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What you need to know for 05/22/2017

West won't testify in fatal motorboat crash trial

West won't testify in fatal motorboat crash trial

Closing arguments expected Thursday
West won't testify in fatal motorboat crash trial
Alexander West listens to opening statements during his trial in Warren County Court.
Photographer: SHAWN LACHAPELLE/POOL

QUEENSBURY -- A Warren County jury will not hear directly from Alexander West, who is standing trial on charges that accuse him of crashing his powerboat into another boat while intoxicated, leading to the death of 8-year-old Charlotte McCue.

“I won’t be testifying,” he told Judge John Hall in court Wednesday, after the judge explained to him that he would be subjected to cross-examination if he took the stand. Hall also told West the jury could not make any inferences against him if he chose to remain silent. 

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West’s attorney, Cheryl Coleman, said her client would have been a “very good witness,” but that his testimony would have risked allowing discussion of blood test results that have been suppressed as evidence in the case. The test results showed marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in West’s system after he crashed the boat.

The test was disallowed because the search warrant for the test did not meet technical requirements of criminal procedure law.

“He has no criminal history. He feels incredibly bad about the accident — he would have had a lot to say,” Coleman told reporters after court adjourned. “But at the end of the day, I think everybody knows it boils down to opening the door to the [toxicology test] results.”

The jury did hear from West’s father, Martin West, in what came across as an attempt by the defense to humanize 25-year-old Alexander West, to whom the prosecution referred throughout the trial as “the defendant.” He was the last witness to testify Wednesday before the defense closed its case.

The 14-member jury, including two alternates, was selected from nearly 200 candidates following two days of vetting, with many of those interviewed expressing a bias against West.

The elder West, who has been in court for the duration of the two-week trial, said his son grew up on the lake. He said he bought the 21-foot Larson — the boat his son crashed the night of July 25 after spending the day at a floating party called Log Bay Day — new in 1997 “because it was heavy enough to be on Lake George and not get bounced around with small children.”

“He used to drive sitting on my lap,” West recalled. “We used to fish off the back. He was really involved in knowing the lake.”

Coleman called Martin West to the stand to speak about phone calls made to his wife, Kassie West, from Matthew Marry’s phone in the early morning hours of July 26, following the crash. Records of the calls had been presented in court, and Cara Mia Canale testified that West grabbed Marry’s phone to call his mother before Canale drove him home. 

“And that’s baloney — that never happened — so I think that came out through his testimony,” Coleman told reporters. 

Martin West told the jury his son, who left his phone on the boat that night, didn’t speak to him or his wife until returning home that morning. 

The elder West said he spoke to a Warren County sheriff’s investigator at his home early that morning and asked him if his boat was involved in the accident. He said the investigator refused to answer the question. 

“I got the sensation that they were checking me out,” he said. “He did shine a light in my face.”

When asked if he knew his son’s whereabouts, he told the investigator Alex could be with friends in Bolton Landing, Kingsbury or Lake George. 

West said his son came home at around 7 a.m., and that’s when he and his wife informed him of the fatality that resulted from the crash.

“Without telling me what he said, did he have a reaction?” Assistant District Attorney Jason Carusone asked.

“Yes,” West said.

"Without telling us the words he used, what was his reaction," Carusone pressed.

“Utter disbelief," West said.

West said it was his son’s idea to go to the sheriff’s office that morning. They showered and ate breakfast before arriving there at around 8:50 a.m., he said. 

“I told him to tell the truth,” West said. 

Coleman argued that Martin West’s testimony showed his son “did not have the knowledge that’s required to be guilty of leaving the scene of a serious personal injury or fatal accident,” one of several charges he is facing. 

District Attorney Kate Hogan objected to West testifying, but the judge allowed it on the condition that Coleman not elicit any hearsay or any comments about Alexander West’s mental health. 

“Alex, since 2011, has been diagnosed and was under the care of a mental health professional for anxiety disorder … that was triggered by the death of a close friend,” Coleman explained to reporters. “They [his parents] were afraid for his safety if they told him before he got home.”

West faces a 12-count indictment that includes manslaughter and second-degree assault, the latter charge related to causing serious physical injury to Charlotte’s mother, Courtney McCue. He faces up to 22 years in prison if convicted.

Closing arguments are expect to be heard Thursday morning, and a verdict could be issued as early as Thursday afternoon.

Judge John Hall hinted at a swift ruling, telling the jury a story of a case in which the defendant fired his lawyer. He said the jury spent several hours “deliberating” but later admitted their guilty verdict was a quick decision; the jurors didn’t want him to think they hadn’t given the decision enough time and consideration.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Hall said. “You folks are the ones who decide how much time you need. If it takes you an hour, that’s fine.”

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