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Former Bridges TV co-worker addresses media

Hassan Shibly, who worked with Aasiya Hassan, discussed his time at Bridges TV and more following the second day of the trial of Muzzammil Hassan:

Voices of Medicaid reform

Several hundred people jammed the auditorium at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Research Studies Center Wednesday for the first of seven hearings across the state designed to gauge public opinion and gather opinions on how to reduce the costs of Medicaid.

The health program now constitutes about 20 percent of the budget for both New York state and Erie County.

The panel heard from dozens of local people who were limited to two minutes. They ranged from Medicaid recipients and providers to heads of powerful health organizations, hospital CEOs, and government officials. All seemed to recognize the need for changes to lower costs. Here are the first 30:

Frederick Cohen:

Casimiro Rodriguez Sr., chairman of the Save Waterfront Coalition:

Dr. Raul Vazquez, Urban Family Care:

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo:

Coordinator of local advisory groups:

Karen Nelson, CEO Planned Parenthood of WNY:

Respiratory exposure consultant:

Chris Voltz, AIDS Community Services:

Howard Hitzel, Psy.D. President, Lake Shore Behavioral Health:

Jim Kaskie, CEO Kaleida Health:

Brenda Ward, commissioner Erie County Department of Senior Services:

Pain management consultant:

Mental health recipient:

Jessica Walker, Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo:

Mike Rogers, self-advocate:

Occupational therapist:

Parent of Medicaid recipient:

Taxed Enough Already:

Independent Living Center:

Laurie Kostrzewski, TEA New York:

Max Donatelli, parent:

Celia Spacone, Buffalo Psychiatric Center:

Hillary Clarke, American Cancer Society:

Brett Lawton, Jericho Road Family Practice:

Michael Gross, CEO of local nonprofit agency:

Philip Andrew, Pinnacle Clinical:

Eva Benedict, CEO at Jones Memorial Wellsville, NY:

Rural safety net provider:

Patricia Bax, RN, MS, Marketing Coordinator for the NYS Smokers' Quitline:

Horizon Health Services:

Betsy T. Wright, WCA Hospital President/CEO WCA Hospital of Jamestown:

Julie Nurse, mother of 11-year-old with autism:

John Bartimole, Western New York Healthcare Association President:

Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Comptroller:

Defense attorney: Hassan has "deep love for his children"

SCHWARTZ

Jeremy Schwartz speaks with reporters this morning. Photo by Derek Gee / Buffalo News

BUFFALO -- Despite all that's happened, Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan still wants contact with his children, defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz told reporters during a midday break on the second day of Hassan's murder trial.

Schwartz responded to questions about Hassan's relationship with his son, Michael Hassan, outside the courtroom after Michael Hassan testified.

"Mo has always expressed a deep love for his children," Schwartz said. "He has attempted to get visits with them through Family Court even after this has happened. That's a strong issue for him."

Schwartz, responding to another question from a reporter, said it was fair to say that his witness questions have centered on whether Hassan's actions throughout his life has been mischaracterized.

"I will say that that's a theme of the trial," Schwartz said.

Listen to Schwartz's comments during the midday break: 



Listen to Schwartz's earlier comments as he spoke with reporters before the second day of the trial began:

 
Get a recap of this morning's testimony here and follow our live blog from inside the courtroom here.

The trial of Muzzammil Hassan: Day 2

BUFFALO -- A lineup of prosecution witnesses testified during the second day of the murder trial of Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan.

Hassan, 46, a former television executive of Bridges TV, is accused of the stabbing and beheading death of his 37-year-old wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan.

The News followed developments in day two of the trial below, including an unusual request by Hassan to cross-examine his daughter and a family babysitter directly. Judge Thomas P. Franczyk denied the request. 

4:49 p.m.: The trial has wrapped up for the day. Testimony is scheduled to continue in the morning.

***

4:38 p.m.: During cross-examination, the Hassan family babysitter, Jennifer Greer, told defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz that it was Aasiya Hassan who told her to stop working for the family in 2008.

"Did she say one of the reasons was because they didn't know what you were telling the children about them?" Schwartz asked Greer.

"She did," Greer replied.

Schwartz also asked questions about whether Greer knew if some of the arguments between Hassan and Aasiya Hassan were over their children -- including whether Aasiya Hassan would take their children out of the country and whether she would try to take the children from him.

Schwartz also asked Greer to clarify that during an incident in which Greer said Hassan drove her off a busy highway that her car was not hit and not damaged. She said that it was not.

During re-direct questioning by the prosecution, Greer said she was told by Aasiya Hassan that her babysitting services were no longer needed a day after she appeared at a child protection services hearing. Hassan, Greer said, saw her and her mother there.

"He came out and pointed to us and told his lawyer, "that's them,'" Greer said.

***

4:27 p.m.: Jennifer Greer, a family babysitter, said Hassan once tried to stop Aasiya Hassan from going to the airport for a trip out of the country by driving his car up next to Greer's and forcing her off the road. 

Greer, during her testimony, said she was driving Aasiya Hassan to the airport when she saw Hassan in her rear-view mirror weaving through traffic on the busy 219.

He then swerved toward Greer's car.

"I put on my brakes very hard, and I ended up stopping halfway in the driving lane and halfway on the shoulder," Greer said.

She added, "traffic was piling up. I could hear screeching tires."

Aasiya Hassan, Greer said, was then afraid to go to the airport because she was concerned Hassan would follow her there. Instead, she asked that Greer take her to Target.

"She asked me to take her there because she wanted somewhere to go where he wouldn't be able to find her," Greer said.

***

4:13 p.m.: The family babysitter, Jennifer Greer, testified that she once saw Hassan dragging Aasiya Hassan across the driveway of their Big Tree Road home.

Greer said she saw Hassan holding his wife under her armpits and grabbing her hair as he dragged her during a fight between the two.

"She was screaming for help," Greer recalled.

Hassan then dragged her behind a car -- where they couldn't be seen from the road -- and "sat on her stomach with all his bodyweight," Greer said. 

***

3:59 p.m.: During cross-examination, Sonia Hassan said she didn't press charges against Hassan during a March 2007 incident because she was afraid her father would seek a court order stating she needed additional supervision.

Sonia Hassan told defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz that a police officer who came to the house told her Hassan planned to seek a "Person in Need of Supervision" order for his daughter if she filed charges against him.

"I felt threatened by it and my step-mom didn't want the order filed," Sonia Hassan said. "So I declined to press charges."

Sonia Hassan and her brother, Michael, testified earlier in the day that Hassan hit her on the back with an open hand in March 2007, setting off a fight between Michael Hassan and his father. During the same fight, both testified, Hassan punched Aasiya Hassan.

Schwartz focused questions on what led to the fight and asked Sonia Hassan whether she had thrown her father's breathing machine and ordered him to the basement.

Sonia Hassan said she didn't recall that, but that it was possible.

Schwartz also asked questions about whether Sonia Hassan knew who had drawn up certain paragraphs in a "memorandum of understanding" between Aasiya Hassan and Hassan. The document spelled out punishments Aasiya Hassan would face if she did not follow certain rules regarding their relationship.

Schwartz closed his cross-examination with questions about whether Aasiya Hassan spoke negatively about Hassan with her step-daughter.

"Did she speak negatively about your father?" Schwartz asked.

"At times," Sonia Hassan replied.

"And you don't like your father?" Schwartz asked.

"Not particularly," Sonia Hassan replied.

Hassan, who earlier requested to cross-examine his daughter, did not speak during his daughter's testimony. 

***

3:17 p.m.: Sonia Hassan testified that her father has repeatedly written letters to her since the night of Aasiya Hassan's death.

In those letters, she said, he has promised "all of his funds and his cars and his various possessions to be released to me if I followed certain conditions."

The conditions, she said, included not speaking ill of her father, Aasiya Hassan or other family members and to visit her father and write him and other family members. Sonia Hassan said she did not reply.

She told prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable that she knew something had gone terribly wrong the night Aasiya Hassan died because the police took her siblings to the police station.

Sonia Hassan said she got a frantic call from her brother, Michael Hassan, at about 6:20 p.m. saying he was outside the Bridges television station and that Aasiya Hassan was still inside.

"I knew that either she was really injured or she was dead," Sonia Hassan said through tears.

Sonia Hassan also testified that she had seen a "memorandum of understanding" between Hassan and Aasiya Hassan in which the two set in writing that Aasiya Hassan would be subjected to punishment if she did not follow certain rules, including not going to authorities or filing for divorce. The punishments included lost time visiting her family in Pakistan.

Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz objected to the admission of the alleged agreement. He contended it was not a certified document. Judge Thomas P. Franczyk overruled the objection and allowed Sonia Hassan to read the "contract" out loud.

Sonia Hassan said she had not spoken to Hassan since Aasiya's death.

***

2:52 p.m.: Sonia Hassan testified that, during one fight between Hassan and Aasiya Hassan, her stepmother's nose was bleeding so badly that Sonia wanted to take her to the hospital.

"She was covered in blood and there was just so much blood," said Sonia Hassan, choking back tears.

Hassan, Sonia Hassan said, was attempting to help stop the bleeding and was telling Aasiya Hassan he was sorry.

"In the same breath, he was saying, 'You deserved it; you shouldn't have said that or done that,''" Sonia Hassan recalled.

Sonia Hassan said she never saw Aasiya Hassan initiate a physical fight with Hassan or injure or threaten him.

***

2:41 p.m.:Sonia Hassan testified that her relationship with her step-mother, Aasiya Hassan, grew over time after she and her brother went to live with Aasiya and Mo Hassan.

At first, Sonia Hassan said, they had a bit of a tense relationship because they didn't know her well, but they grew to think of her as a mother.

"She was still a mom, but she was still a friend," Sonia Hassan said.

Sonia Hassan described her relationship with her father as strained and said it worsened over time. 

"It kind of went from bad to worse," Sonia Hassan said.

She described a 2007 incident in which Hassan "open-hand spiked" her on the back, provoking a fight between Hassan and his son, Michael Hassan. Michael Hassan testified earlier in the day to the same incident.

During the fight, Sonia Hassan said, her father turned to Aasiya Hassan and said of his children: "You turned them again me."

Sonia Hassan said her father then punched Aasiya Hassan in the face.

***

2:20 p.m.: Hassan returned from the lunch break with an unusual request for the judge: He wants to cross-examine his daughter, Sonia, and the family's babysitter when they take the stand.

Judge Thomas P. Franczyk denied the request.

"Why would you want to put your daughter through this, directly from you?" Franczyk asked. 

Franczyk said Hassan was not entitled to a "hybrid" defense in which an attorney only handles part of the trial. 

Hassan, who spoke for the first time during the trial, talked to the judge directly when he made the request.

"Your honor, there's a lot of, a lot of details in this case and an extremely high amount of detail," Hassan told the judge.

He later added: "Your honor, there is a lot of detailed information that at the present time my counsel is not aware of."

Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz, who did not provide a legal basis for the request, added: "Mr. Hassan believes that he has a more intimate personal knowledge to ask these questions." 

Franczyk told Hassan that he had nearly two years to prepare with an attorney for the trial. He also told Hassan that providing a defense is not just about knowledge of the case, but also of legal knowledge of how to proceed at trial.

"It would seem to me that any questions he thinks that you should ask, Mr. Schwartz, he can write down on a piece of paper," Franczyk said.

The daughter, Sonia Hassan, is now on the stand.

***

12:35 p.m.: Judge Thomas P. Franczyk has allowed the jury to take a break for lunch.

***

12:31 p.m.: Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz started his cross examination of Hassan's son, Michael Hassan, with the question: "You don't like your father very much, do you?"

"No sir," Michael Hassan responded.

Schwartz also focused on walks Michael Hassan would take with his father in which Hassan would talk about the arguments between Hassan and Aasiya Hassan.

Michael Hassan testified he once received a book from Hassan with passages highlighted about verbal abuse.

"Did he express to you that Aasiya verbally abused him?" Schwartz asked.

"Yes," Michael Hassan replied.

Schwartz also asked if Aasiya "likened" Michael's behavior to his father's as an insult. Michael Hassan said it happened on only one occasion that he could remember. 

"Your father likes to talk a lot, doesn't he?" Schwartz later asked.

"Yes," Michael Hassan said.

"He likes to talk about his feelings, right?" Schwartz asked.

"Yes," Michael Hassan said.

"He likes to talk about the things that are bothering him, right?" Schwartz asked. 

"Yes," Michael Hassan said. The son testified that he often didn't agree with his father's viewpoints during those talks.

Schwartz also clarified that Michael Hassan was 15, not 13, when an incident occurred in which he got in a physical fight with Hassan. During that fight, Michael Hassan said, his father hit him and scarred his nose. The fight occurred, Michael Hassan said earlier, after his father took a "swipe" at his older sister.

Schwartz asked Michael Hassan to clarify that it was a "swipe" not a "punch or a kick." 

***

12:01 p.m.: Hassan's son, Michael Hassan, testified that he was "very scared and very nervous" as he waited for his step-mother outside the Bridges television station on the night of her death.

"I'm beginning to fear for Aasiya," Michael Hassan recalled.

In the moments leading up to her death, he said, Aasiya Hassan stopped at the television station to drop off a bag of clean clothes for Hassan.

The offices, he said, "looked deserted." Hassan's Mercedes, he said, was no where in sight.

As Michael Hassan and Aasiya's two children waited in a minivan outside, he heard a loud screech, but thought it was a car on the road. He looked up from a game he was playing on his cell phone, but saw nothing. 

A few minutes later, Michael Hassan said, he saw two lights go on and off and saw Hassan emerge from the building. 

"I'm very scared and very nervous," Michael Hassan recalled. 

Hassan then drove up, handed Michael Hassan an M&T envelop with cash and left. 

Michael Hassan said he grew worried and tried to call his step-mother. He then tried to get into the Bridges television station offices, but the door was locked. He peered into two windows, he said, but it was dark. His younger brother and sister, Aasiya's children, sat in car seats in the back of the minivan.

When the police arrived, he said, he knew something had gone terribly wrong. 

"I'm assuming at that point that Aasiya had been killed," Michael Hassan said. 

Michael Hassan, now 19, said he no longer talks to his father. 

"I don't want to talk to him," Michael Hassan said. "I don't want to have anything to do with him."

***

11:37 a.m.: Michael Hassan, Hassan's son, testified that his father punched him in the face and scarred his nose when he was 13 during an incident in which Hassan also took a swing at his older sister and hit Aasiya Hassan.

Michael is now testifying to a string of incidents in which he said Hassan hit Aasiya Hassan, barred doors to their home so she couldn't leave or pinned her down.

On one occasion, in spring 2008, he saw Hassan -- then about 300 pounds -- kneeling on top of Aasiya Hassan during an argument.

"She was pushing and pulling and trying to get him off of her," Michael Hassan said. "… She was physically distressed. I believe she was having trouble breathing."

Another time, Michael Hassan testified, his mother was bleeding profusely after a fight with Hassan.

"We went through an entire roll of toilet paper trying to stop the bleeding," Michael Hassan said.

The son said he heard his father coming up with a scenario to explain Aasiya's injury -- having him say, "It was a bike accident; that she fell off a bike."

***

11:28 a.m.: Hassan's son, Michael Hassan, testified that he moved into Hassan's Big Tree Road home with Hassan and his step-mother, Aasiya Hassan, in 2004 because of Hassan's continual lecturing.

Michael Hassan said his father lectured him every day and drew up charts comparing school systems to persuade the two children not to move out of state with their biological mother.

"It wasn't like a one-day thing," said Michael Hassan, who is the son of Hassan and Hassan's first wife. "He would do it pretty much every day for the entire summer while we were there."

Hassan eventually obtained a court order to get the children to move to Orchard Park with him and Aasiya Hassan.

Hassan and Aasiya had married in 2000 and had two other children together. 

***

10:55 a.m.:Under cross examination, Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz focused on whether it is ever a crime to damage one's own property -- whether in a domestic situation or not.

Lt. Joseph Rizzo had previously testified that he was called to Hassan's home and saw a broken window and a bloody Hassan on Feb. 6 during a domestic disturbance. He did not charge Hassan. 

Rizzo said at that time -- Feb. 6, 2009, -- it was not a crime, but the law has since been changed to allow someone to be charged with damaging his or her own property during a domestic violence situation.

Rizzo said he did not charge Hassan during the Feb. 6 call because it was not a crime at the time.

"The bottom is, you found no evidence of a crime and did not charge a crime, correct?" Schwartz asked.

"Correct," Rizzo replied.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable later clarified that the law changed since the Feb. 2009 incident.

"It is your understanding that the law has since changed, correct?" Curtin Gable said.

"Correct," Rizzo replied.

***

10:44 a.m.: Orchard Park Lt. Joseph Rizzo testified that he was called to the Hassan's Big Tree Road home the night of Feb. 6 because of a domestic disturbance.

The call was several hours after Hassan had been served with divorce papers.

When Rizzo arrived, he said, he saw Hassan outside the home bleeding and with blood-soaked clothes. He also saw a broken pane of glass on the door of the home.

Rizzo told prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable that he placed Hassan in the back of his police car, but did not arrest him because it was not a crime to damage one's own property.

Rizzo also said he served Hassan with an order or protection issued by the court in conjunction with the divorce proceedings. The order or protection barred Hassan from going near his children. It also ordered him to stay away from Aasiya Hassan outside of normal business hours. 

Rizzo is now testifying about what he saw on the night of Aasiya Hassan's death on Feb. 12.

He testified that Lt. Joseph Buccilli told him at about 6:20 p.m. that Hassan "has just came in and confessed to killing his wife." 

***

10:31 a.m.: Thomas Dunning, an administrative employee at Hogan Willig Attorneys at Law, testified that he served divorce papers on Hassan at the Bridges television station Feb. 6.

Dunning said Hassan had little reaction when the papers were served.

"He wasn't irate with you or anything like that?" Defense attorney Joseph Schwartz asked during cross examination. 

"No," Dunning replied.

Dunning was the first witness called by the prosecution today.

***

10:15 a.m.:Jeremy Schwartz, defense attorney for Hassan, told reporters this morning that he expects testimony today to be similar to what was shown to the jurors on Tuesday.

"There really weren't very many surprises," Schwartz said of the first day of trial. "We've had a lot of months to go over what the prosecution's case is going to be. They proceeded with some witnesses. A lot of it was scientific and some police witnesses that discussed what they found at the scene. The autopsy was done yesterday, and I expect more of the same today."

Read News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan's account of the first day of the trial in "Prosecutor details vicious slaying as Hassan trial opens."

See The News' entire coverage of the Hassan case here

The trial of Muzzammil Hassan

BUFFALO -- The murder trial of Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan is underway in Erie County Court.

Hassan, 46, is charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing and beheading death of his wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan.

6 p.m.: A video and audio feed of the trial's opening statements was allowed in the courtroom by Judge Thomas P. Franczyk.

Listen to prosecutor Paul Bonanno's opening statement: 

Listen to defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz's opening statement:

5:15 p.m.: The trial has adjourned for the day. Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz told reporters outside the courtroom that there were "no surprises" during the first day of the trial.

5:09 p.m.: Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz, during his cross examination of forensic pathologist Mark LeVaughn, focused on whether LeVaughn could know with certainty whether Aasiya Hassan was conscious or not when she was beheaded.

"I think the majority of this injury timeframe was taken up by the actual beheading," LeVaughn said.

"But again, that's only possible, you don't know that for sure?' Schwartz asked. 

"Well, yes, that's possible, that's my opinion," LeVaughn replied.  

Schwartz also focused on whether LeVaughn could know for certain whether the wounds were caused by someone standing in front or behind Aasiya Hassan and whether he could determine which stab wound caused her death.

Schwartz also asked LeVaughn whether he noticed dark circles under the eyes of Aasiya Hassan.

LeVaughn said he did not note that in his autopsy report. 

4:52 p.m.: Dr. Mark LeVaughn, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on the body of Aasiya Hassan, testified that she could have been conscious when the beheading started.

He based that opinion, he told Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable, on the fact that prosecutors have said the entire attack took about 47 seconds.

"That's pretty fast," LeVaughn said. "And in my opinion, I believe that she could have been conscious at the time of the initiation of the beheading."

Aasiya Hassan's body had more than 60 wounds on it, LeVaughn said.

4:23 p.m.: Hassan has sat quietly throughout the proceedings, occasionally speaking with his attorneys.

He has shown little reaction during the detailed -- and sometimes gruesome -- descriptions of the stab wounds on Aasiya Hassan's body.

Mark LeVaughn, a forensic pathologist, testified that there were dozens of stab wounds on her body, including "multiple jagged-edge cut wounds."

4 p.m.: Dr. Mark LeVaughn, a forensic pathologist, is now testifying that he performed an autopsy on the body of Aasiya Hassan on Feb. 13.

LeVaughn said his initial observation was that she was "beheaded and had multiple stab wounds."

He noted that Aasiya Hassan's camisole underneath her clothes had multiple cuts and appeared soaked in blood. Other clothes, including a Gap sweatshirt and a purple jacket, were also covered in blood and had cut marks.

LeVaughn is now meticulously describing at length the size and depth of the wounds found on Aasiya Hassan's body. During the description, Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable has shown an up-close photograph of Aasiya Hassan's body to the jurors.

3:30 p.m.:Prosecutor Paul Bonanno has shown the jurors two hunting knives found at the scene that appear to have remnants of red stains on them.

Both knives, Mazur said, were kept in a secure location and later sent for DNA analysis at the lab.

Mazur has also unfolded a blue, button-down shirt collected from the garbage can that also has remnants of red stains on it.

Schwartz did not ask any questions of Mazur under cross examination.

3:02 p.m.: Paul Mazur, assistant laboratory director of the Erie County Central Police Services forensic lab, testified that he went to the Bridges television studio and office with detectives from Orchard Park at about 10 p.m. Feb. 12.

Mazur told Prosecutor Paul Bonanno that he collected items from the scene, including two knives and a shirt. The knives, he said, were found in a "washtub-type basin sink" in a bathroom. The shirt was found in a garbage can.

One of the knives, Mazur said, had what appeared to be hair on it and a red stain. Mazur said the shirt had "blood spatter" on the front. 

2:50 p.m.: Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz has cross-examined Lt. Joseph Buccilli. He focused on the fact that Hassan cooperated with police and even found the key to the Bridges television station for detectives. 

"In fact, he obeyed all of your commands, correct?" Schwartz asked.

"Yes," Buccilli said.

2:46 p.m.: Lt. Joseph Buccilli testified that three of Hassan's children, ages 17, 6 and 4, were waiting in a minivan outside the building when detectives arrived. They were taken to the Orchard Park police station. 

Buccilli, who said he took Hassan to an interrogation room at the police station, described Hassan has "cool, calm and collected" as he interacted with police after the death.

2:32 p.m.: Lt. Joseph Buccilli testified that he went to the Thorn Avenue Bridges television offices.

After entering the dark building, Buccilli said, he and other detectives found Aasiya Hassan's decapitated body about 10 to 12 feet inside the hallway.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable is now showing jurors photographs of the detectives arriving at the station taken from security video from inside and outside of the building. Some of the photographs included images of Aasiya Hassan's body.

2:15 p.m. The trial has resumed. Prosecutors have called Orchard Park Police Lt. Joseph Buccilli to the stand.

Buccilli testified that when Hassan came to the police station on Feb. 12 he had a "red blotch" on his pant's pocket and his hands and forearms "appeared to have a reddish tint to them."

Buccilli said Hassan told him "She's gone. There's no doubt about it."

One witness testified before the break. Denise Scutt, dispatcher for Orchard Park Police, testified that Hassan came into the station about 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 and asked to speak privately with an officer.

1:10 p.m.: Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz told reporters during the break that the judge excused three people who were serving as jurors or alternate jurors during the weekend for personal reasons. There is now one alternate and 12 jurors. 

1 p.m.: The trial has taken a break for lunch.

12:30 p.m.: Defense attorney Schwartz has ended his opening remarks. The judge has given the jurors a six-minute break.

During the opening statements, Hassan, wearing a dark suit and a red tie, sat quietly at the table next to one of his attorneys.

12:27 p.m.: Defense attorney Schwartz said prosecutors would not be able to prove that Hassan was not justified in his actions given what had happened.

"They will not be able to tell you that his fear was unreasonable beyond a reasonable doubt," Schwartz said.

"There are only two people that know for sure what happened in this relationship," Schwartz said. "Only two people know for sure what happened in the Bridge's TV station that evening."

Was the killing, Schwartz asked the jurors to consider, "reasonable given what he knew about her and what had happened earlier?"

12:23 p.m.:  Defense attorney Schwartz said Hassan bought the knives from Walmart out of fear for his life.

He said Hassan was "unleashing emotions from almost a decade" and that he was in "fear of what was going on."

"When it was over, Mo was in shock," Schwartz said. "He never tried to escape. He never tried to get away with it."

12:19 p.m.: Defense attorney Schwartz said Aasiya "threatened to kill Mo Hassan."

"She threatened to poison him," Schwartz said. "She threatened him at knife point on more than one occasion."

Schwartz said it was Hassan who sought professional help and help from friends to work out their marriage.

"This is a man who's been divorced twice before and there was no sign of this ever happening," Schwartz said. 

12:10 p.m.: Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz started his opening remarks with the statement: "Mo Hassan killed his wife, but he is not guilty of murder in the second degree."

He said the marriage of Aasiya and Mo Hassan was a "sad, unhealthy relationship" and that "it ended with Mo Hassan in fear of his life."

"There are two sides to this story," Schwartz said.

12:05 p.m.: Prosecutor Bonanno told jurors they will see video from the Bridges television station that shows Hassan entering the building.

"You will be able to see it was dark and that there were only two people in the hallway," Bonanno said.

He said they will also hear DNA evidence that shows the "defendant literally had Aasiya's blood on his hands."

11:59 a.m.: Prosecutor Bonanno told jurors that Hassan bought two hunting knives at Walmart in Hamburg the day of Aasiya Hassan's death.

Bonanno plans to present video from the store during the trial.

"His purchase was recorded on the store video," Bonanno said. "You will see the video. You will see the defendant carefully examining the knives, testing their sharpness on a cardboard box and then calmly and deliberately buying them."

11:55 a.m.: Prosecutor Paul E. Bonanno told jurors that Hassan's children, Michael and Sonia, will testify that Hassan subjected Aasiya Hassan to abuse during their marriage.

11:53 a.m.: Bonanno said Hassan met her inside the television station with two hunting knives he had bought an hour earlier.

"Before Aasiya could even turn on a light, before Aasiya could have even known he was there, he attacked her from behind," Bonanno said.

Bonanno, during the opening statement, told jurors that the "motive is clear."

"The defendant viciously killed Aasiya and desecrated her body because six days earlier, she had dared to seek a divorce," Bonanno said. 

11:50 a.m.: Prosecutor Paul E. Bonanno has started his opening statement with the stark details of the final moments of Aasiya Hassan's life. 

She was driving, he said, to the Bridges television station with clean clothes to drop off for Hassan. She left her children waiting in the minivan outside, Bonanno said. 

"It was the last time the children saw her alive," Bonanno said. 

11:39 a.m.: Franczyk has advised the jurors that the courtroom proceedings will differ greatly from courtroom television dramas.

"That's show biz, that's drama, but that's not evidence," Franczyk told the jurors during lengthy instructions.

He has also asked the jurors not to discuss the case with others, including friends and family, and has asked them not to discuss the case with each other before he gives them the "green light."

He also instructed jurors not to visit or to go to any location discussed in the testimony or to look them up on Google Maps or other satellite software. He has advised them to avoid any press accounts of the case.

"I promise you that everything that you need to decide this case, in terms of fact and law, will be provided to you in the courtroom," Franczyk said.

11:30 a.m.: There are two flat-screen televisions in the courtroom. Franczyk has told the jurors that exhibits could include photographs, diagrams, documents and videos.  

11:26 a.m.: Franczyk is instructing the jurors and has questioned them if they have been exposed to any press accounts of the trial since they were sworn in. No juror responded that he or she had. The judge has also advised the jurors not to take notes during the trial.

11:25 a.m.: The jurors are entering the courtroom. 

10:50 a.m.: The judge is now instructing jurors outside the courtroom, which is expected to take about 15 minutes.

10:45 a.m.: Franczyk has ruled that a video camera will be allowed in the courtroom during opening statements despite opposition by the District Attorney's Office.

Franczyk said he allowed the camera because the defense had given "unequivocal consent" to recording the opening statements. Franczyk has also allowed members of the press to transmit text messages and use laptops from inside the courtroom.  

He has reserved judgement on whether he will allow cameras in the courtroom for the verdict.

10:30 a.m. The Erie County Court room is packed with members of the press, law students and other spectators.

No members of Hassan's immediate family appear to be in the courtroom.

Hassan has been jailed since Feb. 2009, when he turned himself into police. 

The body of his wife, Aasiya, 37, was found stabbed and beheaded in their Orchard Park television studio. 

Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk swore in the last six members of the 12-member jury on Friday. The jury includes eight men and four women. There are also four alternates.

See The News' complete coverage of the Hassan case here.

Buffalo Tracks -- Jan. 14

In a world where things are a Google search away, people and places with local ties pop up on many corners of the Internet.

People who used to live in the Buffalo area, as well as others who still call this place home, have a habit of making news elsewhere.

On an occasional basis, Buffalo News Live will highlight these Buffalonians, whether they're gone or they're still here. Here's the latest edition of Buffalo Tracks:

Www.mercurynews
A Buffalo native has become one of Silicon Valley's most influential figures, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Dan'l Lewin is a former Apple executive who works for Microsoft.

Newsobserver
A soldier from Buffalo heading home for the holidays was interviewed for a story in the News & Observer. Pfc. Alex Coles was in Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is slated to get a new USO center.

The Middletown Press, local news, sports and weather serving Middletown, CT
A former Buffalo TV man is losing his job as a weatherman in Connecticut, and that's riled up some viewers, according to The Middletown Press. There's even a Facebook page seeking to keep Geoff Fox on WTNH.

Logo
A Buffalo woman was pictured on a Boulder, Colo., website as she headed out to snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park. A photo of Anu Godishala accompanied a piece listing outdoor activities in the snow on ColoradoDaily.com.

The Laurel Outlook
A man who grew up in Niagara Falls is retiring from a federal post in a Montana. Dick Kodeski has been monument manager at Pompeys Pillar National Monument, according to the Laurel Outlook.

You can check out previous editions of Buffalo Tracks here.

If you know of former Western New Yorkers making news elsewhere, send me an e-mail at abesecker@buffnews.com.

--Aaron Besecker

Follow me on Twitter.

Video: Master chefs teach Western New York students

ANGOLA -- Culinary students and instructors from around Western New York are learning today from some of the best.

Two chefs who studied and taught at the Culinary Institute of America have come to the Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Board of Cooperative Educational Services Lake Shore/Carrier Career and Technical Academy.

Students from other BOCES centers in East Aurora, Fredonia and Jamestown, as well as Lake Shore, along with instructors from Orleans-Niagara BOCES, are participating in a program dubbed "Teaching with the CIA."

The master chefs are James Heywood and Arnym Solomon. Heywood, who is known for his award-winning chili, was named the Culinary Institute of America's first heritage professor and has been a chef at hotels in Crawford Notch, N.H., and Boston. Solomon is a member of the Distinguished Alumni of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and has been an executive for the operators of national restaurant chains like Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

Check back for video from today's lessons.

--Aaron Besecker

Video: Students square off at Tech Wars

LEWISTON -- More than 700 students from 28 school districts battled it out in science and technology today at Niagara County Community College.

The college's annual Tech Wars competition gives high school and middle school students a chance to go head-to-head in 24 different events -- from constructing windmills to CO2 car racing.

"If you take a look around and see the competitors here, they're all having a great time, and that's what it's all about," said Mark Voisinet, who helped found the 14-year-old competition. "To show students that there are great-paying, rewarding career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

See the competition in action -- including a Sumo-style robotics battle -- in this video:


--Denise Jewell Gee

Holiday Valley to expand off-season attractions

ELLICOTTVILLE -- Holiday Valley plans to add new two attractions designed to expand the ski resort's summer business.

The company announced this week it plans to build a "mountain coaster" and an aerial adventure park in a wooded area of the Ellicottville resort.

"Plans for increasing our summer business have been going on for quite a while," said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley marketing director.

Construction on the mountain coaster is expected to start in the spring and wrap up this summer. Eshbaugh said the attraction will be similar to a roller coaster, but riders will be able to control their speed with hand brakes in each car. The rail will zig zag and spiral on a downward path.

The coaster, which will be built next to the resort's Spruce Line slope, will operate throughout the year. Wiegand Sports of Utah will design and construct the attraction.

Holiday Valley officials also expect to begin construction this winter on an aerial adventure course that will operate in the spring, summer and fall when the ski slopes are closed.

The aerial park, which will be built by Outdoor Ventures Group of Southport, Conn., will have roughly 170 wooden platforms built into trees in a 4-acre section of the resort. Logs, rope bridges and zip lines will connect the platforms to create different levels of challenge courses.

Eshbaugh said she could not yet provide the cost of constructing both attractions because contracts have not yet been finalized.

Holiday Valley, which has 58 ski slopes, operates a golf course and swimming pool in the summer months.

"Since the beginning, we have been trying to incorporate summer activities," Eshbaugh said.

The course will be modeled after a similar aerial park built at Sandy Spring near Washington, D.C., Eshbaugh said. Holiday Valley officials expect to open the aeriel park in June. 

See the Sandy Spring course in this video:

--Denise Jewell Gee

Video: Raising hellbenders to slow salamander's decline

BUFFALO -- More than 500 growing salamanders will debut Wednesday at the Buffalo Zoo.

The zoo is raising the eastern hellbenders as part of a statewide effort to stave off declines in their populations in New York waterways.

"The hellbender recovery team was formed to kind of get ahead of labeling the hellbender as endangered," Penny Danielewicz, collections manager of reptiles and amphibians for the  Buffalo Zoo. "We are working to see if we can use this headstart project as a tool in hellbender conservation."

Members of of the team collected more than 700 hellbender eggs from southern New York in the fall of 2009 with the aim of raising them in captivity until they are large enough to better survive in the wild. The team hopes to release most of the hellbenders in 2013.

The zoo will put hellbender headstart project on view starting Wednesday, and will give a special presentation on the salamander during its "Warm Up With the Cold-Blooded" event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Get a peek at the lab and hear more about the project in this video: 

--Denise Jewell Gee

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