Sexual Assault Trial Set For Alleged Phony Fireman In New York City

Saturday, April 28th 2007, 2:39 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ On Halloween 2005, prosecutors say, Peter Braunstein dressed in full firefighting regalia _ but his outfit had nothing to do with the holiday.

Instead, the freelance writer used the get-up as a ruse to enter the Manhattan apartment of a former co-worker who was then stripped, bound with duct tape and sexually abused for 13 hours, according to prosecutors.

Opening statements are expected Monday in the bizarre case.

Before the jury was seated last week, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber made two key rulings: First, he barred most of the statements Braunstein made to police after his arrest on a Tennessee college campus.

Second, however, he allowed the prosecution to introduce journals found in Braunstein's backpack when he was taken into custody after six weeks on the run. Prosecutors say the journals present Braunstein as a calculating criminal who lied to his probation officer just a week before the attack.

In the case's latest twist, Braunstein's attorneys claimed he was physically unfit for trial because of three skull fractures. The trial was ordered to proceed on April 18 after prosecutors questioned the severity of his injuries, and reported that jail guards claimed the wounds were self-inflicted by Braunstein smashing his head into a cell sink.

Braunstein, 43, has pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse, arson, kidnapping, burglary, robbery and assault. Defense attorney Robert C. Gottlieb plans to argue that his client suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness at the time of the alleged attack and was therefore not criminally liable.

Braunstein, dressed in his firefighter's garb, allegedly started two small fires outside the 34-year-old victim's apartment and then banged on her door to ``rescue'' her. When the woman answered, she told police, the firefighter pulled a handgun and covered her face with a chloroformed rag.

With real firefighters extinguishing the small fires outside, Braunstein allegedly bound and gagged the woman with duct tape before sexually molesting her for the next 13 hours.

Six weeks later, he was cornered on the University of Memphis campus, and began stabbing himself in the neck with a double-edged dagger. Braunstein, who once wrote for Women's Wear Daily, was subdued with pepper spray and arrested Dec. 16, 2005.

The judge has said the trial could last into June.