A Central Islip ex-convict was arraigned Tuesday on a charge of killing his next-door neighbor and hiding the body in his bedroom closet for a week.
Aston Barth, 33, told police he argued with his friend, Jason Campbell, 35, then choked him in his bedroom on Dec. 18, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said.
After attempting to decapitate the victim with an ax, Barth wrapped the body in a blanket and covered the head with a black plastic trash bag, Kurtzrock said.
It wasn't until Christmas Eve that Barth's mother and brother found Campbell's body at the home they shared on Ferndale Boulevard and called police, authorities said.
"He was acting strange and said, 'Don't go into my room,' " to his family, Kurtzrock said.
Barth pleaded not guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder at First District Court in Central Islip. Judge Steven Lotto ordered Barth held without bail until a hearing Friday. He faces 25 years to life if convicted.
Afterward, his court-appointed attorney, Paul Barahal, declined to answer questions.
Barth has three robbery convictions, authorities said. He completed parole in September after serving about three years for the 2007 holdup of a Citibank branch in Central Islip, dressed as a woman. Kurtzrock said Barth was also convicted of a pair of robberies in 2000.
Kurtzrock said it wasn't clear what sparked the early-morning argument between Barth and Campbell. Both had attended Central Islip High School, according to friends.
The suspect's mother told reporters outside their home that her son has been treated for mental illness since he was 3.
"I'm so sorry. My son should have some treatment," Connie Barth said. "My son needed medication but he wouldn't take it."
She said Barth was working as a chef but was having financial difficulties and had recently been agitated over having to pay child support.
Kurtzrock said he hadn't seen Barth's medical records and declined to comment on the mother's account of the man's mental illness.
Neither man is married. Barth has a 14-year-old daughter, records show. Friends said Campbell had two children, a baby and a 7-year-old.
Campbell's friend, Sean Epps, said he and other friends went to Barth's house the day Campbell disappeared. Epps said they asked about Campbell because it wasn't like him to disappear or not answer his phone.
They were in Barth's bedroom, only feet from the body, as Barth denied knowing anything about Campbell's whereabouts, according to Epps.
"He said 'I haven't seen him. It's crazy that he's missing,' " he said.
Tuesday, Campbell's friends created a makeshift memorial by setting candles on the sidewalk in front of his house, spelling out his nickname, J.B. They augmented it with flowers, a Christmas stocking and empty bottles of Hennessy Cognac, his favorite drink.
After his arrest, Barth told detectives he was worried about getting the death penalty, but when informed that New York State had no such penalty, he made a videotaped confession, Kurtzrock said.
Barth said he had wanted to dismember the body, authorities said.
"He said he struck him once in the neck with an ax and then decided not to do it, or realized he couldn't do it," the prosecutor said. "We still have not determined whether the strike to the neck was before or after death."
Police found blood on the carpet and the ax behind the bedroom door, Kurtzrock said.
Campbell's friends said he worked at a smoke shop at the Poospatuck Indian reservation in Mastic.
With Chau Lam