A judge Thursday sentenced a Uniondale man she had convicted of trying to kill four Nassau police officers to 25 years to life in prison, telling him "there's no excuse for shooting at the police."
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Patricia Harrington meted out the punishment to Duane Costa, 40, after denying a motion from his attorney to set aside the verdict and as Costa insisted on his innocence.
Prosecutors said Costa fired two volleys of gunshots at Nassau police during a foot pursuit in Hempstead on Oct. 28, 2018, that began after a traffic stop when Costa pushed one officer and ran. He then fired at two more officers before police, who didn't return gunfire, found him hiding in a yard and recovered two guns he dropped, according to the Nassau County District Attorney's Office.
The judge applauded Det. Thomas Rilling, Officer Ken Kraemer, Det. Niall Bourke and now-retired Officer Dale Denehy for not drawing their weapons during the encounter.
They were part of the large law enforcement presence at the Mineola sentencing that also included Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly and police union leaders.
"There is no reason you should be shot at as part of your duties and thank God that nobody was injured," Harrington told them Thursday.
Costa's attorney, Lori Golombek, tried to get the verdict set aside by claiming that evidence was planted against Costa and testimony had been inconsistent during his bench trial last year. In December, Harrington convicted Costa of four attempted murder counts and four felony weapon counts.
"It was a total lack of evidence in this case," said Golombek, who declined to comment after court.
Costa told the judge police should be "ashamed" of their lies at his trial and that it was "a shame" for the judge to have found him guilty. Then without using names, he seemed to allude to the recent line-of-duty shooting deaths of NYPD officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora by suggesting they were "turning over" in their graves because of the alleged injustice in his unrelated case.
The judge told Costa there "was absolutely no indication" witnesses had perjured themselves at his trial. Harrington also spoke of what she called an "embarrassing" error during the trial, recalling she'd had to amend her original verdict after making a mistake.
The judge told Golombek that mistake didn't fit with Golombek's claim of double jeopardy and pointed out that the amended verdict had acquitted Costa of two charges she'd first convicted him on.
Prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt asked the judge to punish Costa with 35 years to life in prison, drawing a contrast between the lives of public service of the officers Costa shot at and Costa's history of criminal convictions.
Prosecutors said the shooting happened after Rilling and Kraemer stopped a Nissan Altima that Costa was a passenger in at about 12:45 a.m. at Midwood Street and Lafayette Avenue in Hempstead after the female driver didn't signal for a turn. The officers ordered the driver and Costa out of the car after smelling alcohol and seeing that Costa wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was adjusting an object in his waistband, according to authorities.
Prosecutors said Costa dropped a loaded .40-caliber pistol after the foot pursuit soon began, then pulled out a CZ 52 pistol and fired multiple gunshots at the two officers' heads. They said Costa then ran around a corner, encountered Bourke and Denehy who were part of an unrelated car stop, and fired gunshots at them before running into an alley.
Police arrested Costa a short time later after finding him hiding in a Meriam Street yard, according to law enforcement officials. They recovered both of Costa’s weapons, which the district attorney and police commissioner displayed at a news conference later Thursday that began with a moment of silence to remember the slain NYPD officers.
Donnelly said it was a shame Costa, whose intent was to kill Nassau cops, was allowed to invoke the memories of the two New York City officers. She also called the defense's claim about planted evidence "meritless."
Ryder said one of the police personnel who was part of the encounter told him Thursday he hadn't returned Costa's fire because there was an innocent victim in the way.
Nassau Police Benevolent Association president Thomas Shevlin called Costa a violent criminal who deserved to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
John Wighaus, head of the Nassau police detectives' union, said: "We are fortunate this act of violence did not tragically end like it did for our police officers in New York City this past week and our police officers can go home to their families."