The bullet that killed John Capano as he wrestled with a robber outside a Seaford pharmacy was fired at close range and struck the ATF agent in the chest, tearing into his aorta, law enforcement sources familiar with the autopsy findings said Thursday.
The bullet was fired from a .38-caliber revolver, the same caliber gun retired Nassau County police Lt. Christopher Geraghty, 54, was carrying when he encountered Capano fighting with a man who had just robbed Charlie's Family Pharmacy on Merrick Road on New Year's Eve, the sources said.
Geraghty, of Woodbury, jumped into the fray as Capano and James McGoey battled for the off-duty agent's weapon in front of the pharmacy. Geraghty shot Capano after a bullet whizzed by his head, thinking Capano was the bad guy, Geraghty's lawyer, Brian J. Davis, said Thursday.
Shooter in seclusion
His client met with homicide squad detectives Monday and, in the last few days, a "distraught" Geraghty has been in seclusion out of state with his family, trying to come to grips with the tragedy, the lawyer said.
"He's not in town. He needed a break from this," Davis said. "His life will never be the same."
Geraghty isn't planning to attend Capano's funeral Mass, scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. William the Abbot Roman Catholic Church in Seaford, where U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to deliver a eulogy.
But Geraghty is expressing his sympathy to the Capano family in a handwritten condolence card his lawyer's secretary delivered to homicide detectives, and which will be passed along to the agent's family.
"They're grieving right now. He wanted to send them a communication that his thoughts and prayers are with them," Davis said. "And at some point he wants to reach out."
Capano's family said earlier this week that Geraghty is not at fault.
"We only blame one person for the whole thing, and that was the criminal," Tony Guerriero, 55, Capano's brother-in-law said. The two officers at the scene "were all there to do their job and it just played out the way it played out."
Davis said Geraghty's deli -- a few storefronts down from the pharmacy -- will be closed Friday out of respect for Capano's funeral.
Davis said the fatal encounter took a matter of seconds and began soon after Capano, who had gone to the store to pick up a prescription for his father, shot McGoey inside the pharmacy and chased him outside. Police also said that McGoey, who had prior convictions for drugstore and other robberies, was carrying a silver pellet gun that looked like a real .45-caliber pistol.
Davis said Geraghty had been working at the Seaford deli when a frantic woman ran in, screaming that someone was robbing the pharmacy. Geraghty, still wearing his food-handling gloves, ran to the basement to retrieve his handgun, which he keeps because he handles cash at the end of the day, Davis said.
Geraghty and Arbia rushed to the rear of the pharmacy, believing the robber might try to flee through the back of the store, Davis said, but found nobody.
The two then heard a commotion at the front of the store, ran toward it through an alley and encountered the scene.
"There's Capano and McGoey on the ground, chest-to-chest, with the gun between them, wrestling," Davis said.
'Who's the good guy?'
"He's screaming, 'Who's the good guy? Who's the good guy?' " Davis said of Geraghty. He said Geraghty and Arbia also repeatedly shouted "Police!" and "Put the gun down!"
Davis said Capano never identified himself as a law enforcement officer and that his client realized that Capano was "the good guy" only after he'd fatally shot him.
"I think he was so focused on getting his weapon back that he's not able to focus on anything else," Davis said of Capano.
As Geraghty, Capano and McGoey battled for the gun, Davis said, it went off, sending a shot whizzing past his client.
"Now it's turned back directly on my client," Davis said. "It goes off inches from his face."
Davis said Geraghty thought Capano was the robber and was trying to shoot him.
"He immediately fires," Davis said.
Once Geraghty realized the "good guy" had been shot, "he immediately pulls his shirt up and applies pressure" in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to save Capano's life, Davis said.
A .40-caliber shell casing was found at the scene, a law enforcement official who was briefed on the events in the shooting said.
The autopsy results show that McGoey was hit four times, the sources said. Two bullets fired from a 9-mm pistol struck him in each side of the chest, and two bullets from a larger-caliber weapon struck him in the buttocks.
Arbia was carrying a 9-mm and Capano had a .40-caliber Sig Sauer, which is standard issue for ATF agents, sources said.
The investigation is continuing.
With Anthony M. DeStefano, Robert E. Kessler, Kery Murakami and John Valenti