions. "It is disappointing that you have, nonetheless, been subjected to unending public criticism since rendering your verdict," the letter said. "This is particularly troubling as it was never your duty to determine innocence; rather, you were charged with the obligation of deciding if the defendant's guilt on each count had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
In his statement published Sunday, Jankowiak said, "I would also like to point out the fact that we never said Dr. Corasanti is an innocent man. We found him not guilty on the majority of these charges, and that is entirely different."
Jankowiak expressed sympathy to Rice's family. "I say to them, I put my heart and soul into this case," he wrote in his statement Sunday. "I analyzed every single piece of evidence and testimony that I could. I did the absolute best job that I was capable of doing in order to bring justice for your child.
"However, I also had the responsibility to provide justice for the defendant by presuming that he was innocent of all charges before this trial began. It was the prosecution's duty to prove that he was guilty."
Jankowiak said he has not received any threatening telephone calls or letters.
Bar Association President Arthur A. Russ Jr., at the association's annual dinner Wednesday, praised Erie County Judge Judge Sheila A. DiTullio for the "very fair and dignified manner" in which she presided.
Russ also cited Corasanti's prosecutors and defense attorneys as "two excellent teams of lawyers" who skillfully performed their duties.