An Islip man who surrendered to Suffolk authorities Friday has been charged with the murder of a former high school classmate whose battered body was found in a marsh two years ago.
Thomas Liming, 21, was charged with second-degree murder and ordered held on $5 million cash bail or $15 million bond.
The victim, Kyle Underhill, 18, of Islip, was killed on Nov. 16, 2011, and reported missing by his parents the next day. Two days later, his body was found in the woods behind Commack Road Elementary School, not far from his home.
Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson said Underhill suffered more than a dozen blunt-force wounds to his head and face, as well as multiple fractured ribs. There was also evidence of "neck compression," causing a fractured bone in the back of his neck, she said.
Albertson said the medical examiner's office determined that Underhill was still alive when he was submerged in the marsh. The body was found covered with a wood board; two sticks were lodged in his mouth and throat, the prosecutor said.
Liming and Underhill knew each other from Islip High School, graduating together in May 2011, authorities said. A motive for the killing has not been released.
"Thomas Liming did not commit a crime . . . and when the jury hears all the evidence, Mr. Liming will be found not guilty," defense attorney Joseph Corozzo of Manhattan said in a statement.
At the arraignment yesterday afternoon in Riverhead, prosecutors wanted Liming held without bail, saying Liming was a flight risk.
Corozzo argued that Liming has known for two years that he was the target of a homicide investigation but remained in the area most of that time, attending Suffolk County Community College.
After Liming's parents were recently subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, Corozzo said it became clear to Liming that he was going to be indicted. He surrendered at the Suffolk district attorney's office yesterday morning and the indictment was unsealed.
"There's a lot to this case," Corozzo said.
Members of both Underhill's and Liming's families were in the courtroom Friday, but none would comment afterward. Liming is due back in court on Jan. 3.
Brian Melton, a student at the community college, said he can't believe Liming would have any involvement in Underhill's death.
"They were the best of friends," said Melton, 20. "They were like brothers. Kyle and Tom got along famously."
Melton said he met Underhill, who would later protect him from bullies at school, in an 11th grade Regents English class.
"He was one of very few people in high school who would defend me," said Melton, of Central Islip. "People would pick on me, and he would tell them to back off."
Liming, whom Melton met in middle school, was also protective of him, he said.
Melton said the trio would hang out after school, play paint ball or shoot BB guns.
He remembers fondly one afternoon in the spring of their senior year in 2011 when the boys dined at an Italian restaurant near campus, chatting about school over panini and sodas. Melton was short on cash; Underhill picked up the tab and later refused to accept his friend's offer to pay back the debt.
He said he's still moved by what Underhill wrote in his yearbook months before he was killed: "U A good dude. Keep it that way."
Melton learned of Underhill's disappearance as he was traveling back from a friend's house. Shocked, he sent his friend a pleading Facebook message, saying, "Kyle, don't let it be you in those woods."
Now, he's shocked again, by the arrest of his other friend. "Tom killing Kyle? That's impossible in my head," Melton said.
Liming was "one of the sweetest guys I know," said a friend and neighbor who asked not to be identified. He said there had been rumors that Liming was a suspect, but Liming told him he had no reason to kill Underhill.
Bill Scampoli, a longtime neighbor of the Limings, said, "They're a close-knit family."
Scampoli, 56, said Thomas Liming was friendly and helped neighbors if they needed something, like shoveling snow off their driveways.
"He was a pretty typical teenage kid," he said.
With Candice Ruud