Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Cooney Turns Down Plea Offer

Philip Cooney (MSB ’10), who was charged late last month with the assault of another Georgetown student, rejected a plea offer Friday morning at his status conference at D.C. Superior Court, pleading not guilty.

Channing Phillips, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said that a second status conference was scheduled for the morning of Nov. 9, when a trial date may be set. Cooney was charged with a simple assault charge with a hate/bias specification for an alleged hate crime on Sept. 9.

Dan Onorato, Cooney’s attorney, said that the U.S. Attorney’s office presented Cooney with a plea offer of simple assault without a hate/bias specification, an agreement not to oppose probation and a condition that would erase the charge from his record after successful completion of probation. Cooney rejected the offer, pleading not guilty.

If convicted, Cooney would face a maximum 270 days in jail, probation and a $1,500 fine for a simple assault charge with a hate/bias specification.

Onorato said that the prosecution was directed by the D.C. Superior Court to provide further evidence upholding the validity of Cooney’s identification process before the second status conference. Cooney was initially identified by the victim through Facebook.

The arrest warrant affidavit said that the victim of the alleged assault, a Georgetown student who wished to remain anonymous, was walking on O Street on the early morning of Sept. 9 when he was approached by two men who began yelling homophobic slurs at him. One assailant allegedly proceeded to tackle him from behind and punch him around the head. According to the affidavit, the two assailants fled the scene, and the victim was transported to Georgetown University Hospital for treatment of minor bruising and cuts.

Onorato said that during the first status conference the court was skeptical of the identification process that was used by the etropolitan Police Department to identify and charge Cooney.

According to the affidavit, a friend of the victim saw a classmate matching one of the suspect’s physical descriptions talking about the incident during a class. The friend took note of his monogrammed backpack initials, and the victim proceeded to search through Facebook, which led to the discovery of Cooney’s profile. The victim, who said in the MPD incident report that he made a point to remember the face of his assailant, identified Cooney to MPD. MPD then received a photo of Cooney from the university and created a spread of nine photos, from which the victim identified Cooney as his assailant.

Brett Parson, a lieutenant in the MPD special liaison unit who oversaw the investigation, said that, although Facebook identification is unusual, the supplemental identification that was made using a standard nine-photo spread helped reinforce its validity.

“I anticipated that a defense attorney would claim the original ID to be weak, so I had my investigator do an additional nine-photo spread ID, using a different photo of Cooney, even though the U.S. Attorney’s Office was satisfied with the first ID,” Parson said.

Onorato said that both he and MPD’s detectives interviewed the friend of Cooney whose discussion of the incident in class was allegedly overheard by the victim’s friend. Cooney’s friend, according to Onorato, denied speaking of the incident or having any prior knowledge of it. Onorato said that this significantly undermines the prosecution’s case. Parson declined to comment on the interview with the victim’s friend.*

“This is perhaps one of the most unreliable IDs that I have ever seen or heard of,” Onorato said.

Onorato added that Cooney successfully passed a polygraph test that was conducted by a retired polygraph expert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The results have not been presented in court, although Onorato said the prosecution has been made aware of them.

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