Stonington man on trial in domestic violence incident

A jury in New London Superior Court began deliberating Wednesday in the case of 31-year-old William H. Linder, who is accused of punching, strangling and restraining his live-in girlfriend in Stonington.

The six-member panel heard testimony from the alleged victim, 48-year-old Christine Czemske, and from Linder during a day-and-a-half trial at the Broad Street courthouse. The jury heard testimony also from Stonington police and a doctor who treated Czemske at Westerly Hospital.

Linder, who is being held in prison on bonds totaling $56,000, is charged with third-degree assault, second-degree strangulation and first-degree unlawful restraint. He is charged also with 13 counts of violation of a protective order, which will be tried separately.

According to testimony and court records, the dispute occurred in the bedroom of Czemske's apartment on Elm Street at 5:30 a.m. on June 28, 2014. The couple had been living together for about three months and had been arguing the previous night.

While Czemske said she was lying next to Linder when the fight began, he testified that he awoke to find her on top of him, striking him. 

She said Linder struck her in the eye with a force that knocked her unconscious and she fell backwards on the bed. Linder asked Czemske, "Are you OK?" then put his hands on her neck to the point where she could not breathe, according to testimony.

Dr. Keith Hilliker, who examined Czemske, said she suffered an eye injury consistent with blunt force trauma, according to Senior Assistant State's Attorney Sarah E. Steere.  

Hilliker said Czemske had injuries on her neck consistent with strangulation along with symptoms of strangulation, including a sore throat and hoarse voice.

"The state has proven he struck her, impeded her ability to breath and restrained her," Steere said in her closing argument. 

Linder, who is 6 feet, three inches tall, and weighed about 270 pounds at the time of the incident, admitted from the witness stand that Czemske was "about half my size."

Linder asserted that he had accidentally struck Czemske's eye with his thumb after waking up to find somebody sitting on top of him. He said he did not realize, at first, that it was her.

"There's no doubt Ms. Czemske's eye was black and bruised and that Mr. Linder caused that," defense attorney Sebastian O. DeSantis conceded in his closing argument to the jury. 

DeSantis said, however, that there was no evidence that Czemske was unconscious and that Czemske did not mention being strangled when she called 911.

"She woke him up out of a dead sleep, slapping him, and he defended himself not really knowing what was going on," DeSantis said.

The six-member jury deliberated briefly Wednesday afternoon before asking for a replay of police testimony. Judge John M. Newson dismissed the panel for the day after telling them they would listen to the recorded testimony and resume deliberating in the morning. 

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @KFLORIN

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