Vaughan, Stormville, NY, appellant pro se.
J. Spota, District Attorney, Riverhead, NY (Marcia R. Kucera
of counsel), for respondent.
C. DILLON, J.P., LEONARD B. AUSTIN, SYLVIA O. HINDS-RADIX,
JOSEPH J. MALTESE, JJ.
DECISION & ORDER
by the defendant from a judgment of the County Court, Suffolk
County (Hudson, J.), rendered June 19, 2013, convicting him
of murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree
(three counts), arson in the second degree, reckless
endangerment in the first degree (two counts), reckless
driving, unlawfully fleeing a police officer in a motor
vehicle in the third degree, and resisting arrest, upon a
jury verdict, and imposing sentence.
that the judgment is affirmed.
early morning hours of August 11, 2009, the Central Islip
Fire Department responded to a report of a fire in a house on
Hickory Street. Inside the house were the bodies of three
people who had been shot, stabbed, and strangled. The house
had then been doused with gasoline and set on fire.
that morning, the defendant walked into a hospital in
Brooklyn, having sustained severe burns to much of his body.
He provided hospital personnel with false information as to
his name and address, and refused to say how he had sustained
the burns. One of the victims of the Hickory Street fire was
later determined to be the defendant's girlfriend; the
other victims were her sister and her sister's friend.
defendant was charged with several felony counts including
murder in the first degree and arson in the second degree in
connection with these events, and the codefendant Thomas
Singletary was charged with the same crimes. Several
outstanding misdemeanor charges against the defendant
stemming from an earlier arrest on July 23, 2009, were
consolidated with these charges. The defendant's motion
to sever the felony charges from the misdemeanors and to
sever his trial from that of his codefendant was denied;
however, the case was tried before two juries.
at the ensuing trial included expert testimony that DNA
evidence found in several locations in the Hickory Street
house matched the DNA provided by the defendant and the
codefendant. In addition, a friend of the defendant's
girlfriend testified that she visited the house on the
afternoon before the fire, at which time the defendant's
girlfriend told her that the defendant was angry because her
sister and her sister's friend had burglarized his house
and taken his laptop computer and other items. A police
officer who responded to the report of this burglary
testified that the defendant told her he knew who had
committed the burglary, and that he would "take care of
it" himself. Hospital personnel testified that the
defendant arrived at the hospital with serious burns over
most of his body, provided false identifying information, and
refused to say how he had sustained the burns.
defendant was convicted on all counts of the indictment.
decision to consolidate separate indictments was a provident
exercise of the County Court's discretion (see People
v Lane, 56 N.Y.2d 1, 8; People v Dean, 1 A.D.3d
446, 448; see also People v Mahboubian, 74 N.Y.2d
174, 183). The court properly directed that the case be tried
before separate juries (see People v Shehu, 229
A.D.2d 406, 407).
the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution
(see People v Contes, 60 N.Y.2d 620), we find that
it was legally sufficient to establish the defendant's
guilt of murder in the first degree, three counts of murder
in the second degree, arson in the second degree, and two
counts of reckless endangerment in the first degree beyond a
reasonable doubt. Moreover, in fulfilling our responsibility
to conduct an independent review of the weight of the
evidence (see CPL 470.15(5), People v
Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d 342, 348), we nevertheless accord
great deference to the jury's opportunity to view the
witnesses, hear the testimony, and observe demeanor (see
People v Mateo, 2 N.Y.3d 383; People v
Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d 490, 495). Upon reviewing the record
here, we are satisfied that the verdict of guilt was not
against the weight of the evidence (see People v
Romero, 7 N.Y.3d 633).
challenged comments made by the prosecutor during summation
were within the bounds of permissible rhetoric, responsive to
defense counsel's summation comments, or ...