The question of intent lies at the heart of a robbery and murder case where evidence points to only one person as the gunman who ended an immigrant’s life in a Jericho gas station, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
He said they’ll have to weigh whether Joshua Golson-Orelus, 24, lied when he confessed on video that his gun went off accidentally when slaying victim Hany Awad, 56, of Levittown lunged at him during a botched robbery in 2015.
“It comes down to this,” said Michael Walsh, chief of the Nassau district attorney’s Major Offense Bureau, as he made a case at the Westbury man’s trial that the Jan. 28, 2015, shooting was intentional. “Do you believe him?”
If jurors decide Golson-Orelus was the triggerman, they must then resolve whether he acted with intent. That distinction is the difference between first- or second-degree murder. The higher count carries a penalty of up to life in prison without parole, as opposed to a maximum of 25 years to life behind bars.
Prosecutors say Golson-Orelus perpetrated a “one-man crime wave” and fatally shot the victim, an Egyptian immigrant, as the man tried to fight off a holdup at his brother’s BP station. They’ve alleged the defendant also pulled off 10 armed heists at gas stations and convenience stores in Westbury, Hicksville, Jericho and East Meadow in a spree that lasted from the end of 2014 to mid-2015 and netted about $11,000.
But defense attorney Fred Pollack insisted in his closing argument Tuesday that there were several holes in the government’s case, arguing that his client’s statement to police wasn’t voluntary and jurors “should not rely on it.”
For months, cracking the case was a top priority for Nassau police. Authorities said it was a GPS device planted in a money pack nabbed in a Citgo robbery in Westbury that helped lead to Golson-Orelus’ arrest in Utica shortly after the June 2015 crime.
But Pollack told jurors they should have plenty of reasonable doubts about whether Golson-Orelus was responsible for the crimes. He said the GPS device couldn’t have been in the car his client was driving. Pollack cited expert testimony that showed the device was in a stationary position for just seconds, although a police officer described a traffic light encounter with Golson-Orelus after the Citgo robbery as lasting longer before an unsuccessful chase ensued.
Walsh said that officer got a look at Golson-Orelus’ face and the license plate of the car he was driving before police tracked it to his girlfriend’s house. In the car, they found $634, along with a black Nike sweatshirt and a pellet gun that looked like a match when compared with surveillance video from the Citgo robbery, according to prosecutors. They said there also was a photo ID and a baggage claim ticket with Golson-Orelus’ name on them.
But Pollack said his client’s DNA wasn’t on the pellet gun and someone else’s DNA was on the sweatshirt. The defense lawyer also called attention Tuesday to the issue of whether whoever shot Awad meant to kill him, saying there was “no evidence to establish any intent.”
“We have to assume the gun went off because Mr. Awad pulled it,” during a struggle, Pollack said, while also citing the deadly bullet’s downward trajectory.
Walsh said an arsenal of evidence implicated Golson-Orelus, including phone records from the day of the slaying connecting him to the person from whose car police seized the revolver used in Awad’s slaying.
The prosecutor said Golson-Orelus’ confession couldn’t have been coerced because he gave detectives details “only the killer would know” — including the type of gun used in the shooting. Police had not yet linked a revolver they recovered in a separate May car stop to the slaying by the time of Golson-Orelus’ June arrest.
Walsh said the revolver had Golson-Orelus’ “DNA profile” on it, one that statistically would match one in 1,745 people, and further implicated him when considered with other evidence. The prosecutor also pointed to a phone call Golson-Orelus made to his children while in police custody, telling them he “did a couple of things he wasn’t supposed to do.”
“All of these plans. All of these hopes. All of these dreams were destroyed. He took so much from so many people,” Walsh told jurors of the robbery victims, many of them also immigrants. “And from Hany Awad and his family, he took everything. And now he needs to be held responsible for it.”