The reason a Brooklyn man who had never been to Suffolk County was found shot dead on a West Babylon street five years ago was not easy for Suffolk police to figure out, a prosecutor told jurors Monday as he tried for the second time to convict a Bronx man of murder.
"No one had a clue what Michael Sinclair was doing in Suffolk County that morning," Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla told jurors and Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson in his opening statement at the trial of David Belton, 26. "It was your police department, your homicide detectives, who put all this together."
Belton's first trial three years ago ended with a hung jury.
Biancavilla said Belton, Noriella Santos and Daniel Rivera persuaded Sinclair to go with them from a Brooklyn nightclub to West Babylon, where they attempted to rob him about 4 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2009. Sinclair was shot once in the chest and three times in the head.
There were no witnesses and no forensic evidence, Biancavilla said. "The evidence is circumstantial, albeit very strong circumstantial evidence," he said. Defense attorney John Scarpa Jr. of Kew Gardens disagreed.
"It's a house of cards, and it doesn't withstand scrutiny," Scarpa said of the case. "It's full of implausibility. It's full of innuendo. It's not full of proof."
He said his client's only connection to the case was Rivera. Rivera has not been charged; Santos is awaiting trial.
Biancavilla said the investigation began with Sinclair's cellphone records, which showed calls with Santos the night he died. Detectives got her driver's license photo and saw her with Sinclair on video at the club. Her phone records showed calls to Rivera and Belton, Biancavilla said. Police tracked the movement of the phones from Brooklyn to the crime scene, and later found that Belton drove Rivera's car through the Midtown Tunnel on his way home. During an interrogation, Biancavilla said Belton told them: "I didn't shoot anybody. I was there to rob him, and I didn't even get anything."
Scarpa said detectives who had no case made up that statement. He said Belton did not sign a confession and the interrogation was not videotaped.
He said Belton wasn't interested in going to Suffolk and Rivera let him take his car to go home. Belton realized he didn't have his phone, Scarpa said.
"Where his cellphone was and where he was are not really the same thing," he said, adding there's no evidence a robbery attempt took place.