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David Carlson the hero who was slutshamed by a dead rapist

On October 11, 2013, police arrested 42-year-old David Carlson hours after he fatally shot 35-year-old Norris Acosta-Sanchez with a shotgun outside of Carlson’s home in Sparrowbush, New York. Carlson admitted he shot Acosta-Sanchez, but said he was acting in self-defense. Carlson said Acosta-Sanchez lunged at him when Carlson said he was going to turn in Acosta-Sanchez, who was a fugitive on a rape charge, to police. In September 2016, Carlson went to trial in Orange County Supreme Court before Judge Robert Freehill and a jury on a charge of second-degree murder. Much of the background leading up the shooting was not in dispute. Carlson and his family lived in a wooded area where they kept horses, chickens, and other livestock. In August 2013, Acosta-Sanchez showed up at the farm and identified himself as “Daniel.” He claimed to be the caretaker of a nearby camp and sought work to help support himself. Carlson agreed to provide “Daniel” with eggs and other food in exchange for working on Carlson’s farm. On October 5, 2013, Acosta-Sanchez joined Carlson and his wife, Sarah, at a campfire on the farm. After having a few drinks, Acosta-Sanchez revealed his real name was Norris, although he did not reveal his last name. He said he was wanted by police in Rockland County for having sex with an underage girl. Carlson and his wife were alarmed and concerned about the safety of their three young sons and neighbors. On October 8, 2013, Sarah met with an officer at the Deerpark Town police station. Because they did not have a surname, the officer told Sarah to arrange for Carlson to drive “Norris” on Route 42, a two-lane state highway, and police would make a stop so they could take him into custody and confirm his identity. That afternoon, Carlson and Acosta-Sanchez headed to a Walmart on Route 42. However, no stop was made because a shift change left no officers available on the street. Police requested another attempt at a stop the following day. Sarah called police and said her husband and “Norris” were going to a junk yard via Route 42. Two Deerpark police cars, one driven by Sgt. Elizabeth Sullivan, the other by Officer Thomas Kalin, stopped Carlson. Norris identified himself as Daniel Costa and gave a date of birth of January 10, 1978. Although Sullivan knew that was not his true name, she ran a background check anyway. When she told Acosta-Sanchez there was no match to his name, Acosta-Sanchez said he was in the U.S. on a work visa from Spain and offered to produce his identification at his cabin. Officer Kalin put Acosta-Sanchez, who was not handcuffed, in the back seat of his patrol car and drove to the cabin, followed by Sullivan in her patrol car. When Sullivan opened the back door of Kalin’s vehicle, Acosta-Sanchez escaped. He ran through the woods and down a rocky dry mountain stream bed toward the Rio reservoir. Kalin chased, losing his radio in the process, but gave up because the terrain was too rugged and because Sullivan told him to stop. Sullivan later called Carlson and with his help, police found an insurance card bearing Acosta-Sanchez’s full name. Sullivan got his date of birth from the insurance company and ran a record check that showed there was an outstanding arrest warrant in Rockland County. Further investigation showed that Acosta-Sanchez had been charged with two counts of second-degree rape of a 14-year-old girl in Ramapo Town, New York. At 6:30 p.m. that day, Carlson called Sullivan and reported that Acosta-Sanchez had come to his home and bragged about his escape. Carlson suggested places where police might look for him, and said his wife and their children were leaving the home for their personal safety. They stayed locally at the home of a friend that night and later went to stay with relatives in New Jersey. The following day, October 10, at Sullivan’s request, Carlson went to the police department to provide a sworn affidavit so that police could obtain a warrant to arrest Acosta-Sanchez. Carlson met with the commander of the SWAT team and provided a description of the cabin where Acosta-Sanchez had been staying as well as area surrounding it. The unit consisted of a precision rifle team armed with Remington and M-4 rifles, and was supported by a K-9 unit and police from three other police departments. The cabin was surrounded and members of the rifle team briefly sighted Acosta-Sanchez in the vicinity of the cabin. As the team approached the cabin, Acosta-Sanchez jumped from a hunting blind that was outside of the perimeter established by the surrounding officers and headed for the same rocky stream bed from which he made his escape before. He scuttled down the stream bed to the bottom of the hill, jumped into the Rio Reservoir, and began swimming away. Police brought a boat to the reservoir and called in a helicopter, but Acosta-Sanchez eluded them once again. Shortly before 8 p.m., the search was called off and the team withdrew. Two deputies were assigned to remain, but were also withdrawn later that evening. Carlson arose early the next morning to feed his livestock. Shortly after he finished and went back into his home, Acosta-Sanchez began banging on his front door, angrily accusing him of helping the police. Carlson told him to come to the back door. When Acosta-Sanchez came around, Carlson pointed a shotgun at him and declared, “This ends today. I’m bringing you in.” Carlson testified that Acosta-Sanchez fell to the ground and refused to move. Carlson fired the shotgun into the ground near Acosta-Sanchez and told him to move toward the home of a neighbor, Alan Li. Upon reaching Li’s house, Acosta-Sanchez again fell to the ground and refused to move. Carlson’s efforts to enlist Li’s help were fruitless—no one was home. Carlson again fired his gun into the ground to get Acosta-Sanchez up and moving toward the home of Carmine Ferrara, who lived further down Old Plank Road. Upon arrival at Ferrara’s home, Carlson ordered Acosta-Sanchez to lie on his belly with his hands behind his head. Carlson said that as he was yelling for someone to call 911, Acosta-Sanchez moved to a squatting position, then to one knee with his hand on his thigh. Then he lunged toward Carlson, who reacted by firing the shotgun, wounding Acosta-Sanchez in the left arm and shoulder. Carlson testified that Acosta-Sanchez fell to the ground and then rose up and again lunged at Carlson. Carlson fired once more, fatally wounding Acosta-Sanchez in the side of the head. Ferrara, who was awakened by the activity in his driveway, testified that he saw Carlson appear to fall backward away from Acosta-Sanchez when the second shot was fired. Ferrara said Acosta-Sanchez’s arm was stretched toward the shotgun. He said it was the initial stage of a lunge that was terminated by the shotgun blast. The prosecution presented evidence that tests revealed DNA—which was found on tissue on the barrel of the shotgun—belonged to Acosta-Sanchez. When police arrived, Carlson told police not to handcuff Ferrara and then said, “I did it.” Acosta-Sanchez was pronounced dead on the scene. Carlson’s defense attorneys, Benjamin Ostrer and Michael Mazzariello, sought to play a recording of a telephone call between Acosta-Sanchez and the 14-year-old girl’s grandmother that the Ramapo Town police arranged after Acosta-Sanchez was charged and became a fugitive. During the call, Acosta-Sanchez said, “I am not going to jail for one day.” He also said he realized what happens in jail to people who are convicted of having sex with an underage girl. The trial judge sustained the prosecution’s objection, and barred admission of the recording. The jury began deliberating late in the day on October 31. The jurors continued to deliberate on November 1, 2, and 3. On November 3, juror #11 was visibly upset when she returned from lunch. After an inquiry from Judge Freehill, who had been alerted by the jury foreman, the judge told the defense and prosecution that “she went home for lunch and found her husband with another woman.” The judge sent the jury home for the rest of the day. The following morning, Friday, November 4, juror #11 was interviewed in the Judge Freehill’s chambers. She began crying. She said it was her fiancé, not her husband, and when she confronted him that day, he had called the police—although she left without knowing whether police actually arrived. Defense motions to disqualify the juror and for a mistrial were denied. Later that day, the jury reported being deadlocked. Judge Freehill sent the jury home for the weekend and on Monday, November 7, the judge read a jury instruction relating to deadlock. Although the jury reported it was “confident” it could not reach a unanimous verdict, the judge declined to declare a mistrial and told them to continue to deliberate. Two days later, on Wednesday, November 9, the jury requested a readback of testimony from police officers regarding Carlson’s statements about what had happened. The readback was postponed for the morning of Thursday, November 10. The testimony was read to the jury after they asked if they could “infer intent” from Carlson’s plea of self-defense. Judge Freehill said they could not. After the lunch recess, juror #12 asked to speak to the judge. In chambers, the juror said she was experiencing stress from her husband and financial pressures from being in court. Judge Freehill said he was “hopeful that negotiations—deliberations will bring this matter to an early conclusion.” At the end of the day, no verdict had been reached and the judge sent the jury home for the three-day weekend (Veteran’s Day) to return on Monday, November 14. At 10:55 a.m. on November 14, the jury reached a verdict. Carlson was acquitted of second-degree murder and convicted of a lesser-included offense of first-degree manslaughter. Carlson, who had been free on bond, was taken into custody. On December 19, 2016, he was released on an appeal bond. On March 21, 2017, Judge Freehill sentenced Carlson to the minimum term of five years in prison. In August 2018, the New York Second Division Appellate Department vacated Carlson’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The reversal turned on a defense motion for mistrial that had been made during jury selection. During the first round of jury selection, the defense had objected to the prosecutor’s description of the charge against Acosta-Sanchez as “statutory rape,” instead of second-degree rape—a charge the defense said was more serious. The objection was discussed outside the presence of prospective jurors, but nothing was done. Five jurors were selected during this round. During the second round, the prosecutor again used the term “statutory rape.” After another objection, the judge ordered the prosecutor to not use that term, but denied the defense motion for mistrial. One juror was selected during this round, bringing the total to six jurors selected. During the third round, the judge spontaneously instructed prospective jurors that Acosta-Sanchez was charged with second-degree rape, not statutory rape. The defense again asked for a mistrial, saying that the six jurors already seated did not get that instruction. The motion was denied, the remaining jurors were selected and the trial commenced. The appellate court said that Judge Freehill had correctly determined that the use of the term “statutory rape” was not proper as “such a colloquial term may have been misinterpreted by some jurors to mean that the sexual contact between [Acosta-Sanchez] and his alleged victim was consensual, but illegal solely because of the age difference between them.” The appellate court noted that the prosecution initially contended the crime that Acosta-Sanchez faced was not a “violent” crime. Because the first six jurors did not get the instruction, they may have implied that Acosta-Sanchez was not a violent person in reaching their decision to convict Carlson, the court said. As a result, the court held, Carlson’s trial was unfair. In late 2019, the retrial was commenced before Judge Freehill without a jury. During this trial, the defense was allowed to play the recording of Acosta-Sanchez’s conversation with the 14-year-old girl’s grandmother. On January 16, 2020, Judge Freehill acquitted Carlson. – Maurice Possley

The Hero gets treated worse than even rape victims because he killed the accused

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Accused killer vigilante David Carlson has finally won his freedom — but will never regain the life he lost. Capping a six-year legal battle to prove he acted in self-defense when he shotgunned a fugitive rape suspect, an upstate judge on Thursday found Carlson not guilty of manslaughter. But the surprising verdict, which reversed an earlier jury conviction at trial, won’t bring back the wife who left him with two of his children, the job he couldn’t hold onto, the home he’s about to lose, or his fractured peace of mind. Carlson, standing in his rural, spartan home, parts of it still bare plywood and joists, looks almost beaten down. He says the case was “the catalyst” for his family falling apart just seven months after the controversial shooting, although his eldest son, who is 20, still lives with him. The end of his marriage “very layered and complex,” said Carlson, who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2014 and remains in therapy. “Looking back with the therapy I think we already had a failing marriage and the shooting might have been the catalyst,” he said. “For like six months after it happened she was on my side…And then one day (in Aug. 2014) she just left. I came home and she was gone.” On Jan. 27, the Sparrow Bush, New York, home where he kept horses, two dogs, a cat and a goat, will go into foreclosure. “I’m losing my whole farm over this,” the 48-year-old carpenter told The Post during a series of post-verdict interviews. He says it was impossible to hold down a job and keep up with mortgage payments while fighting the case. He plans to go back to work full time but might still not be in the financial clear; he faces a civil suit brought by the relatives of the man he killed in 2013, 35-year-old Norris Acosta-Sanchez. New York State Police And Carlson may never shake the regret he feels every day. “This man lost his life and I feel horrible about it,” Carlson says. “I can’t go back and change that. It’s always going to haunt me.” Thursday brought at least a moment of joy to Carlson, when Judge Robert Freehill announced, “I find the defendant not guilty of all charges.” A weary-looking Carlson hugged attorney Michael Mazzariello, who choked back tears. “I thought I misunderstood him. I really did,” a stunned Carlson said moments afterward. “I feel like I’m almost dreaming . . . This is the day I’ve been waiting for six years to happen . . . I almost want to leave the building because I’m scared they’re going to change their mind.” The odyssey began innocently enough in October 2013, when a bearded Acosta-Sanchez popped out of the thick woods while Carlson was fishing with a friend, and introduced himself as “Daniel,” the caretaker of a cabin next door. Carlson befriended him, and gave him odd jobs in exchange for fresh eggs and his wife’s homemade bread. But one night over the campfire, Acosta-Sanchez admitted his first name was Norris, and he was running from criminal charges in Rockland County of having sex with a 14-year-old girl. “It was consensual,” he claimed. “He made it out like he’s the victim,” Carlson recalled. Two days later, Carlson and his wife decided to secretly alert the local Deerpark police, sparking a chain of events that led to tragedy. The cops enlisted Carlson to help them capture the fugitive, but they botched every attempt. Looking back bitterly, Carlson said: “I never would have trusted the Deerpark police. I shouldn’t have played along with this stupid plan to begin with. They just keep dragging me into it. I’m a carpenter — not a cop.” On Oct. 8, 2013, a Deerpark officer wanted Carlson to deliberately speed with Acosta-Sanchez in his car so cops could pull him over. Carlson invited Norris to join him on a beer run — and raced at 65 mph as advised. But because of a police department shift change, no cops showed up. The next day, they tried again. This time, Sgt. Elizabeth Sullivan pulled Carlson over, and Detective Thomas Kalin arrived in a second car. Norris identified himself as “Daniel Costa,” but had no ID. He then offered to show his ID if they drove him back to his cabin. He rode in Sullivan’s car without handcuffs. When both cop cars pulled in behind the cabin, Norris jumped out, shoved past Sullivan and bolted down a dry creek bed. Kalin started to chase, but quickly “lost sight of him.” Norris soon returned, but still had no idea that Carlson was cooperating with the cops. That evening, Carlson rummaged through a box Norris had stored in his garage and found a car insurance card with Norris’s last name, Acosta-Sanchez, which he turned over to cops. Sgt. Sullivan then found the Rockland County warrant for his arrest. On Oct. 10, Deerpark police obtained a “no knock” warrant to raid the cabin next door. Joining local police, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office sent a 23-member SWAT team armed with M4 assault rifles, two sharpshooters and canine units. A state police helicopter flew overhead. Hearing the break-in, Acosta-Sanchez jumped from a wooden box where he was hiding just 20 yards from two snipers watching the cabin. He ran down the same creek bed he had used to flee the day before, dove into the Rio Reservoir and swam across a narrow stretch — escaping again. His neighbors were “scared to death,” as one put it. Carlson sent his wife and kids to stay with a friend. Home alone, he borrowed some Xanax from his mother-in-law and took out his .22-caliber rifle and two shotguns, including a 12-gauge Remington 870. The next day, at about 9 a.m., a “pissed” Acosta-Sanchez banged on Carlson’s front door. Instead of ignoring the intruder, Carlson decided to take over. “Hold on,” he told Acosta-Sanchez. “Go to the back door.” Carlson then grabbed his Remington and put it to Acosta-Sanchez’s head. “I was like, ‘F–k you . . . I’m turning you in.’” He ordered the fugitive to walk up a hill to another house so the neighbors, he thought, could call 911. Acosta-Sanchez begged Carlson to let him go. He laid on the ground, crying, “Don’t shoot!” Carlson fired a shot into the ground to make him get up, he recalled. “I didn’t want to shoot him at all.” He yelled for the next door neighbors, but no one was home. Carlson fired another shot in the ground to force Acosta-Sanchez to keep moving. He then marched Acosta-Sanchez down Old Plank Road to a tiny clapboard house, where a neighbor, Carmine Ferrara, lived. According to Carlson, as he turned and yelled, “Carmine!” Acosta-Sanchez started coming at him. Carlson fired, shooting his prisoner in the left arm. Acosta-Sanchez yelled in pain, “You f- -k!” “That’s where I should have stopped, but I didn’t,” Carlson later told cops. As the two men faced off about five feet apart, he said, Acosta-Sanchez lunged at him. Carlson shot Acosta-Sanchez in the head. Corroborating Carlson’s account, Ferrara said he peeked out the window in that instant and saw Carlson “backpedaling” up a slope, almost falling backward, while Acosta-Sanchez moved toward him. Carlson was so traumatized he told cops that day, “I’m a murderer, basically.” The Westchester DA’s Office, which prosecuted Carlson, called it vigilante justice. He “chose to take the law into his own hands,” killing an unarmed man without provocation, the DA argued. Carlson’s attorneys said it was self-defense. “If this happened in Brooklyn, they’d throw this guy a party,” Mazzariello said. In November 2016, an Orange County jury acquitted Carlson of murder, but found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter. Judge Freehill sentenced Carlson to five years in prison, freeing him pending appeal. Carlson’s Sparrow Bush neighbors put up their homes to post a $500,000 bond. Acosta-Sanchez’s mother, Rosario Sanchez, told the court at Carlson’s sentencing her son died in a “cruel, vile and absurd manner.” She was not present for the judge’s verdict Thursday in Carlson’s second trial, which came after an appellate panel in August 2018 overturned the 2016 conviction. Carlson and his lawyers, Ben Ostrer and Mazzariello — who worked pro bono because they believed in Carlson’s innocence — opted for a nonjury trial before Judge Freehill the second time. For now, Carlson said he plans to play his guitars, fish, hike, and spend time with his three kids. “Everything seems a little better . . . tastes better,” he says. He’s grateful for his lawyers’ perseverance, and counts his blessings for “dear friends” like Wilbur and Carol Eckes, who put up properties to keep him out of jail, and will now rent him a three-bedroom house down the road. “I have my freedom,” Carlson said. “I’m going to try and look at this as a fresh start, move on. But I’m never going to be able to completely move on. It’s always going to haunt me.”

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