• Accused of choking woman who said she feared for her life • New York governor now faces eight charges, not 10 • Jury selection will last up to four weeks, only 3-4 days will be in the courtroom
The arraignment of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, scheduled for November, has been pushed back to January 7, officials announced on Friday, due to the “potentially defective” allegations against the Democratic governor.
Cuomo is accused of choking a woman – a former girlfriend – at a hotel in Buffalo, New York, on 19 July. The woman, identified as longtime Democratic donor Jona Rechnitz, told detectives that she had been held in “almost a life-threatening position”, according to a criminal complaint filed by prosecutors.
Cuomo, 54, faces at least eight charges, including second-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He was initially accused of 10 charges, some of which carried a maximum jail sentence of seven years, according to the Times Union, an Albany newspaper.
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The move to postpone the arraignment was expected to be announced on Friday by attorney David Bookstaver, spokesman for the Albany district attorney’s office.
“Due to the potential defect of the information we have received … we had to re-evaluate our plan for this trial,” Bookstaver said in a statement. “The public’s right to a speedy trial, the victims’ right to due process, and due process of law are paramount.”
Prosecutors could have a much harder time questioning the validity of Rechnitz’s testimony and witnesses’ recollections in a trial that is expected to last up to four weeks.
“The court should look at what would be relevant, what would be a fair witness selection, what would be a fair trial,” Bookstaver said.
The attorney representing Rechnitz, Benjamin Brafman, said he is pleased to hear the announcement of a trial delay and to have the opportunity to present evidence “concerning his client’s credibility”. He said in a statement that his client has been “grateful to the great team of investigators and prosecutors working around the clock to bring Governor Cuomo to justice for the alleged crime of choking an innocent woman during a holiday dinner and choking her again thereafter, when he was not done with her.”
Cuomo spoke to reporters about the charges for the first time last Saturday, asking for the public’s prayers.
“I got six people in my house,” he said in response to a question at a press conference, standing next to his wife, Matilda. “I’m a family man. I don’t leave any family member out. And if there’s anyone who thinks that anything has happened … to somehow destabilize our family, you’re terribly mistaken.”
Cuomo left the press conference to hug his children and walked off, leaving his family to speak for him.
“When we say something, we mean it,” he said, noting that his office is working with law enforcement and that he would be spending time with his family. “That’s where the focus ought to be.”
The governor’s first day as governor was on 1 January 2011. He is up for re-election in November, in a state where Democrats dominate the political landscape.