Frantic Cry For Help

The woman who was drugged and sexually assaulted by fashion writer Peter Braunstein, who burst into her apartment in fake firefighter gear on Halloween night 2005, was so traumatized after the attack that she was afraid to let real cops in real uniforms in to help her.

"Help me! Please!'' she can be heard shouting on a 911 tape played for the jury in Braunstein's kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery trial in Manhattan state court.

"There are people in uniform standing out there,'' she sobs. "But I don't know if they're police. I don't know. I don't trust anybody.

"Please help me. The guy that was in here had a police badge. He had a fire uniform. He had a face mask. He had everything.

"I'm so scared. No! No! No!"

The heart-wrenching distress call was the centerpiece of yesterday's courtroom testimony, the AP reports.

Asked by the operator what her attacker looked like, she said he was wearing a mask.

"He had a gun. And a knife. He had a video camera, and he taped me when I was naked! Oh! Oh! Please! Please! Send somebody quick!"

Braunstein has pled not guilty but admits to the most of the crimes -- acknowledging that on Halloween night in 2005, the former Women's Wear Daily scribe, dressed as a firefighter, started two small fires outside the 34-year-old woman's New York apartment and then banged on her door to "rescue'' her.

When she opened the door, he drugged her and sexually tormented her for 13 hours as real firefighters put out the blaze

And Braunstein's lawyers have adopted a risky defense, claiming paranoid schizophrenia crippled his decision-making process and destroyed his ability to form intent to commit the crime.

Also on the stand yesterday was Jeannia Robinette, the victim's best friend, who rushed to the apartment after her friend was able to by unknotting with her teeth the nylon ropes that bound her.

"She had burns on her face, her neck,'' Robinette told the jury. "Blood marks on her wrists…She was hysterical. She wouldn't let me let [the real New York City policemen] in…She said 'Don't open the door. That's him! He had a badge and a uniform. It's him! It's him in the police uniform!"

If convicted, Braunstein could face up to 25 years in prison.

What's being challenged is whether Braunstein had the mental capacity to form the intent to commit the crime -- a risky and relatively new legal defense being proferred in one courtroom after the next.

"His brain just broke,'' defense attorney Celia Gordon told jurors on Monday during opening arguments.

But prosecutors argue that Braunstein meticulously planned the attack, and was sharp enough to elude a massive NYPD manhunt for six weeks before he was finally spotted on the campus of the Unversity of Memphis in Tennessee by someone who had seem him featured on "America's Most Wanted."

"He felt the world had turned its back on him," and he "devised a well-designed plan to get attention,'' assistant Manhattan District Attorney Maxine Rosenthal told jurors on Monday.

On Monday, Braunstein's victim described in graphic detail the nightmarish Halloween attack.

Braunstein burst through the door and put what she said was the steel barrel of a gun to her head and ordered her to lie face down on the floor, at which point he handcuffed her and told her he was going to choloroform' her, a nasty exercise he would repeat five times throughout the ordeal -- though the victim said she held her breath during subsequent attempts to drug her, and feigned unconsciousness.

She said she awoke hours later, bound, blindfolded and nearly nude on her bed, as Braunstein videotaped her apartment, according to the New York Post.

"This is her closet,'' she said she heard him say. "This is her hall closet."

The Post's Laura Italiano said the victim -- whose name is being witheld by ABC News because she was the victim of a sexual assault -- "gave a precise and amazingly clear-headed description of her ordeal, showing the same fortitude she did during the attack, even as she lay nearly naked on her bed, his knife on her nightstand."

Defense attorneys claim Braunstein's brain was so poisoned by undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia that he couldn't form the intent to commit the crime necessary for a conviction. But, they say, he could and did commit it.

"We've never claimed he's so mentally ill that he couldn't function,'' Braunstein's lawyer Robert Gottlieb told the New York Daily News. "The question is, 'How could he form intent?' That's the beginning, middle and end of the defense case,'' he said.

Experts, both legal and medical, say that the field of neurology cannot offer anywhere near the kind of legal certainty of other scientific research breakthroughs, like DNA testing.

"Brain imaging is not mind-reading,'' Owen Jones, a professor of both law and biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, told ABC News' Law & Justice Unit.

"There is a large distance between anatomy and culpability, it's only one window of many into the multiple influences on behavior that can be relevant to understanding why a person acts in an anti-social manner,'' said Jones, co-author of "Law, Responsibility and the Brain" in the April issue of the journal PLOS Biology. Jones is considered by peers to be a pioneer in the emerging specialty field of 'neuro-law.'

Former federal prosecutor Jim Walden says neuro-law is a promising field of legal and medical research, but he is similarly skeptical of defenses that rest entirely on neurological impairments.

"I think, depending on the circumstances, it could be an incredibly powerful defense, but three immediate hurdles come to mind,'' said Walden, now practicing criminal defense with the New York firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. "One legal, one practical and one emotional."

The legal problem, said Walden, is that "whether or not the [brain imaging evidence] would be admissible under the Daubert test [a 1993 legal precedent that sets the bar for admissibility of expert testimony] which is an open issue in many courts.''

He continued: "The second hurdle is practical. Even assuming a judge lets you present this evidence, can you convey it in a way that jurors will understand? And the third is emotional -- even if jurors do understand this evidence, are they going to be able to reconcile their own conceptions of personal responsibility to accept what is, at bottom, an excuse for the conduct?"

"Only by getting over all three of these hurdles will a defense lawyer be able to succeed with this defense,'' Walden concluded.

Jones said that there is good reason to believe that further study could help pinpoint cause-effect relationship between neurology and behavior, but it's still an imperfect science.

"There is an example in the literature of an individual who in middle age spontaneously started behaving in bizarre sexual ways, including pedophilia,'' Jones said. "Subsequent scans showed a tumor impinging on part of his brain. The tumor was removed and the behavior ceased. When later, [the subject] started exhibiting the behaviors again, [another scan showed that] the tumor had returned."

According to Jones, that doesn't prove that the tumor was causing the behavior but "it's certainly suggestive,'' he said.

Unfortunately for Braunstein, prosecutors expect to introduce evidence of previously dangerous behavior.

The writer's ex-girlfriend Jane Larkworthy will describe how Braunstein allegedly freaked out when she tried to break up with him in July 2003. She is expected to testify that he tied her up, threatened her with a knife, posted nude pictures of her on the Internet and continued to cause her trouble until she went to police and had him arrested in February 2005 -- nine months before the attack on his co-worker.

For more information on neurology and law, see Jones' article "Law, Responsibility and the Brain" at