The killers set fire to a Central Islip house to cover their tracks but, a Suffolk prosecutor told two juries Monday, it was the fire that tied the two men on trial to the scene of three gruesome murders.
Hasan Vaughan and Thomas Singletary, both 36 and of Central Islip, went on trial Monday before Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson on first-degree murder, arson and other charges. They are accused of torturing and killing Vaughan's girlfriend, Katrice Daniels, 31; her sister, Mykier Daniels, 28, and her boyfriend, Louis Calixto Jr., 19. Then they got some gasoline and burned the Hickory Street house down, said Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla.
"The fire caught them both," Biancavilla said in his opening statement, as he paced between two juries on opposite sides of the courtroom. "In their panic to get out of that house before they were burned alive, they bounced off walls and furniture. And what did they leave behind, ladies and gentlemen? Burned skin."
DNA extracted from the burned flesh matched the defendants, he said.
Also in the house on Aug. 11, 2009, were Mykier Daniels' two young children.
"While Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Singletary were torturing these individuals in the backroom, Mykier could be heard screaming for the lives of her children," Biancavilla said. Although he said the defendants left the children, 6 and 2 at the time, to die in the flames, they escaped with the help of a neighbor.
"The motive in this case was payback by Hasan Vaughan," Biancavilla said. Three days earlier, Katrice Daniels lured him away from his house so her sister, Calixto and another man could steal his money and a laptop, he said.
Vaughan recruited his "old buddy," Singletary, to help, Biancavilla said, and they carried out the crimes together.
The two men are being tried together but have separate juries because both may implicate each other as part of their defenses. During the opening statements for each defendant, only the jury for that defendant was in the courtroom.
Singletary's attorney, Daniel Russo of Westhampton, said his client had no reason to kill the victims.
"Where is the motive for Thomas Singletary to do any of this?" he said. "He beat and tortured people over someone else's laptop?"
Vaughan's attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, challenged jurors to keep an open mind despite Biancavilla's powerful opening statement.
"Unfortunately, I saw that some your reactions indicated that you were believing some of what he had to say as accepted evidence," Keahon said, as several jurors nodded. "I haven't had an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses he intended to call, so let's wait . . . to see what these witnesses really say."
He reminded jurors that "this fellow, who Mr. Biancavilla keeps pointing at, pleaded not guilty."