The key to understanding who killed three people in a Central Islip house and set it on fire is not the prosecution's theory of revenge for a stolen laptop computer, a defense attorney argued in Suffolk County Court Wednesday.
Instead, it is a bizarre -- and false -- tale one victim told about a murdered boyfriend, the defense attorney said.
Prosecutors have said that Hasan Vaughan sought revenge against the people who stole his laptop and enlisted his friend Thomas Singletary to help him. They are charged with first-degree murder and arson in the Aug. 11, 2009, deaths of Vaughan's girlfriend, Katrice Daniels, 31; her sister, Mykier Daniels, 28; and her friend, Louis Calixto Jr., 19.
But Vaughan's attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, said the evidence for a revenge motive is thin. After his client was burglarized on Aug. 8, Keahon said, "He calls the police -- 911 -- as any one of you would have done."
And when he found out who might have done it, he called police again to tell them. Keahon, who played jurors recordings of Vaughan's 911 calls, in which he sounds polite and patient.
"Did they sound like a guy who was enraged?" Keahon said. "Who wanted to get payback by himself? Did that sound like a fellow who was going to slaughter three people because a computer was stolen?"
Jurors had heard the computer contained a novel Vaughan wrote. They did not hear,however, that the novel included a retaliatory, multiple-victim murder.
Singletary's attorney, Daniel Russo of Westhampton Beach, told a separate jury Tuesday that only Vaughan had motive to kill. Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla will give his closing argument to both juries Thursday.
Keahon said a more likely explanation for the crimes lies in a tale that Katrice Daniels told several people -- including her mother -- before she was killed. She told them that her boyfriend, Vaughan, had been shot several times in the head and died, and that she believed something else was going to happen.
One friend testified that she introduced Vaughan as the twin of her murdered boyfriend. Vaughan does not have a twin.
"Now, what is that all about?" Keahon said. "What event occurred a couple of weeks before her death? . . . I suggest to you that whatever that event was and whoever committed it, is responsible for these murders."
Keahon noted that phone records show texts were sent from Katrice Daniels' phone to Vaughan in the midst of when other witnesses say the attack was taking place.
"He's not there," Keahon said. But he was there later, when the house exploded in a gasoline fire, Keahon said. His client was burned over 60 percent of his body and left blood on the way out of the house.
That's because he was set on fire by whoever committed the murders, Keahon said. And, the attorney added, that's why he drove to Brooklyn to get treatment and gave a false name when he got there.
He criticized the evidence collection effort at the crime scene as sloppy and incomplete. A more careful investigation might have found evidence of the real killer, he said.