Peter Braunstein, the man who posed as a firefighter to gain entry into his coworker's apartment and then sexually assaulted her for hours, was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison Monday afternoon.
In his ruling, Judge Thomas Farber said Braunstein was consumed with a narcissistic rage and his attack on a former co-worker was intentional in every sense. But the judge also said he believes Braunstein is mentally ill, and that is why he wasn't imposing the maximum 25 to life as prosecutor Maxine Rosenthal requested.
The assistant district attorney had told the judge Braunstein turned his victim's world upside down and blames everyone but himself for what happened. She said the issue is not mental illness, but rather the public's right to be protected from an angry and dangerous man.
Defense Attorney Robert Gottlieb said the judge struck a fair balance.
"He is to be commended for his strength in putting this entire case in perspective. You don't always see that," said Gottlieb.
Braunstein made a rambling statement to the court before sentencing. In an attempt to explain what he did he said:
"I can go and have a psychotic break. You can feel you have nothing to live for and severe depression. Either way it's much more complicated. And I was just surprised when the jury debated for only three hours."
As for his month and a half on the run after the attack, Braunstein said "my quest was suicide-based. I just thought I'd see America and then die. You know, have the cops shoot me to death."
While prosecutors had been asking for the maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison, both Braunstein and his attorneys had asked for leniency to allow Braunstein to be treated for mental illness.
"What he did he simply today really can't understand,” said Braunstein’s lawyer Robert Gottlieb. “So while he went through all of these steps and making purchases of firefighting gear and chloroform, once he got into the apartment he didn't know why he was there or what he was going to do."
Braunstein's parents had also pleaded for leniency in a letter to the judge. Outside court Monday, Alberto Braunstein said his son is mentally ill and should be in a psychiatric hospital, not a state prison.
“Here we are throwing him to wolves. His life is gone already. He has suffered enough. Two years in a cage at Rikers. Criminal record, no future,” he said. “Don't you think that's enough suffering?”
Judge Farber said no sentence can undo the victim's pain and terror, but added that the sentence he gave Braunstein is essentially a life sentence.
The victim, who testified against Braunstein, was not in the courtroom for the sentencing. The prosecutor said she didn't want to re-live the details of that night in public again.
On October 31st of 2005 Braunstein dressed as a firefighter, set fires in the hallway outside the former co-worker's apartment and then talked his way inside. Over the next 13 hours Braunstein put a chloroform-soaked rag over her nose and mouth, tied her up, sexually assaulted her and videotaped the attack.
Last month, a jury found Braunstein guilty of sexual abuse, robbery, kidnapping, and burglary.
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