The jury returned a guilty verdict Tuesday on each of the three felony charges against former Cornell graduate student Blazej Kot. Kot was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally stabbing his wife Caroline Coffey, a post-doctoral student at Cornell’s Veterinary School. The jury also found Kot guilty of third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence.
Kot remained stoic in the Tompkins County Courthouse as the jury foreperson read the verdict aloud, while Coffey’s family members hugged one another.
The courtroom was crowded, as family members of both the defendant and victim were present, as well as more than 50 spectators and reporters from several media outlets. The verdict announcement began at 1:25 p.m., shortly after Judge John Rawley reconvened the court from a lunchtime recess.
Prior to the recess, the jury had asked for additionaly clarification on the criteria for deciding whether Kot experienced an extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the murder, as his defense attorney had alleged.
Rawley read aloud the relevant portions of state law, explaining that the burden of proving EED falls on the defense. He told the jury that the three criteria for an EED defense include: proving that the defendant had an extreme emotional disturbance; showing that he acted under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance in committing the crime; and showing that there was a reasonable explanation or excuse for the extreme emotional disturbance.
Reading the law, Rawley said, “The reasonableness of that explanation or excuse must be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as he believed them to be at that time.”
Rawley emphasized that the defense had to present a “preponderance of evidence” in order to meet the requirements for EED.
Using EED as an affirmative defense, Joe Joch ’66, Kot’s defense attorney, had asked the jury to convict Kot of the reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter. But in his closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Andrew McElure argued that Kot did not experience an EED and characterized Kot’s crime as a cold-blooded murder.After polling the individual jurors when the jury returned with its verdict early in the afternoon, Rawley expressed his gratitude. “We told you at the beginning how important this service is to your community,” he said. Just before dismissing the jurors, Rawley noted, “This is the longest trial I have been involved in.”Rawley denied the defense’s motions to dismiss the verdict and set the sentencing date for May 25 at 9 a.m., again remanding Kot without bail.The verdict signaled the end of a nearly three-week trial that has, at times, seen intense emotional and psychological arguments and testimony.DNA evidence presented early in the trial showed that blood swabs taken from Kot’s sneakers matched Coffey’s DNA. Evidence, including a can of flammable solvent, from Kot’s apartment — which police found in flames on the day of Coffey’s murder — was consistent with Kot’s DNA as well. Other incriminating evidence included a Google search on Kot’s iMac computer for “how+to+kill+neck+artery.”Several people affiliated with the University testified at the trial, including Kot’s former teaching assistant and subsequent employer, Peter Brodsky. Brodsky revealed that Kot had used masking tape to cover the lens on his iMac. Also contributing to the defense plea was a video of Kot in which he stated his belief that cameras had been watching him since adolescence.Joch, Kot’s lawyer, tried to show that evidence in the case had been mishandled and also emphasized the possibility of his client’s emotional and mental imbalance at the time of the murder.
Original Author: Keri Blakinger