A former Patchogue man strangled and beat his wife to death and buried her in a shallow grave more than five years ago after she confronted him about taking her oxycodone pills and selling them, a Suffolk prosecutor said Monday.
She was particularly upset the night that she died because she was addicted to the pain pills and was also selling them, Assistant District Attorney Robert Biancavilla said.
Joseph Jones, 33, now of Centereach, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on the indictment charging him with second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Nicole Tessa, 31, on Dec. 17, 2010. Suffolk County Court Judge John Toomey Jr. ordered Jones, a property manager, held without bail — a decision that resulted in a brief moment of exultation by Tessa’s family members in the courtroom.
“We’ve been waiting five years for this,” said Tessa’s father, Jack Tessa before the arraignment. “She was missing two days before he reported her missing. What’s that say?”
Biancavilla said police took the extra time before making the arrest to rule out other possible suspects or causes of her death.
But the victim’s twin sister, Jennifer Tessa Travis, said the family was suspicious of Jones even before her body was found.
“Things just didn’t add up,” she said. “He was a pathological liar.”
Biancavilla said the couple argued in their driveway that evening over Jones’ theft of her pain pills. He said later that she had been prescribed 4,972 pills in the year she died.
The case evoked memories of David Laffer and Melinda Brady, the opiate-addicted couple who planned an armed robbery of a Medford pharmacy on Father’s Day 2011, which ended up with Laffer killing four people.
Biancavilla said opiate addicts go to extreme lengths to feed their addictions. “They’re so desperate, you have a homicide committed,” he said.
In court, defense attorney George Duncan of Central Islip said his client has “maintained his innocence since day one. I don’t see what’s different now from what happened six years ago.”
If police knew that Jones was selling oxycodone pills, Duncan questioned why he wasn’t arrested for that earlier.“We all know that you don’t wait six years to make a homicide arrest” if the case is strong enough, Duncan said after the arraignment.
Biancavilla acknowledged that cases based on circumstantial evidence, such as this one, “are difficult by their nature,” but he expressed confidence in the strength of the case.
In court, Biancavilla said several witnesses heard and saw the argument. “Mr. Jones was seen following Miss Tessa as she walked out the driveway into the woods,” he said.
In the days after Tessa disappeared, Jones said he didn’t know where she was and was worried because she had left without her anti-seizure medicine. He said then that one or both of them would storm off after one of their frequent arguments, but that they always calmed down and made up.
Biancavilla said both Jones and Tessa were addicted to pain pills and sold them to finance their habits. Only Tessa had a prescription for the pills, however. “He’s stealing from her stash and selling them,” Biancavilla said outside of court.
Duncan said it’s a leap to conclude that Jones killed his wife over a shared pill addiction.
“He’s shocked that he’s been charged,” Duncan said. “He knows what happened and didn’t happen.”
Jones has a minor criminal record previously, including convictions for misdemeanor drug possession, shoplifting and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
Biancavilla noted that the source of Tessa’s pills was Dr. Michael Randall of Setauket, who was charged in 2014 with prescribing painkillers “without a medical purpose.” Randall has since pleaded guilty in federal court and is awaiting sentencing, said his attorney Anthony Colleluori. He cautioned that for someone in severe pain, 5,000 pills a year — or about a dozen pills a day — is not necessarily a large amount and that it’s unfair to associate this homicide with his client.
“It’s fine to kick a guy when he’s down, but we don’t believe he was responsible for her death,” Colleluori said of Randall.
Still, Biancavilla said Tessa was getting many more pills than she needed.
“I don’t believe it was legitimate at all,” he said. “Nobody’s taking a dozen of those pills a day.”