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Jury convicts man in Floral Park jewelry heist

Justice Brunson leaving court in early November.

Justice Brunson leaving court in early November. Credit: Howard Simmons

A jury convicted a Brooklyn man Tuesday of carrying out a Floral Park robbery heist in a verdict that came after two deadlock notes during four days of deliberations.

Jurors found Justice Brunson, 43, was one of two masked gunmen who burst into a Woodbine Court jewelry store four years ago before making off with more than $80,000 in valuables.

The panel convicted him of robbery in the first and second degrees at a Mineola retrial held 20 months after the coronavirus pandemic forced a mistrial.

The heist happened at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2017, when two employees and the owner of Atelier Jewelers were inside the business that is steps from the village’s main street and its Long Island Rail Road platform.

"I felt that my life was at the last moment," store employee Violeta Puga, 49, testified last week while describing how one of the robbers put a gun to her head.

The jury didn’t hear that a judge previously sentenced the other gunman, Darkel Davis, 35, of Queens, to 15 years in prison after he admitted to robbery. But the jury did hear from a Brooklyn woman who said she took part in the crime because she thought she’d make thousands of dollars.

Cooperating government witness Keisha Payton, 28, testified that she visited the store the day before the crime, posing as a customer by dropping off a bracelet for repair while helping Brunson become familiar with the scene. The witness said Brunson and Davis came in behind her the next day with guns after she returned to pick up the bracelet and was buzzed inside the store’s locked door multiple times.

Brunson and Davis ordered employees to the floor at gunpoint before taking jewelry and wristwatches, according to the prosecutors.

They said village police arrived quickly after the store’s owner was able to hit a panic alarm, and arrested Payton at the scene. Davis remained on the run until January 2018 before authorities also caught up to Brunson and arrested him that February.

During his escape, Davis dropped a bag with stolen valuables, along with his gloves and mask, while tossing his gun onto the LIRR tracks, prosecutor Michelle Lewisohn told jurors. She said evidence that included texts between Davis and Brunson, phone records, surveillance video and Payton’s testimony proved Brunson’s guilt.

Brunson’s attorney, Christopher Devane, got Payton to admit during a cross-examination that she withheld information from police after her arrest and later lied to a grand jury. He declined to comment after Tuesday's verdict.

Payton will get probation if prosecutors decide she testified truthfully.

Nassau Acting District Attorney Joyce Smith said in a statement Tuesday that evidence in the case "was overwhelming" and thanked her staff and police "for helping bring Brunson and his co-defendants to justice."

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