Victim of assault is pained assailant got no jail time

— Photo provided to The Enterprise by the assault victim

After being beaten, the victim takes a picture of herself in her bathroom mirror.

GUILDERLAND — William Beer, 42, will serve no jail time for assault. He was sentenced in Guilderland Town Court on June 30 for a conviction handed down by a jury three months ago.

His lawyer, Madalyn R. DeThomasis, said this week that a notice of appeal has been filed.

“I will have to wear the mark of his fist on my face for the rest of my life,” his victim said in an impact statement that she read aloud to the courtroom at the sentencing.

Outside the courtroom, the victim told The Enterprise, “I think the judge was too easy on him. He will never have a history if everyone keeps letting him go.”

The Albany County District Attorney’s Office had recommended nine months in Albany County’s jail, according to spokeswoman Cecilia Walsh.  

Beer received a punishment lighter than he would have had with the offered plea deal. Judge Richard Sherwood sentenced him to pay a fine — the maximum allowed, of $1,000 plus a $250 surcharge — and to 100 hours of community service, to be completed within six months.

The town “made money off my misfortune,” the victim said.

Beer, meanwhile, told The Enterprise that he “thought the sentence was fair.”

He added, “I guess, when dealing with some women, you don’t even know they’re insane until it’s too late.”

DeThomasis also said the sentence was fair. “Since the date of the offense, our client has abided by all orders and conditions imposed by the court and has not had any contact with the complainant,” she said, answering Enterprise questions in an email. “We believe that the Court imposed a sentence that is equitable and just, based upon all of the facts and circumstances in this case.”

She also said that she thinks the judge, while sentencing, considered not just “that moment” — the assault — “over two years ago,” but also “all of the surrounding circumstances of my client and his history to determine an appropriate sentence.”

“It’s not completely uncommon,” said Connie Mayer, a clinical professor of law at Albany Law School and expert on trial practice, about the decision to give a sentence lighter than what may have been recommended in a presentencing report from the probation department. “The judge is supposed to exercise independent judgment,” she said, “and, depending on what was proven at the time of trial, the court is going to consider everything before the court at trial.”

The charge against Beer came from an incident on April 6, 2014, when he repeatedly punched the victim in her face, according to Walsh; the victim needed stitches and suffered from substantial pain and bruising.

According to the victim, the assault occurred in a car as Beer was driving, with her in the front passenger seat, back to the Guilderland home they shared, after an evening spent listening to live music. The arrest report says she told Guilderland Police that she tried numerous times to escape from the car, and that Beer sped up or quickly turned each time to prevent her from doing so. The report lists his occupation as a mechanic, and says he is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds. The victim is slender and petite.

Beer, of Troy, was arrested on May 29, 2014, after the victim filed a complaint with the Guilderland Police.

When she stood up in Guilderland Town Court on June 30 to read her impact statement, she detailed the physical and emotional harm she says she suffered as a result of being punched repeatedly in the face. She spoke of the fear, guilt, depression, insomnia, vertigo, and dizziness she has experienced since, and the emotional trauma that her three sons have also suffered.

The victim stated, “I lost clients, isolated myself, and some days my only goal was to be out of bed before my [youngest] son got home from school.”

Beer chose to take his third-degree assault charges to jury trial and was convicted in April 2016. At his sentencing, he faced a maximum of one year in Albany County’s jail.

Immediately after the victim finished speaking on June 30, Sherwood said that he did “not feel that incarceration is appropriate.” In addition to the fine and community service that he gave Beer, he also allowed the victim a five-year order of protection. He could not extend the protection to her two younger sons, as she had requested, he said, since they were “not the victims in this case.”

 

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
A fine and community service: William Beer listens as Guilderland Town Justice Richard Sherwood pronounces his sentence on a domestic violence assault conviction Thursday. His lawyer, Madalyn R. DeThomasis of the public defender’s office, stands beside him.

 

The decision to press charges

The victim didn’t report the assault right away. “I was afraid,” she said. Beer was living in her Guilderland house, she said, and she didn’t like her options: She didn’t want him there anymore, but she didn’t want to antagonize him, either.

It was her sons who pushed her, a month after the assault, to press charges, she told The Enterprise.

Her oldest son, then 26, came to her and said, “You aren’t going to report this, are you?” she told The Enterprise. She explained that she had wanted to avoid the “drama and craziness” that she knew would come from standing up to Beer, she said, adding, “I didn’t want to go through two years of hell.”

She tried to explain that to her son, but he responded by asking her how she expected her three sons to respect her if she didn’t respect herself.

In her impact statement, the victim said, “Not only did I survive a very violent assault that resulted in long-lasting physical and emotional problems, my children and I were forced to survive two years of bullying and torment as my assailant rejected many reasonable plea bargains and brought this to trial.”

Beer had been made “an offer” by the district attorney’s office, according to spokeswoman Walsh. The deal would have meant pleading guilty to the misdemeanor and serving 60 days in custody, she explained, in addition to accepting three years’ probation.

The victim mentioned in her impact statement that her 16-year-old son was there when she had testified, and that he told her afterward that he had never been so proud of her.

Doctored evidence?

Beer “believes he is above the law” and has no respect for anything, including the courtroom, the victim said in her impact statement.

Facebook messages that were the bulk of his defense, she said, she learned later had been altered. About these messages, she said that she and the prosecutor who was present at sentencing were blindsided by them, shortly before entering the courtroom.

“If I had seen the messages before, I would have completely disproved them,” the victim said of the Facebook posts Beer offered as evidence; she had the originals on her computer at home.

Beer argued, in his defense, for example, that the victim was still being affectionate toward him even after the assault. He submitted printouts of Facebook messages that he said proved this.

The Enterprise saw the printouts that were entered into evidence, at the Guilderland Town Court. The victim’s hands shook visibly as she picked up and sifted through copies of the messages.

One of these messages — from her, asking him if he wanted to snuggle — had no date above it, but it followed directly below another message that was dated as being sent after the April 6, 2014 assault. The implication was that the “snuggling” message had also been sent after the assault.

The Enterprise reviewed screenshots of all the messages that Beer had submitted as evidence; the screenshots showed that the snuggling message was actually sent April 4, two days before the assault.

The judge said in the courtroom, the victim told The Enterprise, that he knew nothing about Facebook. The Enterprise asked DeThomasis and Walsh if either of them had asked to see the Facebook messages on a screen rather than a printout. Both declined to respond, and DeThomasis said, “It is unethical and inappropriate to re-litigate a case through the press.”

However, David Bookstaver, spokesman for the state’s Office of Court Administration, responded on behalf of Sherwood, “I asked the judge about this. He’s familiar with Facebook; his head is not buried in the sand. He just doesn’t use Facebook.”

Bookstaver continued, about seeing the Facebook posts on a screen to be sure they weren’t altered, “Again, these are questions that you’ve come up with, I think, from speaking with the victim, who displays a lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system … That would be done by the district attorney’s office. It is not the judge’s role to do that.”

The impact statement

“Physically, I will never look the same,” the victim said in court on June 30. “I have a scar that goes from the arch of my eyebrow to the corner of my eye.”

Another physical ramification of her assault, she said, has been head trauma. She was seen by a neurologist afterward, she said, who diagnosed her with post-concussion syndrome and benign positional vertigo as a result of the assault. Her dizziness and lack of balance lowered her quality of life and her ability to do her job well, she said, while limiting the  activities that she was able to enjoy with her family.

She also detailed the psychological effects. She has not been able to sleep without medication for the two years since the beating, she said. She feels anxiety in the dark, “sometimes to the point where I can’t breathe.” Afraid of his retaliation, she sometimes feels like a “sitting duck” in  her own home. “I know my assailant to be very angry and vindictive,” she said in court.

She reached a point of helplessness, she said, on the day of the 2014 beating, “where all I could do is sit there and take it, the blows to my head and face, and pray for it to be over and pray to survive.”

During the two years since the attack, she said, she has been frequently revictimized by Beer in various ways, “as much as he could get away with.” She gave several examples in her statement, including saying that Beer had admitted in court to threatening one of her sons.

She received a typewritten anonymous letter by mail soon after the assault, she said in court, that was “targeted at me and terrifying.” The Guilderland Police wrote up an incident report about it, obtained by The Enterprise, and sent it to a lab for fingerprinting, but were unable to get a print from it.

The victim told The Enterprise, “I can’t prove that letter was from him. But I know it was.”

She has been unable to be touched by anyone, including her father, and said that any sudden movements near her have made her, since the assault, anxious and afraid. “All these things I am working on through time,” she said.

She said that she realized that the longest jail term Beer could have gotten was one year, but begged the judge to give him the full year, because, she said, “I feel like he has taken two years of my life away.”

She said that she wanted him to be incarcerated because “I feel that he at least needs and deserves the maximum of one year to have any impact on him to change his pattern of behavior.”

She also wrote, “I truly think it will send a strong message and hopefully avoid others being victimized by him.”

Not the first time

Certificates of conviction from the Colonie Police, obtained by the Guilderland victim, show that charges were brought against Beer twice. Once was in July 2009, when he was charged with third-degree criminal mischief, second-degree assault, and first-degree burglary, all felonies, as well as with second-degree harassment, a violation.

The felony charges were sent to county court, where they were reduced to misdemeanors, and then returned to town court. Beer pleaded guilty to harassment, a violation, and paid a surcharge of $125.

Then, in September 2010, Beer was charged, again in Colonie, with first-degree criminal contempt, a felony, and second-degree harassment, a violation. Again the felony was reduced to a violation, of disorderly conduct. Beer paid a fine of $200 and a surcharge of $125.

The victim mentioned some of this in her impact statement. She said, “All violent crimes, and he walked with a fine! He plays the system, and he plays it well! It’s time for this to stop, and it’s time for him to stop hurting people and getting away with it.”

No probation

Albany County Public Information Officer Brad Maione said the probation department had recommended jail time for Beer and that that that was the extent of what he could discuss publicly.

On the reason for not following the probation department’s recommendation for jail, Bookstaver said, “The district attorney’s office by custom...always, almost always, asks for the harshest sentence, and the highest bail, and the biggest punishment, so we can discount that…

“Probation reports are guidance to the court. And sometimes other circumstances need to be taken into account. I will tell you only that the judge did consider that this defendant has no violent criminal history whatsoever, that this defendant has a job which he almost certainly would have lost, which would have been ancillary damage.”

After the sentencing, the victim asked Assistant district Attorney Dennis DiBari, who had worked on her trial, if they should have asked for the sentencing to be postponed when he was unable to attend, she said. But because DiBari’s request — for nine months’ incarceration — and the sentence pronounced by the judge — a fine and community service — were so far apart, DiBari told her, she said, that he believed that it wouldn’t have mattered if he had been with her in the courtroom.

Moving forward

The victim wanted jail time for Beer, but could have accepted probation, she says. But this — only a fine and community service — is hard to accept, she said.

She is trying, she says, to be a positive person. “I just don’t want him to occupy any more time or space in my head, so I have to move on.”

At first she thought that she was simply going to have to stand up to Beer. Now she realizes that she also has to speak about what she sees as irregularities in courtroom procedures.

The conviction has allowed her to dig herself “out of a pile of lies” and has “exposed him for what he is,” she said. In addition, she says, it means that, if there is a next time, he will have a criminal record to contend with, and will not be as likely to get off with what she calls “a slap on the wrist.”

There were others before her who didn’t bring this through to conviction, for their own personal reasons, she says, and she doesn’t blame them. They were all victims of abuse, and she empathizes with them, she says.

But she “just personally could not let this cycle continue.”

She’s proud of what she accomplished.

 

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