November 5, 2013

Both sides rest in trooper trial


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Trevor J. Donah’s attorney asked on Monday that all the charges against his client be dismissed.

“I think there are a number of insufficiencies in this case,” Brian Barrett  told Clinton County Court Judge Patrick McGill.

The prosecution and defense had both rested Monday afternoon in the trial of the state trooper, who is charged with attempted rape, second-degree assault and first-degree unlawful imprisonment, all felonies. And the jury had left the courtroom before Barrett made the request.

Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Crawford maintained the charges should stand.

“The people have met a burden (of proof), and it should be sent to a jury,” she told McGill.

With no court on Election Day, the judge scheduled a charge conference with the attorneys for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday; any closing statements to the jury are expected to take place at about 10 a.m. 

In two days of testimony, Crawford and Glenn McNeil, another Franklin County assistant district attorney, called five witnesses, including the ex-girlfriend who testified to the charges, and, on Monday, two physicians and a State Police sergeant.

The defense brought no witnesses to the stand.


In his testimony Monday morning, clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Don Lewittes said a battered woman may never tell anyone about her situation — or disclosure could come long after the abuse occurred.

“It’s extremely embarrassing,” he told the jury in Clinton County Court. “There’s a lot of shame.”

On the stand last week, the ex-girlfriend testified that he grew enraged when she said she was going to contact a woman with whom she thought he’d become too intimate. The ex-girlfriend described Donah sitting on her, strangling her and keeping her pinned down to a bed until she promised not to call police.

No physical or medical evidence of that incident was offered in the trial, and the defense aimed to bring into question the one injury to Donah’s ex that was allegedly seen by another person.

State Police were unable to retrieve images the woman said she had deleted from her phone.

On Friday, the woman’s former coworker, Haley Barrigar, testified the woman showed her a bruise on her neck after the attack, although she could not pinpoint the date it was shown to her.

“She looked pretty upset. Her eyes were a little red,” Barrigar said, adding that the woman was wearing a turtleneck.


Under questioning by Crawford, Lewittes described the condition known as battered-woman syndrome.

“Every relationship and every situation is unique,” said the psychologist, who practices in the New York City area.

Oftentimes, a relationship will initially be pleasant for both the man and the woman, Lewittes said. Then the man, often due to his inability to deal with everyday stress, subjects the woman to physical or sexual assault, he said.

It is in this stage that the woman will develop “learned helplessness,” in which she will submit to the abuse and not attempt to fight back because of psychological issues she has developed as a result of the unhealthy relationship, he said.

“The control (over the woman) is an emotional and psychological control.”

If a woman does talk about the abuse, she may not give all the details or may come forth with additional information after first discussing the incidents, he said.

In cross-examination, Barrett asked Lewittes if he was testifying solely to benefit the prosecution.

“It’s equally open to anybody’s interpretation,” the doctor said.


Next, the prosecution called Dr. Russell Hartung, a physician at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh.

Questioned by McNeil, the physician said he has treated at least two dozen strangulation cases with various causes, among them getting caught in a car seat belt, attempted hanging and intentional strangling by another person.

The doctor said he has taken courses specifically devoted to strangulation and has testified three times before a grand jury about it.

It would take between five and 10 seconds of throttling for a person to become unconscious, the doctor said.

“It takes a pretty hard bump or significant pressure to cause a bruise.”

“People could be strangled to death and have very little in the way of physical injuries (that could be observed externally),” he said during cross-examination. “There’s often not much to see.”

A sore throat or marks caused by strangulation could appear within hours or a couple of days of the incident, he said.

In court Friday, Donah’s ex said she had developed a sore throat the morning after he strangled her and that it was difficult for her to speak loudly.


In response to other questions by Barrett, Hartung said he had never examined the woman before and had not reviewed her medical records.

The prosecution had referenced a checklist Hartung developed for hospital employees to identify a strangulation.

Barrett pointed out that the woman had access to the checklist.

He also asked the doctor if a single mark on a person’s neck could be a hickey and not necessarily indicate a strangulation.

Hartung agreed.

Questioned by Barrett, the doctor confirmed possible causes of a sore throat to a cold or “hollering.”

The woman had testified she had a sore throat after Donah attacked her.


The prosecution’s last witness was State Police Sgt. Robert Hugus, an instructor at the Police Academy in Albany who taught Donah the defensive tactics his ex said he used on her.

Questioned by Crawford, he testified to the pressure points that police may use to incapacitate a person in the line of duty.

Hugus said he reads a legal clause to trainees that plainly states the seriousness of the tactic, which he described as only a few steps away from deadly force.

As part of defensive tactic training, recruits are taught to employ “carotid restraint” from behind the other person to lessen potential harm to either person, he said.

“Even when it’s done properly, there’s the possibility the person could die.”

Barrett questioned Hugus briefly, asking him only if he knew the alleged victim and whether he was aware of any illegal activity perpetrated by his client.

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg