- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — A former fashion writer who sexually tortured a co-worker after dressing as a firefighter and bluffing his way into her apartment was sentenced yesterday to 20 years to life in prison.

Peter Braunstein, 43, was convicted of kidnapping, robbing and molesting his victim on Halloween 2005.

Jurors heard lurid testimony, including Braunstein’s musings about sending Vogue editor Anna Wintour to a hell guarded by rats. They also heard excerpts from Braunstein’s journals, in which he described posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim to get free meals as he wandered around Tennessee.

“I think the sentence was very harsh. It was like he killed somebody,” Braunstein’s father, Alberto Braunstein, said after the sentencing.

But defense attorney Robert Gottlieb said: “The judge is to be commended for not bowing to the screaming tabloid headlines.” He noted that state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber could have imposed the maximum sentence of 25 years to life, but didn’t.

Last week, in a nine-page letter sent to the judge asking for leniency, Braunstein described planning the crime — conceding a key prosecution point — while arguing that he was mentally ill.

“In fact, I did plan the crime,” Braunstein wrote Judge Farber in the letter. “The madness resides in the fact that I had no motive or intent. Thus, once I attacked the victim, I had no idea why I was there, or what to do.”

Mr. Gottlieb argued during the trial that Braunstein was so mentally ill that he was incapable of forming the intent to commit the crime and therefore should not be held criminally responsible.

But a jury took less than four hours on May 23 to reject the argument that Braunstein’s brain “broke,” as Mr. Gottlieb put it.

Dressed as a firefighter, Braunstein set fires in the hallway outside his victim’s Manhattan apartment as a ruse to gain access inside her home. He then drugged her, tied her to a bed, stripped her naked, and videotaped her.

The defense showed jurors brain scans to prove their point that Braunstein was mentally ill.

In his letter pleading for leniency sent to the judge on Thursday, Braunstein said his mental illness “casts a lingering shadow over the case that leniency could help dispel.”