Word Smith or Word Sniper?
By Isaac Avilucea, email@example.com
June 12, 2015
TRENTON – The difference between defense attorney Jerome Ballarotto inside a federal courtroom and outside of one is the difference between a wordsmith and a word sniper.
Outside the courtroom, the former Secret Service agent penned a novel about a Secret Service agent. While Ballarotto’s flair for fiction solidified him as a wordsmith, it’s probably not what made him worthy of the trust and confidence of New Jersey Army National guardsman Ioannis “John” Karazoupis, 28.
Ballarotto’s actions as a word sniper during the second day of his client’s sexual assault trial is most likely what did.
Karazoupis is accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old guardswoman May 4, 2014 while the two were at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst for training. He maintains the encounter was consensual while federal prosecutors contend the woman was blackout drunk and unable to consent.
The legal marksman’s pinpoint parsing of witnesses’ words Friday would have made Chris Kyle proud.
Ballarotto’s precision might be the difference for Karazoupis.
That the woman was inebriated doesn’t appear in dispute as FBI toxicologist Marc LeBeau testified he estimated the woman’s blood alcohol level at the time of the incident at .21, or nearly three times the state’s presumed level of intoxication. Several witnesses have bolstered this by saying they saw the woman drinking heavily in the hours before the assault.
LeBeau explained how people with those levels of alcohol in their system can experience anterograde amnesia. LeBeau compared it to a VCR and said the brain essentially fails to record events despite even if someone is still conscious. Ballarottowanted to know whether LeBeau could say for sure if that was the case here. LeBeau said that while the “classic signs of intoxication” could alert someone to the possibility another is blackout drunk, it might not be obvious to everyone. “You can’t say, as a scientist, ‘They blacked out,” LeBeau said.
Ballarotto’s nitpicking was more evident in his cross examination of guardsman Steven Grill.
Grill testified on direct examination Thursday he was with the woman, only identified in court by her initials, most of the day and watched her consume several alcoholic drinks. He said she had numerous shots of hard liquor while a group of people played a drinking card game inside a fellow guard member’s room.
Grill said when he decided to return to his shared 12-man barrack on the third floor of the barracks to take a nap, the woman followed him to his room.
Ballarotto wanted to know how the woman understood to follow Grill to his room if she was so inebriated. Grill shrugged. He wasn’t sure why anybody followed him up to his room, he said.
The attorney turned author also made a big deal about Grill’s word choice, pointing out the guardsman had testified before the grand jury that the woman appeared “alert.”
Ballarotto said Grill initially described to investigators the woman’s alcohol consumption as a “not a whole lot, but a decent amount” and described seeing her consume a “couple of shots,” not eight as he testified earlier.
Ballarotto then ratcheted up the intensity, asking Grill why he believed the woman choose to sleep in his bunk when several others were unoccupied. The twin-sized beds would have made it difficult for Grill not to notice the woman curled up next to him,Ballarotto said. “I sleep like a rock,” Grill responded.
Pointing back to Grill’s grand jury testimony,
Ballarotto challenged the guardsman over his characterization that Karazoupis was hounding him with questions about whether Grill had sex with the woman.
He contended his client wasn’t alone in posing “guy questions” and one of Grill’s superiors actually had to instruct the men to stop prying after Grill denied the two were intimate.
Ballarotto proceeded to press Grill about why he and another guardsman assumed his client had raped the woman when they decided to confront Karazoupis upon learning about the encounter. “He confessed to doing it,” Grill shot back.
Ballarotto nearly came unhinged, pointing at Grill and saying that while his client admitted having sex with the woman, he has adamantly denied sexually assaulting her.
The point, as Ballarotto hinted at in his opening statement, is others forced the word “rape” upon the woman to describe the encounter. He alleges federal prosecutors have done the same thing by bringing “outrageous charges” of sexual assault.