BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Area businessman John Cole looked every bit the successful entrepreneur as he strode into Saratoga County Court last week to surrender to the court and start serving the seven year sentence he received in 2018.
In March of that year Cole, 55, was convicted by a jury of assault in the second degree, driving while ability impaired, and reckless driving after a single car accident in Halfmoon in which he was the driver. The crash paralyzed passenger Deanna Shapiro from the neck down.
The sentence was handed down Nov. 27 by Saratoga County Court Judge James A. Murphy III after Cole was convicted in a two week jury trial.
After an appeal to the Third Department of the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court was denied on Nov. 21, Cole appealed to the state’s highest court, the state Court of Appeals. That court refused to hear the case on Nov. 26 leading to Cole’s appearance in Saratoga County Court last Wednesday.
Before walking into the courtroom, where he understood he would be taken into custody, Cole received long emotional hugs from his family just beyond the doors to the room.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and patterned tie he walked unhesitatingly to the defendant’s table where he stood erect, shoulders squared, and stared straight ahead showing no emotion on his face. The demeanor he presented to all who were in the court room was that of a man wrongly convicted. He and his attorney Paul Shechtman stood side by side for nearly three minutes waiting for Judge Murphy to enter the room before finally settling into their chairs.
Cole is the owner of several auto body shops in the Capital Region that bear his name.
Seated in the court room directly behind Cole was a group of family members, friends, and supporters. On the other side of the court room sat friends, family and supporters of Shapiro. She sat next to them in a motorized wheelchair.
Though Cole turned around once over his right shoulder to see his family one final time during the short court proceedings he never looked to the left where Shapiro was seated.
When asked if the People had anything to say, Saratoga County Assistant District Attorney Gordon Eddy said it had been 18 months since this court handed down its judgment and it was time for judgment to be executed.
“It has been somewhat of a trying time for the victim’s family,” he said. “The victim is here today to witness the execution of the judgment.
Murphy quickly summarized the sentence handed down 18 months ago; seven years incarceration on the assault conviction with three years post-release supervision, 15 days in the Saratoga County Jail on the DWAI conviction, 30 days in the same facility on the reckless driving conviction, and a DNA sample.
When asked if he would like to be heard Shechtman declined.
With that Murphy asked that Cole be taken into custody and remanded to the Saratoga County Jail to start serving his time on the two lesser charges. Court officers placed Cole in custody with hand retainers. They allowed him to keep his hands in front of his body rather than behind. Cole exited the court room without looking back.
According to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen Cole will serve six years of his seven-year sentence.
“Assault in the second degree is very serious, it’s a felony,” she said.
Afterward Shapiro said she has started the healing process and was relieved to have the case over. She said it would bring closure to her and her family and that they can get on with their lives. She added that Cole had never expressed remorse and that she wished there had been an apology.
“He never said anything. No apology,” she said in a soft voice. “I never got an apology from Gina (Cole’s wife Regina Cole). That makes me very upset.”
When asked why she thought there had been no apology forthcoming, Shapiro said perhaps it was because Cole fought so hard to prove he was innocent.
“That (the apology) would have messed everything up,” she said.
Shechtman said both he and his client were disappointed the appeals had not gone differently.
“He wants to get this behind him and get back to a family he loves and the business he wants to keep alive. That’s all he’s thinking about,” he said.
Shechtman said it was false for anyone to say that Cole has never expressed remorse for the crash saying his client had gone to the hospital and done other things.
“One of the things that hurts him the most is reading he’s remorseless,” Shechtman said. “That’s not true.”
In his appeal of the conviction to the Appellate Court Shechtman claimed the verdict convicting Cole of the assault charge was against the weight of the evidence presented at trial. On that position the appeals court referred to the jury’s decision and disagreed with Shechtman.
To convict of assault in the second degree the Appellate Court said the people must prove the defendant recklessly caused serious physical injury to another person by means of a dangerous instrument. Assault is acting recklessly, the court said, disregarding unjustifiable risk of harming another person.
Shechtman also claimed the lower court abused its discretion in allowing inquiry into an earlier conviction of Cole’s during the trial. The Appellate Court agreed with him but saw it as a harmless error.
Cole was indicted in 2017 by the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office for being the alcohol impaired driver of a car that drove east to west on Sitterly Road in Halfmoon with three passengers at high speed. The car hit a fire hydrant, failed to make a curve, and hit a tree paralyzing Shapiro who was not wearing a seat belt.
The two couples, Regina and John Cole and Deanna and Scott Shapiro, were friends who had gone out for dinner and drinks. The question as to how much Cole had to drink that night before getting into the 2015 BMW 650i was disputed by Cole’s defense attorney during the trial.
As part of his recent appeal, it was revealed in that decision that Cole failed four sobriety tests after the crash and refused a BAC test.
Deanna Shapiro, who testified at the trial in 2018, was still wondering last week why it was that Cole slammed down the accelerator as he drove up Sitterly Road.
“I’d like to know what set you off; what made you do it knowing we were in the back seat,” she said outside the court building. “I guess it was anger but I don’t know what he was angry about.”