A picture of the turbulent relationship between a young Islip man and the friend he killed in the woods four years ago began to emerge Monday during testimony at a murder trial in Riverhead.
Thomas Liming, now 23, is charged with second-degree murder in the Nov. 16, 2011, death of Kyle Underhill, 18. Liming's attorney, Joseph Corozzo of Manhattan, concedes that his client bludgeoned Underhill in the head, choked him and buried him alive in a marshy grave off Brook Street, but has argued that Underhill was the initial aggressor and Liming was justified.
Text messages between Underhill and his girlfriend, Chih-Yun Hsiung, now 33, in the days before he was killed revealed a conflicted and confused relationship between him and Liming.
Hsiung, who goes by the first name Anna, began to sniffle on the witness stand as she read her last texts with Underhill. The sniffles became tears and then sobs, until state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen called for a break to allow Hsiung to compose herself. During the break, she cried in the arms of Underhill's mother outside the courtroom.
During questioning by Corozzo, Hsiung said the friendship between Underhill and Liming fell apart in June 2011 when Liming failed to show up at Underhill's party celebrating his graduation from Islip High School.
"He was pretty disappointed," Hsiung said.
But a few days before the killing, Liming reconnected with Underhill and they had lunch. Underhill texted Hsiung that they "had a real good heart-to-heart."
On Nov. 15, Underhill texted Hsiung that he and Liming were "going on an adventure" in "some woods." He told her that Liming was a little "off" and kind of "sketchy."
Later that night, Underhill texted her that he and Liming had fought, but only because "he wanted me to hurt him."
Later, he wrote her, "He specifically wanted to attack me and force me to hurt him. Some kind of repentance for him disappearing."
During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl, Hsiung said Underhill and Liming made plans to meet again the following evening, Nov. 16, and Underhill asked Hsiung if she'd like to come along and meet Liming for the first time. They discussed the meeting further the next day, but that evening Hsiung said Underhill stopped responding to her texts and phone calls.
Worried and angry, she said she went to his house, but found it dark. The next morning, Hsiung said Underhill's mother called her and told her Underhill never came home.
Earlier, Hsiung told Pearl that Underhill said to her that he was bisexual. Last week, Corozzo accused prosecutors of suggesting there was a sexual relationship between the two young men. Pearl said that was not his theory of why Liming killed Underhill.
During his cross-examination of Hsiung, Corozzo suggested that Underhill was an angry young man with few friends, a theme he's raised throughout the trial. He noted in October 2011 that Underhill posted a poem titled "Failed" on Facebook.
The poem appears to express anger with a person and concludes, "I'll take what's mine, take anything from you."
Hsiung said the poem didn't concern Liming.