Rigger in NYC crane collapse that killed 7 declines jury trial in manslaughter case

NEW YORK (AP) — A jury won't get to decide the manslaughter case surrounding a construction crane collapse that killed seven people, one of the nation's deadliest crane accidents.

Crane rigging contractor William Rapetti decided to have the case heard by a judge, defense lawyer Arthur Aidala said Wednesday.

"This is Mr. Rapetti's decision, after long and hard deliberations about it, after going over the pros and cons," Aidala said by telephone.

He declined to discuss Rapetti's reasoning or the advantages and disadvantages he had weighed. The trial is poised to start next week.

Prosecutors say Rapetti, 49, did a poor job of securing a 200-foot-tall crane that collapsed while it was being extended upward in midtown Manhattan in March 2008.

The 150-ton crane toppled onto a residential block near the United Nations, pulverizing a brownstone and scattering pieces of the crane as far as a block away. Six construction workers and a woman visiting New York for the weekend were killed; two dozen other people were hurt.

Aidala said Rapetti was careful and followed common industry procedures. He's challenging investigators' findings that pegged the collapse on the failure of some polyester straps Rapetti used.

"He's very confident that when all the evidence comes out he will be exonerated," Aidala said Wednesday.

Courts in many jurisdictions let criminal defendants waive their rights to jury trials and have judges render verdicts instead, in some circumstances. New York state law allowed Rapetti to do so.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment on Rapetti's decision.

Defendants sometimes prefer to have judges decide complex and technical cases on the theory that a judge may understand knotty legal issues better than jurors would. Defendants sometimes also forgo juries because they believe a judge might be more likely than jurors to put aside sympathy for victims when weighing cases.

Aidala had asked Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Roger Hayes on Tuesday to keep out of the trial a tape of a 911 call made by a man who was trapped under rubble for about four hours in the collapse. The man, John Gallego, was rescued and survived.

Aidala argued the tape was "really only there to incite sympathy and maybe even horror in the jurors." He rescinded his objection to the tape Wednesday.