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Wally Backman's ex-girlfriend testifies she feared for her 'life and safety'

Amanda Byrnes leaves Riverhead Town Justice Court in

Amanda Byrnes leaves Riverhead Town Justice Court in Riverhead during a lunch break with her attorney John Ray on Thursday. Credit: James Carbone

Long Island Ducks manager Wally Backman accused his ex-girlfriend of sleeping with one of his players before slamming the woman against a wall at her Riverhead home, she testified Thursday on day three of the former Met's trial on criminal mischief and harassment charges.

Amanda Byrnes, 39, testified Backman was enraged and screaming as he twisted her hand to prevent her from calling police during an Aug. 30 domestic dispute. Byrnes said Backman cut her hand with his 1986 World Series championship ring during the incident.

Backman had been drinking and was intoxicated when he drove Byrnes' car from the Ducks’ ballpark in Central Islip to Riverhead the night before his arrest, she told Suffolk prosecutor Kyle Grasser during direct examination. The couple argued off-and-on most of the night, she said, and Backman became enraged as she got ready for work the next morning.

“I was in a panic for my safety,” Byrnes said. “It was scary, what he had done to me.” 

Backman, 60, is on trial in Riverhead Town Justice Court before Judge Lori Hulse on charges of fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, and second-degree harassment, a violation.

His defense team continued to portray Backman as the victim of a mentally unstable girlfriend with a long criminal record who accused the former Mets second baseman of violence after he tried to break up with her. The Riverhead police officer who arrested him after the incident, Timothy Murphy, testified earlier in the week that Backman told him that day his wife had found out about his relationship with Byrnes and when he tried to break up with her, she took his keys and phone to prevent him from leaving. 

Byrnes testified Thursday that she needed surgery in November to repair her pacemaker, which she said had shifted in her chest after Backman pushed her against the wall. 

During his cross-examination, one of Backman’s attorneys, Stephen Civardi of Freeport, confronted Byrnes with records from her cardiologist that said she had been complaining about pain from the pacemaker months before Aug. 30. One record, from a Sept. 6 appointment, said it was unlikely the pain was caused due to her “recent trauma.” 

“Do you recall [the cardiologist] telling you that?” Civardi asked Byrnes. 

“No,” she answered.

Civardi and co-counsel William Keahon have said Byrnes has a history of making unsubstantiated complaints to police about previous boyfriends.

Byrnes acknowledged under cross-examination that she had nine ex-boyfriends arrested after they ended their relationships with her. She admitted to pleading guilty to aggravated harassment after one relationship ended, but denied throwing a brick through a window at the man’s home or threatening his wife and children. Byrnes also told Civardi she didn’t remember loaning another ex her car, and then reporting it stolen. 

“I’m not the one on trial here,” Byrnes shot back to Civardi at one point during his questioning. “I’m the victim.”

Byrnes’ mother, Valerie Byrnes, testified Thursday that she called Riverhead police after Byrnes texted that the situation with Backman had gotten ugly at her home that August morning. Valerie Byrnes became combative during Civardi’s cross-examination, refusing to answer questions about her daughter’s previous boyfriends. 

“This is something that happened 10 years ago,” Valerie Byrnes said when asked about one incident. “What does that have to do with [the Aug. 30) incident.” 

Civardi and Keahon called one witness — private investigator Vincent Pepitone — but Hulse struck his testimony after Grasser complained a video Pepitone took of Byrnes carrying a bookcase to her car had not been previously submitted by the defense to the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office. Byrnes had testified earlier that she was unable to lift anything heavy for a month after the dispute with Backman. The video was shot about five weeks later.

Backman's defense team asked Grasser to provide them with a log of 911 calls Backman’s ex-girlfriend has made to Riverhead police. The defense will rest Friday barring any major revelations from the log, Civardi said. 

In 2001, Backman was charged with misdemeanor harassment for an incident involving his wife and her friend in Oregon and later pleaded guilty. A year earlier, Backman was arrested and later convicted on a DUI charge in Kennewick, Washington.

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