Soprano Found Not Guilty in Trader Joe's Freezer Fight

Fight over frozen pad thai lead to slap heard around the supermarket.

June 15, 2011, 7:53 AM

June 15, 2011 -- The case over a fight between two women in the frozen food aisle of a New York City Trader Joe's has thawed after a clear "not guilty" ruling was issued today by the Manhattan Criminal Court judge presiding over the frosty case.

The ruling is a victory for Marcella Caprario, a New York City opera singer and school teacher, who faced harassment and attempted assault charges for the Jan. 9 slapping of Dr. Cathleen London, a prominent New York doctor and TV commentator, in a Trader Joe's supermarket on New York City's Upper West Side.

Caprario, 37, admitted to slapping London in a dispute involving Caprario's husband and London's 13-year-old son over a box of frozen vegan pad Thai in the freezer aisle of the Trader Joe's.

The ruling, not guilty on both counts, was issued today by Manhattan Criminal Court Judge ShawnDya Simpson in the non-jury case.

The ingredients that sparked the slap heard around the supermarket and, later, criminal court, began with the doctor, the singer, a husband, a son and the contested box of frozen vegan pad Thai.

According to testimony from both sides, the argument began on a Sunday afternoon in January as the two women were grocery shopping with their families.

Caprario's husband, Bill Hobbs, reached for a container of Trader Joe's brand Frozen Vegan Pad Thai With Tofu from the store's freezer aisle at the same time as London's 13-year-old son, Noah.

Hobbs said the 13-year-old slipped in front of him in the narrow aisles and prevented him from getting the noodles, a claim the teen disputed.

"This man starts yelling at me saying I got in the way and kids these days never say excuse me," Noah testified at the trial, which began on Tuesday.

"He overreacted."

Caprario entered the scene to defend her husband at the same time that London appeared to defend her son, and a heated argument broke out between the two women.

"She was saying they're rude and go away, and then said she was going to hit me," London said to ABC News outside the courtroom Tuesday, describing Caprario's actions.

London, a divorced mother of two and frequent guest on FOX News and CNN, told the court that, as Capriaro continued to repeat things like, 'Back off, back the f**k off, you b***h,' she, London, stepped forward to assert a "defensive stance."

"You want to protect your children," London told ABC.

As the women got closer, Caprario testified, she slapped London across her right ear and cheek.

London called the police, and they arrived shortly afterward.

The charges against Caprario were were first degree harassment, a felony charge, and second degree harassment, a misdemeanor.

Had she been found guilty on both charges, Caprario could have faced more than two-and-a-half years in jail.

In court papers, London described the slap as causing her "redness, swelling and substantial pain."

She also described Carpriaro's post-slap demeanor.

"She was grinning," London testified. "She was very pleased with herself."

Was the Supermarket Slap Justified?

The singer defended her guilty admission all along, however, by maintaining that her slap was justified.

"There are people who are going to be watching who are saying you just can't slap someone when you're upset over things that are happening in a grocery store," Caprario's attorney, Mark Bederow, told ABC.

"When someone continues to come at you and at you and at you, the law permits the use of reasonable force."

Caprario had originally been charged with misdemeanor assault and rejected various plea deals as prosecutors repeatedly lowered the charges, to harassment and attempted assault.

"Why should someone plead guilty to something they didn't do?" she told the New York Post this week.

The defense followed their client's approach, centering its entire case on London's behavior as justification for Caprario's actions.

"Dr. London was acting in a smug, arrogant and obnoxious manner ... so she could cut the line to get to the frozen food," her lawyer, Mark Bederow said in his opening statements.

In her testimony, the singer, who is fluent in three languages and conversant in five, described London's behavior as, "very aggressive" and "strong."

"I'd never experienced anything like that - it was scary," she told the court.

London's claims that the slap caused ringing in her ears and left her in pain for days were undercut by her own tweets, sent the day after the incident and presented in court by Caprario's attorneys, that she had just biked 16 miles, run three miles and appeared on "The Joy Behar Show."

The defense also questioned London's temperament by using her high-profile status to produce online reviews that said the doctor was "abrasive, obnoxious and argumentative."

"It was one or two people," London replied in court. "There's also a lot of positive things."

As the trial came to a close, it seemed the only thing the two women could agree on, besides a love for frozen vegan pad Thai, was a desire to put the months-long, contentious supermarket dispute behind them.

"I was ready six months ago to put it behind me," Caprario told ABC News outside the courtroom Tuesday. "But unfortunately we find ourselves here today."

And, perhaps, to learn something from it all.

"The big lesson, to me, is, take a breath," London said to ABC.

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