The quiet of a summer night evaporated into screams from a neighboring house, a Central Islip man testified Wednesday at a triple murder trial.
Rigoberto Romero Ochoa recalled that he had been asleep for about an hour when he was awakened by the screams coming from the house on Hickory Street, just behind his home.
He was the first witness in the trial of Hasan Vaughan and Thomas Singletary, both 36 and of Central Islip. They are charged with torturing and killing Vaughan's girlfriend, Katrice Daniels, 31; her sister, Mykier Daniels, 28, and her boyfriend, Louis Calixto Jr., 19, in August 2009. Then they burned the house down, Suffolk authorities say.
"I heard them crying out for, like, clemency," said Ochoa, who testified in Spanish through an interpreter. "They were saying, 'Please.' "
Although he also heard children crying, Ochoa said during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla that he ignored it because he often heard fighting at that house. "We just went to sleep," he said.
But an hour later, he was awakened again, this time by the sound of six gunshots. "Then, after the gunshots, everything was calm," he said, so he went back to sleep again.
That lasted only until 5 a.m., when he said his wife heard an explosion and woke him. The same house was now engulfed in a roaring fire, so he went outside and got his garden hose. "I didn't want the trees to catch fire to my house," he said.
The case against Vaughan and Singletary is being heard simultaneously by separate juries, because each may implicate the other as part of his defense.
The conclusion of Ochoa's testimony was delayed when an alternate juror in Singletary's jury reported after lunch that a Singletary relative approached her and called her by name. She was dismissed by Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson, who spent the rest of the afternoon with attorneys questioning the 34 remaining jurors and alternates to make sure no one had approached them.
"Any attempt by anyone to contact a juror will not be tolerated," Hudson said. Anyone doing so could face obstruction charges, he added.
Singletary's attorney, Daniel Russo of Westhampton, said his client was upset that someone was tampering with the jury hearing his case.