Lawyers agreed Friday that a Copiague taxi driver was senselessly murdered nearly three years ago, but they gave a Suffolk jury differing views on whether the right man was charged with the crime.
Jurors began deliberating the second-degree murder case against Barry Yorke, 20, of Copiague. He is charged with shooting Juan Rosario, 19, in the head in December 2010 while trying to rob him. If convicted, Yorke faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
"Juan Rosario was murdered for no good reason," Yorke's attorney, Daniel Russo of Westhampton Beach, said in his closing argument before State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro. "Somebody should pay for it. But let's make sure the government gets the right individual."
Russo said the case against Yorke relies on testimony from three other men with lengthy criminal records, two of whom got lighter sentences from the district attorney's office in return for their testimony. Those men said Yorke admitted the crime to them.
Without their testimony, Russo said prosecutors have no case against Yorke.
"You have to set it aside," he said of the three witnesses' testimony. "You can't condemn a man based on these men."
The other evidence is ambiguous, he said. The murder weapon, a Hi-Point 9-mm handgun, was sold by Yorke's stepbrother, Randy Roland, to undercover officers. And one of the phone calls luring Rosario to his death was made by a phone registered to Yorke and Roland's mother. Russo said it's just as likely that Roland or one of the three witnesses was the killer.
Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock dismissed that idea in his summation. He said he made "no apology" for presenting witnesses with criminal records. "We don't pick the witnesses," he said. "We don't pick who the admissions are made to. Barry Yorke picked them. Don't reward him for hanging out with thugs . . . I'm not asking you to like these men. I'm asking you to rely on them."
Kurtzrock said it's a fact of life that in tough neighborhoods detectives sometimes have to deal with tough people to get the information they need.
"This is the murder business," he said. "We don't back away from the truth because we don't like the messengers."
Russo said police and forensic scientists failed to test some evidence they collected, which might have led them in a different direction other than Yorke. That evidence included a hair found on Rosario's hand, which might have come from the killer during a struggle.
Kurtzrock said there was no need to test the hair, suggesting it was obviously Rosario's own. There was no sign of a struggle and forensic evidence showed Rosario was shot from at least 30 inches away, he said.