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Restaurant Sex Case Back in Court

April 15, 1994

CANTON, N.Y. (AP) _ Misdemeanor sentences of no jail time and $750 fines in a gang rape case should be thrown out and felony charges reinstated because a village justice had no jurisdiction, the state attorney general argued Friday.

Defense attorneys responded during a 2 1/2 -hour hearing that the attorney general had no standing to intervene.

State Justice Eugene L. Nicandri decided to reserve his decision for 30 days in the case against five men.

The woman at the center of the case said she was not surprised by the judge’s action.

″There’s nothing I can possibly say at this point. I knew there would not be a decision today. That’s OK,″ said Krista Absalon, who went public after the men entered misdemeanor pleas. ″I’ve had to do that a lot. I’m used to it.″

The five men originally were charged with felony rape for allegedly having sex with Ms. Absalon after she passed out from intoxication at a restaurant in Gouverneur, in northern New York state.

But St. Lawrence County District Attorney Richard Manning allowed the men to plea to a misdemeanor charge of sexual misconduct. The men admitted last June that they had sex with Miss Absalon without her consent and were fined $750, with no jail time.

The plea bargain set off such an uproar that Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed State Attorney General G. Oliver Koppell as special prosecutor and Koppell sought to have the rape charges reinstated.

Koppell contends that a series of legal blunders allowed the men to escape the felony rape charges, which carry a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Manning defended his action as the only way to convict the five men, since Miss Absalon recalled nothing of that evening after passing out, and was not examined by medical personnel. Miss Absalon, 26, said she didn’t learn of the attack until a week afterward.

The men could have received a maximum of one year in jail, but Gouverneur Village Justice Wallace Sibley sentenced them as first-time offenders.

Koppell believes the original indictment was illegally dismissed by Nicandri, at Manning’s request, and that Sibley had no legal authority to accept the men’s pleas.

Koppell, making a rare courtroom appearance for an attorney general, argued that once a grand jury indicts, local justice courts lose any jurisdiction and only a county court can deal with the case.

Defense attorneys said there is no law or legal precedent authorizing the proceeding brought by the attorney general.

″Our first argument is that he (Koppell) has no authority to do what he is doing,″ said Gary Miles, who represents defendant Mark Hartle.

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