A Medford man convicted of shining a powerful green laser in the cockpit of a state police helicopter from his apartment window was given a new trial.
Prosecutors against Gerard Sasso proved he shined laser from the triple-decker at 590 Main St. inside a police helicopter's cockpit in 2007 as it escorted a tanker up the Mystic River, according to an appeals court judge, but the jury wasn't properly instructed on how to consider one of the charges against him.
Sasso was awarded a new trial in a written ruling entered in federal Appeals Court by its circuit judges earlier this month.
In 2010, he was convicted of interfering with the operation of an aircraft with reckless disregard for human life and making false statements; in 2011, he was handed a 36-month prison sentence by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro.
But according to the appeals court, Tauro's instruction to the jury on the charge of interfering with reckless disregard for human life was not clear enough.
His instruction did not specify that the prosecution had to prove that Sasso knew his actions would interfere with the operation of the helicopter, according to the ruling.
"The instruction did not adequately distinguish between negligently (but
innocently) pointing a laser at objects in the sky without any intent to interfere with the operation of an aircraft and 'willfully . . . interfer[ing],'" the appeals court ruling said. It later said the "instruction given strayed from an even-handed statement of the applicable law."
The decision was entered Sept. 18. Sasso was ordered released from federal prison pending a new trial on Monday. No new trial date has been set.
Background (the following comes from a report on Medford Patch from January 11, 2011):
Laser was "unlike anything" State Troopers had seen before
On Dec. 8, 2007, State police Sergeant Timothy Riley and Trooper Michael Basteri manned a helicopter escorting a tanker ship carrying gas through Boston Harbor to Destrigas, a gas company in Everett.
Shortly after the chopper passed over the Tobin Bridge along the Mystic River, Basteri noticed a powerful green beam moving across the water toward the helicopter, according to an affidavit written by Michael Ryan, Transportation Security Administration investigator.
Riley, who was piloting the aircraft, tried to avoid the beam, but couldn’t. An over-powering green light illuminated the inside of the helicopter.
"When the laser beam reached the helicopter it immediately filled the cockpit with an intense bright green light unlike anything either man had experienced before," Ryan wrote.
Riley abandoned protecting the tanker and veered the chopper toward shore to find the source of the laser, which continued to periodically shine inside the helicopter in 3 to 5 second increments, according to the affidavit.
Riley eventually spotted the source of the laser - a third floor window of a triple-decker near the Medford/Somerville line.
Police scoured the area and eventually located Sasso, after several neighbors said they saw a green laser beam shined from his apartment window illuminate the intersection of Edward and Leyden Street on Dec. 7, according to the affidavit.
Laser Spotted on Nightstand
When confronted by Medford Police Officer Jack Buckley at his studio apartment, Sasso initially denied owning anything more than a small key-chain laser pointer. But that was quickly proven to be untrue.
Buckley spotted a large laser sitting on the nightstand. Sasso became flustered, and tried to explain, but broke down, and admitted to shining the beam at the helicopter. He led police to the baseboard heater of his apartment, where he hid the green laser.
The laser had a power output of 240 milliwatts, strong enough to blind someone from up to a kilometer away.
Police recovered a total of 11 lasers of varying powers in Sasso's apartment, which was also full of memorabilia related to the President of the United States, the FBI and the CIA, according to the affidavit.