May 3, 2007 — -- The kindly elderly gentleman in the tweed jacket reading The New Yorker looked like a professor taking a break between classes.
But Alberto Braunstein's presence at New YorkState Supreme Court this morning was not one of leisure. Instead, Braunstein, who's in his 80s, was attending the trial of his son Peter, the ex-fashion writer accused of dressing up as a firefighter and brutally molesting a former colleague for 13 hours on Halloween night in 2005.
The defense has admitted to the sexual assault, and is focusing instead on trying to prove that Braunstein is mentally ill.
Braunstein's father fears for his son's life, saying that Peter, 43, hastried to commit suicide three times in jail since his arrest inDecember 2005.
"Jail has been his ruination," Alberto Braunstein toldABCNEWS.com. "He had such a bright future, but everything fell apartwhen all of this happened with Jane," he said, referring to Jane Larkworthy, the ex-girlfriend ofPeter Braunstein.
Alberto Braunstein believes that his son suffers from paranoid schizophrenia andcondemns the lack of treatment for the mentally ill, comparing hisson's situation to that of Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho. "Mentalillness is swept under the rug in this country," he said. "It costs$700 to $800 a day to keep someone in an institution and $89 a day to keepthem in jail. That's where the priorities are in this society."
The father, who has had a difficult relationship with his son, saidthat his life has also been ruined. "I thought I could retire inpeace, but my life has been turned around," said the father, who runs anart gallery in Manhattan. He said he has spent $200,000 for thelegal defense and medical treatment for his son, who he said is under sedation and taking the antidepressant drug Lithium. Alberto Braunstein said that he was recently forced to sell his apartment in Manhattan to help raise money.
"Here comes the district attorney with three shopping carts," blurted outthe father as the prosecutorial team moved toward thecourtroom laden with piles of evidence. "We know he did it, so why go through with all of this?"
Thursday morning, prosecutors called three witnesses, including John T. Turner, an executive at Cheaper Than Dirt, anInternet retailer, who testified that Peter Braunstein had purchased a double-shoulder holster, a 10 ¾ inch Ranger knife, black stainless steelhandcuffs, a 10-pack of nylon handcuffs, leg irons, a gas mask, a stungun and military-style goggles.
Turner also testified thatBraunstein attempted to purchase a lead-filled bulletproof vest, but he wasdenied that item because its sale is restricted in New York.
Also testifying was Jeremy Roybal, a fraud investigator at eBay, theonline auction site. Roybal said that Braunstein made three purchases of chloroform, a New York FireDepartment coat, a police badge, a firefighter sticker and potassium nitrate.Using the names "drgroovy" and "gulagmeister, Braunstein purchased theitems throughout 2005, and received excellent feedback from thesellers of the material.
Assistant District Attorney Maxine Rosenthal said that Braunstein's purchases are proof of adeliberate and cruel mind. The defense counters that Braunstein made no attempt to disguise his identity whilepurchasing chloroform and other such materials, proving his instability -- not intent.
In an ironic twist, it was revealed that Braunstein wasn't the only one who donned his costume that Halloween night.
Later that night, the gas mask he allegedly wore during the attack was found by the superintendent of the building. After briefly showing it to the police, the super's son wore the mask and "went trick or treating," according to testimony. "It was Halloween, so I put it on as a costume."
Before the jury of seven men and five women was allowed in the courtroom this morning,Braunstein's defense argued against the admittance of certain Internet pages recovered by authorities. Braunstein's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, argued that some of the pages, which included references to "rape sex," "women drowning" and "brutal throat sex," may have appeared during the writer's Internet searches, but that they needed to be distinguished from the terms that he actually chose to search, such as "rape," "video" and "chloroform."
Braunstein's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, told ABCNEWS.comthat next week he plans to call to the stand several mental health experts andJane Larkworthy, Braunstein's ex-girlfriend, whose decision to break upwith the writer, claims the defense, sparked his violent rampage.
Just 11 days before the brutal attack, Braunstein made a plea for help. On Oct. 20, 2005, he made a request to cancel his "drgroovy" account, e-mailing eBay, "I want to close my account because I have about eight weeks to live, OK. So just close it."
Eight weeks and a day later, Braunstein was confronted by police in Memphis. After shouting, "I am the man the world is looking for," he stabbed himself in the neck three times.
Roybal, the eBay investigator, said that he receives about five to 10 such messages a month but that only occasionally does one of them prompt him to contact law enforcement. "It could be sarcastic," he noted.