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Jury rejects mental illness defense in case of fake firefighter

A jury could believe that a man who had impersonated a firefighter to attack and sexually abuse a woman in her home had bet to mentally ill to be held responsible.

The Manhattan jury took less than four hours Wednesday to reject that defense from Peter Braunstein, convicting him on charges stemming from the October 2005 assault. Prosecutors said Braunstein drugged the victim, tied her to a bed and stripped her naked, holding her hostage in her apartment for 13 hours.

The 43-year-old defendant greeted the verdict with the same blank expression that he wore throughout the trial.

Braunstein, convicted of kidnapping, burglary, sex abuse and robbery charges, faces 25 years to life in prison at his June 18 sentencing.

His lawyers never disputed that he carried out the attack, but they claimed he was mentally ill and therefore unable to form the intent to commit the attack.

"Peter Braunstein is mentally ill, and the fact that he was convicted doesn't change that," defense attorney Robert C. Gottlieb said.

Assistant District Attorney Maxine Rosenthal disputed that claim.

"He meticulously planned and executed this case down to the last detail," she told the jury.

During the Halloween 2005 attack, Braunstein set off smoke bombs outside the victim's apartment, then posed as a firefighter attempting to rescue her.

The victim testified that Braunstein drugged her before dressing her in stiletto heels, groping her and videotaping the assault.

One of Braunstein's ex-girlfriends, Jane Larkworthy, tearfully testified about his cruel treatment following their break-up, which included posting her nude photos and contact information on the Internet.

Braunstein was not tried for his treatment of Larkworthy, but prosecutors said their relationship foreshadowed his twisted treatment of the Halloween victim.

Before being fired, Braunstein was a reporter at Fairchild Publications, parent of Women's Wear Daily and W magazine. His victim worked there too, but they barely knew each other.

Braunstein became the city's most-wanted man after the attack, fleeing Manhattan for Tennessee and Ohio. He passed himself off as a Hurricane Katrina victim while in Memphis, posing as a New Orleans man whose name he found on the Internet.

In one of his many rambling journal entries, he mused about that deception and imagined sending Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, to a hell guarded by rats.

He expressed his fascination with the extensive media coverage of him as a fugitive, including front-page tabloid stories and his appearance on "America's Most Wanted."

Braunstein was captured by police Dec. 16, 2005, at the University of Memphis. He stabbed himself in the neck several times in an apparent suicide attempt as officers approached and arrested him.

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