A Schenectady man who sexually assaulted a woman at knifepoint in broad daylight was sentenced Tuesday morning to as much as life in state prison.
Andre Ward maintained his innocence in court, telling acting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino that he will continue to fight to get the convictions overturned on appeal. For her part, prosecutor Jessica Lorusso asked the judge to protect the public from Ward for as long as possible. She argued that he deserved the maximum possible sentence, 25 years to life, because of prior sexual attacks, including a similar one more than two decades ago in California.
“His violent behavior hasn’t stopped. He hasn’t learned his lesson,” Lorusso told Giardino. “He committed this crime on a beautiful day, a beautiful May day, in broad daylight.”
The judge sentenced him to 20 years to life in state prison.
Ward, 47, was found by a Schenectady County Court jury in February to have forced a woman into an alley off Brandywine Avenue on May 5, 2013, and forced her perform oral sex on him.
The prosecution was aided by a key piece of surveillance camera footage, as well as police recordings of the suspect’s words. Ward was found guilty of all the counts against him, including predatory sexual assault and first-degree criminal sex act. The predatory sexual assault count carried the possible sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.
Ward’s attorney William Nowak argued among other things that the conviction should be overturned because the victim was not believable. Her account changed and she didn’t recall portions of the incident.
Giardino declined the request, noting that there was enough other evidence to corroborate her account, including the camera footage and a report from a 911 caller.
The victim herself did not attend the sentencing. Lorusso told the judge her reasoning was simple: “She did not want to see the defendant ever again.”
Ward thanked Nowak and Nowak’s assistant. He also told Giardino that he did not commit the crimes he was convicted of.
“I maintain my innocence and will continue to fight for my freedom,” he said.
Nowak said an appeal is expected. He also said that he expected the case to be sent back to County Court with an appeal ruling in Ward’s favor.
As for the sentence, Nowak asked Giardino for the minimum allowed — 10 years to life.
“This man does not deserve life based on what occurred,” he said.
Lorusso said previously that the 911 caller may have saved the woman from further harm. Ward abruptly stopped the attack just before police arrived, possibly upon seeing a police car.
Officers found them as the two left the alley, the woman still under Ward’s control.
The terrified woman then ran toward officers.
Microphones worn by the first officers on the scene caught Ward’s initial explanations and comments. He then gave a different explanation later.
He told police there was no force, that the woman initiated the sex act by calling him into the alley. The street surveillance video, however, presented an entirely different record of what led up to the attack. The actual attack was out of the camera’s field of view.
The two had seen each other previously and shared a cab just prior to the attack.
Giardino said he found everything in the record supported the conviction.
“I do find that the evidence was overwhelming,” he said as he pronounced sentence.