A North Amityville man charged with shooting three men and killing one of them is on trial only because Suffolk police fabricated witness statements putting him at the scene, his defense lawyer told a jury Tuesday in Riverhead.
But a prosecutor told jurors that two witnesses, including a surviving victim, will testify that Shawn Lawrence, 42, was one of the shooters who killed James Terry, 44, as he sat behind the wheel of his minivan in a North Amityville apartment complex parking lot.
"This man sitting right here, Shawn Lawrence, the defendant, is a killer," Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said during his 10-minute opening statement. "This is not a complicated case."
Kurtzrock acknowledged that it relies entirely on eyewitness testimony. No forensic evidence connects Lawrence to the shooting, and he has insisted on his innocence from the moment he was arrested.
Defense attorney Joseph Hanshe of Sayville told jurors and state Supreme Court Justice William Condon that the case is tainted by police misconduct and unreliable witnesses.
Both sides agree the Jan. 12, 2010, shooting was the result of a dispute earlier that night at Andpress Plaza, the motel-like, single-story apartment complex.
At a party hosted by David Hodges, his girlfriend made steak and shrimp. Allen McGhee, who is allergic to seafood, took some shrimp, not realizing what it was and Hodges tried to get it out of McGhee's mouth, said Ronda Boyd, Hodges' sister.
Hodges and McGhee argued, and Boyd testified that she kicked everyone out. McGhee threw up on the way out, she said.
"He was embarrassed, disrespected," Kurtzrock said in his opening statement. "He was furious. David Hodges was going to pay for this, in blood."
Kurtzrock said McGhee got some friends together, including Lawrence, and when Terry drove Hodges back to Andpress Plaza to get some clothes, they opened fire. Terry was shot in the chest. A passenger, Ralph Council Jr., 49, was shot in the buttocks.
Hodges was shot in the head and left with such severe brain damage that the only words he can say are, "The man, the man," his sister testified.
McGhee pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Hanshe told jurors Tuesday they would see a video of the ambush, showing the unidentifiable attackers walking by a 6-foot metal pole. All of them are several inches shorter than the pole, unlike his client, who is 6-foot-4. "He wasn't there," Hanshe said.
Neither was Tariq Burwell, who police say signed a statement saying he saw the shooting from a nearby apartment and that Lawrence looked like one of the killers. Hanshe said Dets. Ronald Tavares and Charles Leser wrote the statement, adding, "They have a questionable history of doing things like this."
That was an apparent reference to the discredited statement Tavares and Leser got a Huntington Station cabdriver to sign after a drunk, off-duty Nassau police officer shot him in February 2011. Charges against the cabdriver were later dropped; the officer was fired but not charged.
In this case, Hanshe said Burwell later said he never even met Tavares and Leser, much less signed a statement for them. Burwell was not at Andpress Plaza at all, Hanshe said.
Another man who police identify as an eyewitness, James Jones, later said he made his statement only after Det. Thomas Walsh paid him $50 and that "everything he told detectives is a lie," Hanshe said.
Lawrence faces 40 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, attempted murder and gun possession.