April 7, 2010

Professor, Graduate Student Testify at Kot Murder Trial

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The trial of Blazej Kot, a former Cornell Ph.D. student in information sciences charged with murdering his wife, continued Wednesday — the fifth day of testimony — with a Cornell professor and graduate student taking the stand. Kot’s wife, Caroline Coffey, who was a post-doctoral student at the Veterinary School, was found dead on the morning of June 3 in Taughannock Falls State Park.According to the prosecution, Kot is guilty of murdering his wife and attempting to destroy the evidence by burning down his apartment. The defense, led by attorney Joe Jochs ’66, argues that Kot’s actions were due to emotional disturbance caused by stress.In Wednesday’s proceedings, the prosecution continued to focus on Kot’s personality through the testimonies of his academic advisor and his Cornell office-mate.Prof. Francois V. Guimbretiere, information science, was Kot’s academic advisor at Cornell and described his relationship with Kot as professional.Guimbretiere worked with Kot on research and met with him regularly to discuss the progress of Kot’s research. Guimbretiere stressed that he always maintains a professional relationship with his students and saw Kot as a serious student. He reported having no difficulty with Kot on neither a personal nor professional level.Guimbretiere cited two instances that may have caused Kot emotional distress. First, he said Kots’ papers was rejected by the World International Studies Committee conference around the end of March 2009. Second, Guimbetiere said he criticized Kot’s thesis proposal. Guimbretiere emphasized that both instances of rejection were not uncommon for a new student and that Kot’s reaction to the rejections was both reasonable and typical when compared to other students’.When Guimbretiere saw Kot on June 2, the day of the alleged incident, Kot did not seem distraught, he said. Guimbretiere maintained that throughout their professional relationship, he had never noticed signs of mental illness in Kot. However, Guimbretiere acknowledged the possibility that because of his lack of expertise in psychology, he may have missed something deeper.Hyun Yong Song, a visiting information science Ph.D. student from the University of Maryland who moved to Cornell in June of 2009, testified for the prosecution after Guimbretiere. Song shared office space in the Information Science Department at 301 College Avenue with Kot. Guimbretiere was also an advisor for both students. Kot and Song sat about three feet apart and interacted a few times daily about research and computer programs, Song said. She said that each kept their private lives separate and that their interactions were mostly very technical.Song described Kot as a quiet, meticulous and pleasant person to work with who had never shown concerning behavior to her. Song cited an instance in which Kot expressed stress communicating with Guimbretiere about a paper as a typical concern for graduate students.Throughout the proceedings, defense attorney Jochs attempted to emphasize the emotional stress Kot experienced in the months preceding the incident. Jochs also questioned the witness’ ability to make statements regarding Kot’s psychological state. Jochs stressed that the witnesses were not psychological experts and could not know the extent of Kot’s emotional disturbance at the time.Testimony will continue Thursday morning at 9 a.m. at the Tompkins County Court.

Original Author: Michelle Honor