This is a case that strikes close to home, taking place in a small town just miles from my own small hometown in northern New York. It is a case that has haunted me for years.
On October 26, 1991, in the small town of Gouverneur, a woman was raped. Sadly, sexual assaults against women happen far too often. But this one was different than most. This one took place in the middle of a popular bar/restauraunt, committed by five men, all acquaintances of the victim. And getting justice would prove difficult for the victim.
The victim was Krista Absalon, a lab technician at the local hospital. She was also a 23-year-old divorced mother with two children. She had had a hard week and had gone to the Casablanca to blow off some steam. She was upset that she had not gotten the raise she’d hoped for at work, and worse, she and her ex-husband were arguing over the custody rights to their two small children.
She’d already had a few beers and a couple of shots when the manager of the establishment, Mario Pistolesi, offered her a variety of free drinks. Pistolesi was also a friend of hers, and he would prove to be pivotal to the events that occurred that night.
Later that evening, Pistolesi found Krista on the verge of passing out in the ladies room, with her jeans down to her ankles. He claims she kissed him, after which he took her to one of the padded booths. Then he and the other four men took turns having intercourse with her, all while drinking and eating, laughing and joking.
Krista Absalon was drunk, incapicitated to the point that, at first, she had little memory of what had happened to her. Two of the men who’d raped her drove her home afterward. As she sobered, she felt sore and wet, but she’d attributed it to her menstrual cycle. It was almost 2 weeks later that she began to piece the events of that night together.
How? Because the five men bragged about it openly, and a friend of Krista’s heard it.
The realization that what she had attributed to faulty memories was actually real threw Krista. The five men were friends, some from school and some from the Casablanca. So she went straight to the source, calling her friend Mario Pistolesi. His reaction? “Listen, Krista. If you can’t remember, then nothing happened.”
At first, she didn’t report it. But when a state trooper, also a friend, heard the stories, he urged her to. The state troopers immediately began to investigate.
They began with Greg Streeter, who admitted that an attack had occured, although he denied being a part of it. Next was Mark Hartle, who not only admitted his own culpability, but laid blame at the feet of both Streeter and Pistolesi, as well as two other men, Mike Curcio and David Cummings. He stated the order in which they’d violated her, even telling investigators that Krista had regained consciousness several times during the assault.Bearak, Barry. “Outrage May Revive Rape Case.” Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 1994, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-15-mn-46363-story.html.
It was months before any arrests were made. And then it took almost three years for the case to be settled. And when it did, it was against Krista Absalon’s wishes. The five men were allowed to accept a plea bargain. The charges were reduced to misdemeanors, and a fine of $750 was levied against each man. The DA, Richard Manning, argued that there was not enough proof that a crime had been committed.
What was odd about this was that the men were charged with Class B violent felonies. The law made it illegal for the DA to bargain that down to Class A misdemeanors. To do so, he would have to drop the felony charges, and refile with misdemeanors with the village or town judge. In this part of New York, town and village judges are elected to handle minor cases. Unlike the judges in county and other courts, these do not generally have any legal background, elected positions. The town judge in Gouverneur at the time was a fertilizer salesman.Bearak, Barry. “Outrage May Revive Rape Case.” Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 1994, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-15-mn-46363-story.html. Manning played on his ignorance.
It is interesting to note that, during this time, the DA himself was facing some issues of his own. His own ADA had recently quit. The ADA had been in charge of sex crime cases, and upon quitting, accused Manning of slandering her. A secretary was also suing him, claiming he’d sexually harassed her, that he had outburst of obscenities, and used profanity to describe women.
In a perfect world, a known victim would be given empathy and compassion. That was not the case for Krista Absalon. Because she was drunk, she was shamed for the rape. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that because she was drunk, she somehow gave up the right to say no to being raped. That it was her fault. I remember the horrible things people said. It was disgusting. And much of the reason why this case has stuck with me.
Even more disgusting was the reality that most of the compassion, instead of being for her, was for the Casablanca’s owner, Mario Pistolesi’s father. The establishment lost its liquor license, which greatly impacted his financial bottom line. Even the mayor at the time expressed more sympathy for the business owner than the rape victim. Even the most popular local newspaper, notorious for not naming rape victims, used Krista’s name often.
revisting the punishment
While most locals seemed to care more about victim-blaming, the underwhelming punishment of the five men caused a national uproar. The state of New York ordered a special prosecutor be appointed to the case. His assesment was that the town judge had no jursidiction in the case. Therefore, the pleas were able to be legally rescinded. The state requested that the original first-degree felony rape charges be reinstated.Bearak, Barry. “Outrage May Revive Rape Case.” Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 1994, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-15-mn-46363-story.html.
The charges were reinstated. Greg Streeter avoided trial by pleading guilty. He received probabtion for his part in the rape. The first man tried was Mark Hartle. He was acquitted.Borg, Gary. “Man Accused in Gang Rape Found Not Guilty.” Chicago Tribune, 26 Mar. 1996, Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-03-26-9603260060-story.html. The next man to go to trial was Mike Curcio. Like Mark Hartle, he was also acquitted. After these acquittals, the state Attorney General dropped the remaining cases, those of Mario Pistolesi and David Cummings.Kates, William. “After 2 Acquittals, State Attorney General Drops Rape Cases.” AP News, 21 May 1996, Associated Press, https://apnews.com/article/0aed87e5b657af9ea95d2507d7dfa147.
A woman was raped by five men, having given no consent. And the justice system said that was okay.
More than twenty years after being acquitted, one of the man found himself once again embroiled in a rape trial. Mark Hartle was convicted in 2016 of the rape and sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl during the summer and fall of 2014. He was convicted of four counts each of first-degree rape, third-degree rape, and first-degree sexual abuse. He was also convicted of three counts of misdemeanor third-degree sexual abuse.Mende, Susan. “1991accuser Feels Relieved.” NNY 360, 9 June 2016, NNY 360, https://www.nny360.com/news/1991accuser-feels-relieved/article_46d8cc46-2d51-5cf3-94f7-c408996d51b3.html. He received 54 years.
|↑1||Bearak, Barry. “Outrage May Revive Rape Case.” Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 1994, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-15-mn-46363-story.html.|
|↑2||Bearak, Barry. “Outrage May Revive Rape Case.” Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 1994, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-15-mn-46363-story.html.|
|↑3||Bearak, Barry. “Outrage May Revive Rape Case.” Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 1994, Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-04-15-mn-46363-story.html.|
|↑4||Borg, Gary. “Man Accused in Gang Rape Found Not Guilty.” Chicago Tribune, 26 Mar. 1996, Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-03-26-9603260060-story.html.|
|↑5||Kates, William. “After 2 Acquittals, State Attorney General Drops Rape Cases.” AP News, 21 May 1996, Associated Press, https://apnews.com/article/0aed87e5b657af9ea95d2507d7dfa147.|
|↑6||Mende, Susan. “1991accuser Feels Relieved.” NNY 360, 9 June 2016, NNY 360, https://www.nny360.com/news/1991accuser-feels-relieved/article_46d8cc46-2d51-5cf3-94f7-c408996d51b3.html.|