Alexander M. West will likely know by the end of the year whether he will get a new trial for the 2016 fatal boat crash on Lake George that landed him in state prison.
West's defense counsel argued for a new trial Friday before the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Albany, with the midlevel appeals court querying lawyers on two of eight issues cited by the defense as reasons for a new trial or reduced sentence.
The court reserved decision, as it typically does, with a ruling likely this fall.
Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone argued against the appeal, while lead defense counsel Cheryl Coleman argued the defense points.
The justices quizzed lawyers about the process that was followed for the dismissal of a sworn juror before trial testimony began because it was learned the juror was under investigation for sexual assault allegations, and asked about the impact of blood test evidence that was presented to the grand jury that indicted West.
Coleman claimed the juror was wrongly excluded after prosecutors learned he had been accused of a sexual assault. The juror had already been sworn in when police revealed to prosecutors that they had fielded a rape complaint against him. Hall dismissed him without a required inquiry, which “cast a doubt on the legitimacy of the verdict even before the trial begins,” Coleman wrote. The juror was not charged.
The blood test information, which police said showed illegal drug use by West, was withdrawn from the case by prosecutors after it was used as evidence before the grand jury.
The Warren County District Attorney's Office had argued that there was no prejudice to West with the juror issue, and that there was sufficient legal evidence for the indictment and convictions.
West, convicted of manslaughter and lesser counts for the July 2016 drug- and alcohol-related boat collision that killed 8-year-old Charlotte McCue and seriously injured her mother, was not present for Friday's argument before the five-judge panel.
The grandparents of Charlotte McCue were present for the proceeding.
Carusone said a timetable for the court's ruling was not set, and how long it takes for a decision to be rendered varies by the case.
"This one (appeal) has a lot of points," he said of the defense filing.
The appeal was filed in March, and other issues singled out by the defense were:
- The evidence against West was not legally sufficient to convict him of the weightiest charge, second-degree manslaughter, which required proof he was reckless. There was limited evidence that West had been drinking, and experts testified he was either going slightly below or slightly above the 25 mph lake speed limit at the time, the appeal claims. Only one passenger on West’s boat testified about speed, saying he was going 30 to 35 mph at some point before the crash.
- West was “deprived of a fair trial” by Warren County Judge John Hall’s decisions to limit a defense expert witness’ testimony and allow testimony from a prosecution expert. The experts discussed their views of how the boat collision occurred, and the defense claims that Hall “sharply curtailed and limited” the defense expert.
- “Irrelevant and highly prejudicial” evidence from prosecution witnesses was allowed at trial that included impermissible “hearsay” testimony, photos and text messages, while the defense was barred from eliciting testimony about an interaction between West and his father.
- The jury that convicted West heard evidence about drug use for which he wasn’t charged, including the arrangement of a cocaine sale, which was improper evidence of “uncharged” crimes.
- Prosecutors improperly “impeached” the testimony of their own witness as he talked about West’s condition after he and his boat passengers fled the boat crash scene.
- West asked for a lesser sentence “in the interest of justice,” arguing that the 5 to 15 year prison term was “excessive.” He did not receive consecutive sentences for the manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident charges, although both the prosecution and defense agreed they were legally permissible. He could have received 7 1/3 to 22 years if consecutive sentences were imposed.
West, 26, of Lake George, is serving his prison sentence in Collins Correctional Facility. He is eligible for parole in April 2022 if his appeal is not granted.