Laffer: 'Tiny little events' led him to kill 4

A file photo of David Laffer in First

A file photo of David Laffer in First District Court in Central Islip. (June 23, 2011) (Credit: Victor Alcorn)

David Laffer said "a series of tiny little events" led him to execute four people in a Medford pharmacy on Father's Day.

In his first interview from the Suffolk County jail, Laffer described in detail what happened in the Haven Drugs pharmacy and why he planned to rob it of thousands of pills. Prosecutors dispute key elements of his account.

"I lost my job, because I wasn't showing up enough," he told Newsday. "My wife was sick."

The plan that he and his wife, Melinda Brady, 29, had hatched was simply to rob the pharmacy for pills she needed but could no longer afford -- painkillers, blood pressure medicine, anti-nausea pills, muscle relaxants, he said.

They chose to rob Haven because it's located in an office park that would be mostly deserted on a Sunday, he said. There would be no witnesses in the area.

Laffer said he did not plan to kill anyone that day but went in with a loaded .45-caliber handgun for a reason.

"You have to realize, two to three months prior, someone tried to rob a pharmacy in Patchogue," he said. That person used an unloaded gun and got jumped in the store. He wanted to avoid that fate.

"I did not know I'd use the gun. Absolutely not," he said.

Laffer, 33, spoke through a grille at the Riverhead jail while seated in a peach-colored visiting booth, wearing the standard forest green jail uniform. The bruises he got during his June arrest have long faded.

 

'I was nervous'

He spoke easily, answering questions about almost all topics in a comfortable, matter-of-fact tone. Occasionally, he turned his head toward the grille to hear better in the noisy visiting center.

Once inside the pharmacy and with his wife waiting outside in the car, Laffer said he asked employee Jennifer Mejia, 17, to go in a back room so he could steady himself by chatting with pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45. "I was nervous," he said.

Laffer said his hand was on the gun inside his backpack as he talked to Ferguson, leaning on the counter. As he went to pull the gun out of the bag and announce the robbery, he said the gun got snagged on a strap and it went off as he struggled to yank it out. The shot hit Ferguson in the abdomen.

"Everything slowed down, or sped up or whatever," Laffer said. Deafened by the sound of the gunshot, he said he thought to himself, "Oh no, look what I did now."

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota rejected Laffer's explanation of the first shot.

"The video clearly shows he deliberately raises his backpack, aims and shoots -- he doesn't flinch, he doesn't jump or move in any way as anyone would if a weapon fired accidentally," Spota said. "Questions were put to him under oath about every shot he fired and he swore to the court every shot was intentional and he acknowledged he intended to kill everybody, including the pharmacist. He's an outrageous liar."

 

No witnesses

As soon as the first shot was fired, the video shows Laffer hurried to the back room to kill Mejia. During the interview, he said "right" in response to a suggestion that his intent was to leave no witnesses.

Although the sound of a bell on the pharmacy's front door is audible on the video of the crime as Bryon Sheffield, 71, and then Jaime Taccetta, 33, enter the store, Laffer said he didn't hear it.

He said he was deafened by the gunshots. Instead, he said he could see them approach the door through the window, and at that point he paused in loading the backpack with pills, lay in wait for each to enter and then shot them from behind.

He said even if police had taken away his gun, acquiring another one wouldn't have been an obstacle.

Long guns -- rifles and shotguns -- can be purchased legally with only a driver's license, he pointed out.

"If someone's dedicated enough, they can get a gun," he said.

Although a long gun wouldn't be good for a store robbery, it would do. "It's not a good option, but it's an option," he said.

Laffer pleaded guilty this month to five counts of first-degree murder and will be sentenced Oct. 17 to life in prison without parole. Brady pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and will be sentenced the same day to between 21 and 25 years.

He said about half of what he took from the pharmacy was painkillers. All of it, including the other medicines, was for his wife, he said. Laffer said it was increasingly difficult to get pills, both because of the cost and because one doctor had refused to write any more painkiller prescriptions for Brady.

Even though he was stealing drugs for Brady, he doesn't hold her responsible. "Not at all," he said, showing emotion for one of the few times in the 50-minute interview.

"It may sound very corny, but we got married only in 2009," he said, and he wanted to take care of her. "It was my misdirected assistance, devotion to her."

Laffer's attorney, Eric Naiburg, listened to his client's explanation during the interview.

"It was my client's desire to clarify the record, to show a bit about his true self," Naiburg said.

Laffer said reports that he stole 10,000 prescription hydrocodone pills are inaccurate. "No little pharmacy has 10,000 hydrocodone."

Laffer insisted he is not and never has been a drug addict, although police have said he was.

"I've never taken a drug in my life, ever. Not even pot." Later, he clarified that he meant he'd never taken an illegal drug or anything that wasn't prescribed for him.

When he returned to his wife waiting in the car after the robbery, he said, "I didn't really say anything. My ears were still ringing."

 

Waiting for a call

Eventually, they heard a report about the killings on the car radio, and he didn't have to tell Brady anything. "She put two and two together," he said.

The next day, when he saw his picture on the cover of Newsday, he waited for the phone to ring. "No one called," he said. "We were waiting to see if anyone would call us and say, 'Is that Dave?' But no one did."

He never considered fleeing the area, primarily because he didn't want to leave his family. "I didn't want to spend the rest of my life on the lam."

He said he knew the arrest was coming the day before it happened. In part because of his Army intelligence training, he said he knew the police were watching him. He noticed an unfamiliar car driving up and down the street all day.

Just before the arrest on June 22, three days after the killing, he and his wife were outside their house smoking cigarettes. He pointed out to her a black Ford Expedition, which he said was a police vehicle. They went inside, and Brady looked back out the door and saw the police swarming toward them. She said, "We have a problem. The cops are here."

Whatever the victims' families say or think about him now is justified, he said.

He has thought about what they will say at his sentencing. "I'm sure it's going to be extremely heartfelt and angry, and confused," he said. "I know how I would feel if someone had done this to Melinda."

He's read all the coverage about the victims and is familiar with their stories. In particular, he said he is sorry about Taccetta, who had two daughters -- Miranda, 16, and Kaitlyn, 5 -- and was planning her wedding.

 

One regret

Having gotten married recently himself, "I know she was dealing with limos, and plans like that. I feel very remorseful over that. Very regretful."

He spoke those words in his usual, matter-of-fact tone, without the emotion that surfaced when he discussed his wife.

He said he's spoken only briefly on the phone to his mother, no more than 30 seconds at a time. "She breaks down and can't talk," he said.

For now, he said things are all right in jail, but that's in part because he's surrounded by at least five correction officers anywhere he goes, "like the Secret Service. That's not always going to be the case."

He said he expects that prison will "probably not be too pleasant," and he expects to be killed in prison.

"I'm not even under any illusions that I'd make it 15 years," he said. "It'll serve as a punishment."

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