The Lido Beach teen charged with fatally stabbing an Oceanside High School student in an after-school attack went looking for the victim before plunging a knife through his heart, prosecutors said in court Thursday.
Tyler Flach, 18, was held without bail after pleading not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in the killing of Khaseen Morris, 16.
Dozens of the victim's family members and friends, some of them weeping, packed a Hempstead courtroom Thursday to watch Flach's arraignment, wearing tie-dyed T-shirts in honor of Morris. The group then left court in silence, accompanied by court officers.
Authorities said Flach attacked Morris, who was unarmed, in a dispute over a girl -- the ex-girlfriend of one of Flach's friends.
“This defendant and his group of friends went looking for 16-year-old Khaseen Morris ... this defendant attacked Mr. Morris, stabbed him in the chest ... piercing his heart,” said Senior Nassau Assistant District Attorney Ania Pulaski, of the Major Offense Bureau, who had asked that the defendant be remanded.
Hempstead District Court Judge Gary M. Carlton ordered that Flach, who has criminal charges pending in two separate prior arrests this year, remain at the Nassau County jail.
Flach’s defense attorney, Edward Sapone of Garden City, said his client, a student at Nassau Community College and aspiring rapper, "strongly maintains his innocence and he took the responsible step of self-surrendering to eventually clear his name."
The lawyer added: "At the appropriate time, we will release vital information about what happened that’s not captured on video and that completely changes this case. Until then, we ask the community to reserve judgment and pray for those who are suffering.”
Sapone would not elaborate.
But at a news conference before the arraignment, Nassau police said they were confident in their case against Flach.
"The information we have, the evidence we have, is that he is, in fact, the one," said Nassau Homicide Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, who added that Flach was “absolutely” the person who stabbed Morris.
Flach surrendered to detectives at police headquarters in Mineola early Wednesday afternoon, police said.
"Tyler was a threat," Fitzpatrick said. "We wanted to get him sooner than later. Once we had probable cause, we arrested him."
Authorities also urged anyone who was a witness or has video evidence to contact police, saying others may face criminal charges.
The lieutenant would not answer when asked if investigators -- who have said they reviewed video of the melee posted on social media -- had footage showing Flach stabbing Morris. Fitzpatrick said police were in the process of obtaining other videos of the stabbing.
Morris died at 11:55 p.m. Monday at South Nassau Communities Hospital after he was stabbed during what police have described as a "pre-arranged" fight between youths, including Morris, at a strip mall near Oceanside High School where students congregate.
Morris was a senior at Oceanside High and was friendly with the girl at the center of the dispute. She had broken up with Flach's friend about two weeks earlier.
Morris' family has said the teen texted the ex-boyfriend that he wasn't dating the girl, but had simply walked her home from a previous party at her request. Police said Morris showed up to the strip mall on Monday knowing that the ex-boyfriend, who perceived Morris as dating the girl, wanted to fight him.
Flach was arrested on May 23 for his alleged involvement in a road rage incident, authorities said. He was charged with third-degree assault. He was also arrested on Sept. 8 in Albany County on a charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, authorities said. Both cases are pending.
Police have said that very few of the large crowd of students who witnessed the fight and stabbing assisted Morris as he lay bleeding on the ground, and instead recorded video and later posted it to social media.
Police received seven 911 calls -- the first at 3:46 p.m., said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Police responded to the strip mall in two minutes, Ryder said.
"We're also looking at the possibility of other subjects being charged," Ryder said, adding: "The time to come forward is now, not till after the fact that you've been arrested. We have a community that's outraged by the death of this young man. ... There's video evidence that is out there. We'd like if you have it to come forward and give it to us."
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas echoed that sentiment, calling Khaseen's killing a "horrible tragedy" for the community.
"We can't sit idly by as 16-year-olds expire and bleed out on our streets here in Nassau County," Singas said. "So please, give us the information so that we can continue this investigation to ensure that justice is done for Khaseen and his family."
At the arraignment, Sapone asked the judge to place his client in protective custody, citing what he said were social media posts linking the group of Morris’ friends to the Bloods street gang. The judge ordered him into protective custody after the prosecution didn't object.
Sapone said the posts show Morris’ friends “making gang signs and with guns.”
In an interview after the arraignment, Keyanna Morris, the victim's oldest sister, said she was disgusted at what she called false claims made by Flach’s defense attorney alleging her brother hung out with gang members or dyed his dreadlocks red to affiliate with the Bloods street gang.
“I felt sick to my stomach that he would try to paint this angel as a gang member,” she said. “It hurt. It just hurt to think this person would create this lie. It’s disgusting.”
Khaseen Morris was “definitely not” a gang member, she said, and neither are his friends.
She said her brother was all about “peace and love” and even wore bracelets with the words. He liked loud hair colors and planned to dye his dreadlocks purple for his birthday next month, she said.
“I refuse to let the world think that is true,” she said. “Peace and love -- that’s all he was about. ... Khaseen had no criminal record whatsoever. That’s what they should do -- they should compare the criminal records of Tyler Flach and Khaseen Morris."
In the days following Morris' killing, a threat that police ultimately deemed to be unfounded was made toward Oceanside High School. Ryder said school officials in Oceanside, Long Beach and the Freeport school districts have been concerned about security in the wake of the slaying.
"Security is in place at all of these schools," Ryder said. "Our cops are out at all these schools. Nobody's gonna threaten anybody in this county without this district attorney stepping in and prosecuting them. You can take that to the bank."