A jury Thursday convicted a Bayville man of causing a wreck that paralyzed his friend, deliberating for only a few hours after seeing videos a prosecutor said showed him bragging about breaking the law before the fateful impact.
Now Anthony Chiantella, 29, is facing up to 25 years in prison on the top count of his conviction at his June sentencing.
Jurors found him guilty of felony charges of assault, vehicular assault and reckless endangerment, along with other offenses that included drunken driving and driving under the combined influence of alcohol and a drug.
The guilty verdict in Nassau County Court came after a closing argument in which prosecutor Christopher Casa replayed videos he said showed Chiantella driving while drunk, on cocaine and at 130 mph.
"He was giving you a play by play of what he was doing," Casa said of videos Chiantella narrated — before posting some to Snapchat — ahead of the wreck on Feb. 2, 2019.
The cellphone video footage included a close-up of the speedometer of the 2007 Honda Accord — the vehicle that crashed — clocking in at 130 mph. It also showed Chiantella declaring that the car was "swerving" and talking about fatal car crashes while behind the wheel.
Defense attorney Robert Schalk had insisted in his closing argument that prosecutors hadn’t proved his client was driving at the time of the crash that left Chiantella’s friend, Nicholas Mustakas, then 24, a quadriplegic.
The Mineola lawyer criticized the police investigation, pointing to an expired blood kit that was used to test Chiantella and to a nurse’s testimony that Chiantella was awake when his blood was drawn — which contradicted police testimony.
He also showed jurors a video on the last day of what has been only the second jury trial in Nassau County Court since last March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That video showed a State Police investigator questioning Mustakas as he lay in a hospital bed. Schalk said the investigator asked questions in a way that put words in the Port Jefferson Station man’s mouth so he would agree he wasn’t driving when the crash occurred.
Prosecutors acknowledged during the trial that Mustakas had been driving his Honda while drunk before he turned the wheel over to his friend. The two passed a bottle of Captain Morgan rum back and forth while Chiantella was driving on Ocean Parkway and then Wantagh State Parkway "at racetrack speeds," according to prosecutors.
The crash happened when Chiantella lost control near Exit W6 on the Wantagh at about 4:45 p.m., ejecting Mustakas onto the roadway and Chiantella onto the adjacent bicycle path after the Honda spun, hit the guardrail and spun more, according to prosecutors.
Schalk said after the verdict that the defense team disagreed with the jury's decision, but respected it, and that he would file an appeal for Chiantella "as there are many appellate issues."
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Terence Murphy remanded Chiantella to jail after the verdict. It came 804 days after Mustakas walked for what may have been the last time, Casa also told jurors Thursday.
"He hasn’t taken another step since and he probably never will. The defendant did that," he added.
"Anthony Chiantella is the epitome of a depraved driver, broadcasting himself driving 130 mph while drinking and high on cocaine, resulting in a crash that paralyzed his passenger and threatened the lives of everyone in his path. He was recorded saying he knows that people die in crashes, it is just luck that he did not take the lives of innocent drivers on the road with him," Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement after the verdict.