Jurors Hear Summations in Louima Case
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
n a closing statement to the jury yesterday, a prosecutor argued that a "massive amount of evidence" proved that Charles Schwarz, a twice-convicted former police officer, should be convicted again of assisting in the assault of Abner Louima five years ago and then lying about it at a trial two years ago.
"That man right there," said the prosecutor, Jack Smith, pointing across the well of the courtroom at Mr. Schwarz, "participated in the sodomy of another man with a broomstick while he was a New York police officer."
Mr. Schwarz, who could face more than 15 years in prison if convicted, sat with his chin lifted slightly in what might have been defiance.
His lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, answered in a closing statement that challenged the jurors to remember that the prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt their allegations that Mr. Schwarz helped Officer Justin A. Volpe assault Mr. Louima in a bathroom of the 70th Precinct station house on Aug. 9, 1997.
There are, Mr. Fischetti said "many, many reasons to doubt" the government's claims. But his summation seemed to underscore a retreat from a promise he had made many times before the trial: that he would definitively prove that Mr. Schwarz was not in the bathroom. Instead, he offered a standard argument that the prosecutors had failed to meet the high burden of proof required of them.
Then he flatly repeated Mr. Schwarz's sworn testimony two years ago that he simply was not present during the assault. "There is one thing that will remain true, no matter what your verdict is," Mr. Fischetti said. "Chuck Schwarz was never, never in that bathroom."
Judge Reena Raggi of United States District Court in Brooklyn is to give the jury its final legal instructions this morning in the case, which was once at the center of emotional debates about race and police practices in the city. Mr. Schwarz's two convictions were overturned by an appeals court in February.
On the final day of presentations to the jury, there were few surprises, as each side guided the jurors over the well-traveled territory of the lies, flaws in memories and errors by witnesses for both sides. Mr. Schwarz faces two civil rights charges that he helped Mr. Volpe in the assault and two perjury counts that he lied about whether he led Mr. Louima to the bathroom and when he stated that he was not present during the assault.
Mr. Fischetti took a large calculated risk by telling the jurors that they should convict Mr. Schwarz of perjury if they find that he participated in the assault. "If he did that, he certainly lied to cover it up" Mr. Fischetti said. But he urged the jurors to reject that interpretation entirely and find Mr. Schwarz not guilty of both the assault and the perjury.
That request was an obvious effort to forestall a compromise verdict. Ever since the prosecutors added the new perjury counts in March, the defense has been presented with the risk of a compromise verdict. It could succeed in convincing the jury that the evidence about whether Mr. Schwarz participated in the assault was too murky but could leave jurors with the option of convicting Mr. Schwarz on the charge that he lied about whether he took Mr. Louima toward the bathroom.
Mr. Fischetti seemed at times to have difficulty keeping the attention of the jurors, several of whom yawned and fidgeted while he spoke. When he approached them after the lunch break that had interrupted his two-and-a-half-hour summation, he tried to greet them with humor.
He thanked them for returning to listen to him, though he said he knew it was not voluntary. The jurors responded with blank faces and stony silence. Nevertheless, Mr. Fischetti plowed on. Mr. Volpe, he said, though called by the defense, had clearly committed what he called "the most reprehensible act ever committed by a police officer." Mr. Louima, he said, was clearly a victim.
But, he said, "the only question is, was Chuck Schwarz in that bathroom?" He reminded the jurors that Mr. Volpe testified that Mr. Schwarz was not there and that Mr. Schwarz's partner, Thomas Wiese, was. And he reminded them that there were discrepancies in the accounts of some of the police witnesses who had testified about seeing Mr. Schwarz lead Mr. Louima toward the bathroom.
Then, just after 4 p.m., the chief prosecutor, Alan Vinegrad, began a combative final summation that tried to answer Mr. Fischetti's most persuasive points without repeating the concise narrative the other prosecutor, Mr. Smith, had delivered in the morning.
Where Mr. Smith had been coolly comprehensive in the morning, Mr. Vinegrad was selective and bombastic in the afternoon. Mr. Fischetti, he said was "just making it up as he goes along."
Mr. Vinegrad, for example, tackled a suggestion by Mr. Fischetti that the jurors should disregard the testimony of a main prosecution witness, Eric Turetzky, the first police officer who came forward with information about the assault back in 1997. Mr. Fischetti had introduced evidence that showed Mr. Turetzky had lied while he was in college on forms concerning a course he was taking to become an emergency medical technician and had suggested that Mr. Turetzky could not be believed.
"That shows," Mr. Vinegrad said, "how very desperate the defense is in this case because they know how devastating Eric Turetzky's testimony is to Charles Schwarz."