The charges, though misdemeanors, were serious — weighty enough that the accused feared deportation if convicted.
The trial in Niskayuna Town Court on Tuesday was swift, taking less than a day.
The verdicts — not guilty on both counts — were not stunning; even the district attorney said after the fact the case eventually presented in court was weak.
It’s the length of the deliberations by the jury of two women and four men that stands out: The panel left the courtroom and 7:50 p.m., and announced they had a verdict at 7:53 p.m.
That’s less time than it would take to listen to a Top 40 song, or sit through a commercial break during a sitcom.
“I’ve heard of five-minute verdicts, not three,” said Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, whose office prosecuted. “Apparently it tells me the jury didn’t like the case.”
Three minutes. That’s barely enough time to close the jury room door in what turned out to be a open-and-shut case.
“I think they were pretty disgusted with the case and the lack of evidence supporting it,” defense attorney Glen Hammond said of the jury. “It’s very rare you receive a verdict, let alone a double verdict, literally within seconds of the jury door closing.”
Gligo Starcevic, 30, of Albany was facing second-degree unlawful imprisonment and criminal contempt charges stemming from an alleged incident involving his former girlfriend, Brianne Denofio of Schenectady, on Aug. 11 in the Niskayuna police station lobby. The two, never married and locked in a bitter custody dispute over their toddler son, were exchanging the child at the police station.
Starcevic, a 1991 immigrant from Yugoslavia here on a work visa, feared being deported and never seeing his son again if convicted. As a teen he had a robbery conviction and did state time. A quick verdict did nothing to assuage his fears until he learned it was not guilty on both counts.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” said Starcevic, who left the court building for “one last cigarette” when the jury went in for deliberations, only to be fetched moments later by a friend.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I teared up a little bit. I didn’t have much faith in the legal system.”
According to Hammond, Denofio filed a complaint stating Starcevic refused to let her leave the police station after an argument. The father had confronted the mother in the police station vestibule about her pending vacation and him not getting his biweekly visitation.
The mother said she did not want to discuss it, the defense attorney said.
“At some point he put his arms up in the door frame,” Hammond said. “She never asked him to move. He never threatened her. He never touched her.”
According to the attorney, Denofio — who could not be reached for comment for this story — then knocked on the dispatcher’s window and said Starcevic was not letting her leave. Starcevic then turned and left.
The jury did not buy the allegations, and forcefully said so in the swiftness of its not guilty verdicts.
“It was patently transparent and so obvious this is a custody battle and someone was trying to manipulate the process to get her way,” Hammond said.
Carney said the testimony by the alleged victim at trial did not measure up to the original allegations, resulting in “a very weak case.”
“She didn’t testify the way the supporting information read,” the district attorney said. “Her testimony was less than he threatened her. There was a variance with what she testified at trial and what she said in deposition. The testimony at trial was different and weaker.”
“I didn’t do anything to this woman,” said Starcevic, a union painter. “If I was found guilty, I would have gone to jail, and would have had to go to immigration” proceedings.
The couple had been together for two years before splitting in the spring of 2012.
“To accuse someone of a false imprisonment at a police station that is not being done by a police officer is pretty outrageous,” Hammond said. “I have the deepest gratitude to jurors for all of their time and the quick and unequivocal rejection of the charges.”