David Laffer carried out a senseless and methodical execution at a Medford drugstore, authorities said Thursday, ambushing two customers with bullets to the head after wordlessly gunning down a teenage clerk and pumping two more rounds into a helpless pharmacist he'd shot once before.
John Collins, Suffolk chief trial prosecutor, said "the most cold-blooded robbery-murder in Suffolk County history" was solved in part because Laffer left two fingerprints on a piece of paper as he stole prescription opiates from the drugstore. It matched prints the unemployed Army veteran gave when he applied for a pistol permit in 1999, authorities said.
Laffer, 33, charged with first-degree murder and resisting arrest, showed "no remorse" and is not cooperating with detectives, said Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer.
"This was an execution without any confrontation, unprovoked," Dormer said. "It was sudden and quick and unexpected. They probably didn't even know what happened to them."
In an emotional arraignment hearing in First District Court in Central Islip, Laffer said nothing. He pleaded not guilty through his attorney and was ordered held without bail.
Defying warnings from Judge Toni Bean, relatives of victim Jaime Taccetta, 33, a customer who was picking up medication, shouted at Laffer.
"You're a coward for what you did to those families!" Taccetta's uncle Jim Fegel yelled. Her brother, Daniel Taccetta, said, "A coward!"
Daniel Taccetta wept as the prosecutor recited the chain of events that left his sister dead, along with two part-time employees -- pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, 45, clerk Jennifer Mejia, 17, who would have graduated Bellport High School Thursday -- and Bryon Sheffield, 71, who was getting a prescription filled for his wife who recently had heart surgery.
Wife implicates him
The horrifying new details about the massacre, released in court and at a police news conference, came on a day when Laffer's wife implicated him in the shooting deaths. Melinda Brady suggested her recently unemployed husband "did all of this" to help her get prescription painkillers for a chronic ailment.
"He was doing it because he lost his job and because I was sick," said Brady, 29, as police took her from the Fourth Precinct early Thursday. She is charged with third-degree robbery and was moved to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown with an undisclosed ailment. She is expected to be arraigned Friday at the hospital.
Told of his wife's comments by reporters as he was being transferred from a precinct house to his arraignment, Laffer blurted out: "What did she say?" Two police officers then placed him in a marked patrol car.
Dormer said Brady has "cooperated with the detectives."
Law enforcement sources have described Brady and Laffer as drug abusers. Both told reporters they are not addicts.
Authorities Thursday offered the fullest account yet of the brutal killings. Dormer said Brady drove Laffer to Haven Drugs on Southaven Avenue shortly after 10 a.m., when it opened. Wearing a fake beard, white baseball cap and sunglasses to conceal his identity, Laffer walked into the pharmacy and exchanged a few words with Ferguson, Collins said, citing a surveillance video.
Laffer did not announce a robbery. "He simply shot first," Collins said.
He shot Ferguson in the abdomen first, said James Chalifoux, assistant district attorney.
Laffer then turned the gun on Mejia, shooting her twice without a word, Collins said. Laffer then returned to Ferguson's slumped frame and shot him twice more.
Sheffield and Taccetta walked in separately as Laffer was stuffing a knapsack full of pain pills. "He came up behind them," Collins said in court, "and executed them by shooting them in the back of the head."
Taccetta's fiance, James Manzella, had just dropped her off at the drugstore when he noticed a thin, unshaven young man walk out, according to an affidavit filed with the murder complaint against Laffer. Manzella thought Taccetta was taking a long time and he went inside the store.
"I saw [Jaime] laying on the floor with blood near her," Manzella wrote in an affidavit. "I thought she had a seizure, but then I saw a man in a lab coat also on the floor with blood around him. I freaked out."
Cops quickly closed in
Laffer's motive for opening fire remained unknown, Dormer said at a news conference. "It doesn't make sense," he said.
The groundwork for identifying the shooter began within hours of the massacre, police said. Detectives cross-referenced hundreds of painkiller prescription records, tips and registrations for .45 caliber handguns because of the type of bullets found at the scene.
By Monday evening, they had a short list of suspects, including Laffer, police said. Detectives then began approaching the suspects' associates, looking for information on drugs or recent activities.
"It was basic police legwork the detectives worked on 24 hours a day and they'll continue to do that until the case is concluded," Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky of the Suffolk police homicide squad said.
When police raided Laffer's house, he tried to grab an officer's gun, the complaint said, and police hit him until he let go of the weapon. Inside, police found multiple guns and ammunition, Dormer said. Among them was a disassembled .45 caliber handgun police believe was used in the shootings, Collins said.
Laffer's defense attorney, Mary Elizabeth Abbate, said after the hearing that the information developed by police does not necessarily implicate Laffer. The fingerprint at the crime scene could have been left there by Laffer previously, she said.
"There's been a rush to say he did it, but I haven't seen any evidence that it was him," she said.
Laffer is under constant guard in a separate, special housing to protect him from other inmates, Chief Michael Sharkey of the Suffolk County sheriff's department said. He was served Thursday a dinner of baked chicken, peas and lima beans.