A Manhattan woman testified in court Monday that New York fashion writer Peter Braunstein drugged her with a chloroform rag and sexually assaulted her for hours, telling her she was "lucky'' to be alive, unlike others he said he had killed.
Two hours after Braunstein - dressed in full firefighter regalia and having set two small fires in the hallway - burst through her apartment door, she said she awoke nearly nude on her bed, wearing only thong underpants and a pair of gold stillettos she said Braunstein had found in her closet, the Associated Press reported.
Braunstein admits to the crime - his 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.
The payoff for such a defense is as promising as it is risky. Unlike common insanity defenses, Braunstein would go free, not to a mental hospital, if he's acquitted..
Such a defense's case rests on "neuro-law,'' an emerging field at the crossroads of science and law that probes brain images for clues to behavioral proclivities and has reportedly been used in more than 100 criminal defenses.
It's a science so new that even its proponents caution about its current limitations in criminal courts across the country.
The crime isn't in dispute -- Braunstein and his attorneys admit 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.
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."