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Verdict: Cole convicted of assault in crash

Verdict: Cole convicted of assault in crash

Mixed verdict returned after threatening email sent to defendant's attorney
Verdict: Cole convicted of assault in crash
John Cole, owner of Cole’s Collision Shops, in Saratoga County Court on March 16, 2018.
Photographer: Erica Miller

BALLSTON SPA — John Cole was convicted Friday afternoon of felony assault, as well as driving while ability impaired and reckless driving.

But he was acquitted of vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated charges.

The Saratoga County Court jury returned its mixed verdict shortly after 2:30 p.m. Second-degree assault carries a possible prison term of up to seven years. He is to be sentenced next month.

Cole, owner of a chain of area collision shops, stood trial the past two weeks in connection with a car crash on Sitterly Road in Halfmoon on March 11, 2017. The crash left passenger Deanna Shapiro paralyzed.

Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen afterward called the verdict a just one.  The jury considered the evidence and found Cole responsible for a violent assault as a result of his conduct that night, she said.

As for sentence, Heggen said her office will seek the maximum term for Cole, seven years.

"We believe that the facts of this case warrant it," she said.

Defense attorney Cheryl Coleman called her client disappointed by the verdict, but looking forward to an appeal.

"He's encouraged that this is by far not the end of the legal road," Coleman said.

She keyed in on a jury question during deliberations on whether they could convict of assault without finding intoxication. The judge answered a simple "yes," she said. The defense wanted the law read back because the answer isn't that simple. Case law requires more than simple speeding to get to assault, she said.

"If it's not intoxication, than what is it? All you have left is speed and that's not enough under the law," Coleman said.

Heggen noted later the ability impaired conviction means the jury found he drove while impaired by alcohol, a lesser charge compared to DWI.

The verdict came hours after discussions in court about an apparent threatening email received by Cole's defense attorney while the jury was on a lunch break.

"The email was inappropriate, threatening and could certainly be considered criminal in nature, possibly in nature of an aggravated harassment charge," Judge James Murphy told the court earlier Friday. "This kind of conduct is entirely inappropriate in any setting, certainly as it relates to the job of an attorney."

Murphy said the person who sent the email was put on notice that their communications to Coleman should cease, and that the court could take further action. 

The trial began March 8 in Saratoga County Court. The prosecutor in the case is Assistant District Attorney Katherine DeMartino.

The proceedings were marked with irregularities.

On Monday, Judge Murphy chastised Cole for a public relations campaign the judge suggested was aimed at highlighting the philanthropic deeds of Cole's company in an effort to influence the outcome of his case.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Coleman motioned for a trial order of dismissal, which Murphy denied. 

Closing statements were made on Thursday before the jury began deliberations shortly before 2:30 p.m. 

On the night of the crash, Cole, his wife and several friends had dinner at the Rusty Nail in Clifton Park before going to see a band play at Trick Shot Billiards and Sports Pub, also in Clifton Park. 

During the testimony Tuesday of Cole's wife, Regina, she said her husband "acted totally fine and was fine to drive" when they left Trick Shots. 

While driving back to Cole's home, Regina said she observed something blow from the road toward the car, which was traveling on Sitterly Road in Halfmoon.

She said she shouted her husband's name and Cole swerved before hitting a fire hydrant. 

Shapiro was unconscious after the crash and awoke a month later in the hospital. 

"I'd like to be able to walk again and use my arms again," Shapiro said in court on March 8. "I'd like to dance with my sons at their wedding."

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