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What you need to know for 12/10/2017

'It doesn’t matter what the lawyers think — it matters what you think'

'It doesn’t matter what the lawyers think — it matters what you think'

Jury in fatal boat crash trial will begin deliberations Friday
'It doesn’t matter what the lawyers think — it matters what you think'
Alexander West during closing statements Thursday.
Photographer: The Post-Star pool photographer

Cheryl Coleman repeatedly told a Warren County jury that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

She was trying to highlight what she called a one-sided investigation into the fatal motorboat crash for which her client, Alexander West, is standing trial. During her closing argument Thursday, she claimed investigators were too lenient toward Robert Knarr, who was driving the antique Gar Wood hit by West’s powerboat the night of the July 25 collision, which resulted in the death of Knarr’s 8-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte McCue. His daughter, Courtney, was seriously injured. The McCue family was visiting Knarr and his wife from Carlsbad, California.

District Attorney Kate Hogan turned the age-old phrase against the defense as soon as she had the chance — she had about an hour during lunch to tweak her closing argument. 

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander? Are you kidding me?” she said loudly to open her summation before pointing at the 25-year-old West. “Are they trying to compare this man to Bob Knarr?”

Coleman and Hogan spoke in a courtroom packed with McCue and Knarr family members, West’s family, local law enforcement, reporters and community spectators. A verdict had been projected as a possibility for Thursday, but deliberations were pushed to Friday following the lengthy closing statements.

West faces a 12-count indictment that includes manslaughter and second-degree assault. The latter charge relates to Courtney’s injuries. A conviction on those two charges could result in up to 22 years in prison.

Coleman has argued throughout the trial that West was not at fault and, in fact, had the right of way when the boats hit; prosecutors say Knarr’s boat was overtaken from behind and point to the police investigation’s accident reconstruction report. Coleman had cross-examined Knarr about his refusal to take a breathalyzer after the crash; Knarr told police he had one or two glasses of wine with dinner and was also on medication for heart surgery he had on June 7. 

Coleman said police did not question Knarr as persistently as they did West about his alcohol consumption. They grilled West about his drug use and and didn’t bother to ask Knarr what medication he was on, she said.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” she told the jury. “If alcohol matters, then alcohol matters. If drugs matter, then drugs matter.”

Hogan pointed to the fact that Knarr had been cleared by his doctor to drink wine while on the medication, which he had been taking for seven weeks. She said West and Knarr “couldn’t be further apart, and it’s abundantly clear how different they are on the night of July 25.” .

West set out to Log Bay Day that morning on a mission to party all day before driving his boat south down Lake George that night, she said. “I’ll have my cocaine, I’ll have my dabs and I’ll have tons of beer and booze.”

By contrast, she said, Knarr was taking his wife, daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren on a slow after-dinner cruise with a goal of helping the young ones wind down before bed. He made sure the kids wore lifejackets. The boat had more lights on than legally required. Charlotte had fallen asleep on Courtney’s lap. 

“Good for the goose, good for the gander?” Hogan asked again; she pointed back at West. “What was he doing? He was drunk and high and driving recklessly. He was speeding. He was aiming right for that Gar Wood.

“He absolutely destroyed a family.”

Closing-1_0.jpg
Attorney Cheryl Coleman talks to jurors Thursday during closing statements at the trial of Alexander West. (The Post-Star pool photographer)

Coleman asked the jurors to put themselves in West’s shoes and picture driving their dad’s boat as a 24-year-old, “and out of nowhere there’s a crash and there’s a shock.” West is accused of leaving the scene of the crash and not reporting the accident until he went to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to be interviewed nearly 12 hours later. 

“You yell out, ‘Are you ok?’ And you think to yourself, because you're a dumb kid, nobody’s hurt, because they’re leaving. Those SOBs are leaving the scene.”

“He’s wrong,” she continued, “but that doesn’t meant he knew or had reason to know about the horrible thing that happened on that boat.”

Hogan said the screams witnesses on shore testified to hearing out on the water would have been impossible to ignore, as would have been the impact of driving up and over another boat up. Hogan, playing surveillance footage of the crash, argued that West was no kid.

“This has always been referred to as the Larson,” she said, pausing the video and pointing to West’s boat. “It has one light on it, it’s supposed to have two … but you know what? It’s not the Larson.”

She pointed at West.

“It’s this man. He’s not a boy. He’s 24 years old. He’s a grown man. It’s this man who partied all day, and watch what he does.”

Hogan also played video of West’s interview with police the morning after the crash, calling it a “compilation of fiction” and hitting pause after he admitted to the investigator that he didn’t make “good choices.”

“That would be the understatement of 2016,” she said. “It was strategy. He was making affirmative choices on how not to get detected.”

One of those choices was to not drive his boat to The Huddle in Bolton Landing about 6:30 p.m. when West knew police boats were patrolling the lake, Hogan said. 

She said the jury didn’t need to see drug test results — potentially damning blood results showing cocaine and marijuana in his system after the crash were withdrawn as evidence — to know West was impaired.

“He’s already impaired by his own conduct,” she said. “He’s telling you that by letting Matt Marry drive his boat. And what does he do at The Huddle? He drinks not one Moscow mule, but two. He gets out of The Huddle and he then drives, sadly for all of us, southbound.”

Throughout her summation, Hogan drew the jury’s attention to witnesses who acted responsibly on the night of the crash, always comparing it to West’s actions.

She talked about Timothy Turnbull, the off-duty Buffalo cop who reported suspicious activity he saw and heard at Tea Island Resort that night, where West is accused of docking the sputtering boat after the crash. 

“He said, ‘I decided to call because I didn’t want to regret it in the morning,” Hogan recalled.

Hogan said West went to Tea Island because it was owned by the same people who owned Marine Village, where he worked.

“He wanted a cover-up, and he was working very hard on getting one,” she said.

Closing-7.jpg
District Attorney Kate Hogan talks to jurors Thursday during closing statements at the trial of Alexander West. (The Post-Star pool photographer)

She also talked about Ronald Miller, who testified to driving his motorboat to the Inn at Erlowest to pick up his daughter and son-in-law when a dark shape appeared on the water in front of him. It was West’s unlit, damaged boat, he said. He called 911 after avoiding a collision.

“He does what a reasonable person is expected to do when you’re operating a boat on Lake George if you don’t know what you're seeing in front of you,” Hogan said. “You slow down.”

Coleman argued that no one said West was speeding faster than the nighttime limit of 25 mph — “Oh, wait, I forgot — somebody did. That was the lovely and charming Cara Mia Canale. We’ll talk about her later.”

Coleman later told the jury that Canale, a passenger in the boat who drove West home in the early morning hours of July 26, was considered an accomplice to West’s alleged fleeing of the scene, and that they could not convict West based on her testimony alone.

“I’m not gonna tell you that the DA made a deal with the devil because she's a hollow vessel,” Coleman said. “A hollow vessel for drugs who thinks like a lot of hollow people do: only about herself.”

She also told the jury that they had every reason to infer that Canale — who spoke slowly and appeared tired when she appeared as a witness, rubbing her left eye throughout — was “high as a a kite when she testified.”


The latest from the trial


Coleman said that while witnesses testified to seeing him drinking, snorting cocaine and smoking “dabs,” a concentrated form of marijuana, no one said he looked impaired at the time of the crash.

“They absolutely proved beyond a reasonable doubt, I’ll admit, that he had a beer at 2:27, and you know how they proved that — because there’s a picture of it. Not one witness says how much he drank.”

“They’ve gotta prove impairment as of 9:20 p.m. that night,” she added. “You know they haven’t done it."

One witness who was at Log Bay Day, Matthew Peterson, said he saw West with a beer in his hand throughout the day, Hogan noted. She also drew attention to West telling police that he stopped drinking after 1 p.m. because he felt sick, showing the jury the picture taken at 2:27 p.m. that shows him holding up a beer.

“He does not look ill,” she said. “He appears to be in the mix of Log Bay Day. He appears to be happy, and he’s not concealing his alcohol consumption — he’s praising it.”

Coleman implored the jury not to fill in the blanks. She said prosecutors wanted them to think West was intoxicated and on drugs simply because he was at Log Bay Day.

“If they can’t prove that he’s at fault for this accident, then they don’t get to label him a criminal,” she said.

At the beginning of her remarks, Coleman said she was “scared today, and I’m going to tell you why. 

“When two boats collided last July, of all the outcomes in the world that could have happened, the outcome that did happen was horrible — perhaps the most horrible outcome you could have.”

That outcome created a natural sympathy toward the victims and survivors, she said, “and a corresponding animosity toward the young man that they’ve accused. And you know that anger, that animosity, was widespread. You know that, and it made it really hard, didn’t it, to get a jury? You saw the hundreds come and go. You stayed.”

As she neared the end her remarks, Coleman walked over to West and looked him in the eye.

“On behalf of Alex West, who it’s been my privilege to represent, I thank you for your attention in this matter, and I wish you resolve and courage in your deliberations,” she said.

The jury was sent home by Judge John Hall about 5:30 p.m. after being read the rules of deliberation. They are scheduled to return at 9 a.m. Friday and deliberate the case.

Before the jury heard closing arguments, Hall told them to take as long as they needed to decide on a verdict.

“You and you alone are the finders of fact,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the lawyers think — it matters what you think.” 

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