A New Cassel man behind a “one-man crime wave” of robberies ended an immigrant’s American dream by firing a bullet into the Jericho gas station clerk’s heart as he tried to fight off a holdup, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
“This is a case about the American dream that turned into a nightmare,” Nassau prosecutor Anna Acquafredda said as the first-degree murder trial of Joshua Golson-Orelus got underway in Mineola.
Golson-Orelus, 24, is facing up to life in prison without parole if jurors find him guilty of the top count against him in connection with the Jan. 28, 2015, slaying of Hany Awad, 56, of Levittown.
The defendant also is on trial for second-degree murder in Awad’s death, along with charges connected to 10 armed robberies at gas stations and convenience stores in Westbury, Hicksville, Jericho and East Meadow. Authorities said the crime spree stretched from the end of 2014 to mid-2015 and netted about $11,000.
Defense attorney Fred Pollack reminded jurors Wednesday Golson-Orelus has the presumption of innocence and asked them not to make their minds up about the case until hearing all the evidence. He said his client’s DNA wasn’t found on the Nike sweatshirt authorities say the gunman wore in multiple heists, but “somebody else’s was.” Pollack also said store surveillance video from some of the robberies wouldn’t leave jurors knowing the identity of the masked culprit.
“When you see the video, you won’t be able to identify who that person was,” the Mineola lawyer said.
Acquafredda said Golson-Orelus terrorized a series of store clerks, many of whom, like Awad, were immigrants working night shifts alone when a masked gunman demanded cash and Newport cigarettes.
“He took their sense of security, and for Mr. Awad he took the most precious thing of all — he took his life,” she said.
Awad had left his wife and two children in Egypt and was working in his brother’s BP gas station and saving money with the intention of bringing his family here in the future, the prosecutor said. Two customers found the clerk’s body on the floor of the business after the shooting and called 911, but it was too late to save him, according to Acquafredda.
Nassau police made the case a top priority for months, doing stakeouts while deploying surveillance cameras, license plate readers and GPS tracking devices. A GPS device police planted in a money pack at a Citgo gas station in Westbury helped lead to Golson-Orelus’ June 2015 arrest after the robber targeted it for the third time, Acquafredda said.
A police officer got a look at Golson-Orelus’ face and noted the license plate of the car he was in after an unsuccessful car pursuit following that June 14, 2015 heist, she said. Golson-Orelus ditched the GPS device but police tracked the car to a Hempstead residence, where its owner identified Golson-Orelus as having borrowed the vehicle, the prosecutor said.
In the car, police found $634, a black Nike sweatshirt and pellet gun that matched those from the last Citgo robbery, along with a photo ID of Golson-Orelus and a baggage claim ticket with his name.
The prosecutor said police later recovered the handgun used in Awad’s murder during a May 2015 New Cassel car stop and connected the man driving that car to Golson-Orelus through phone records from the day of the slaying.
Acquafredda said police tracked Golson-Orelus to upstate Utica, arresting him three days after the last Citgo robbery, before he later gave a “videotaped confession” to the killing.
The trial resumes Thursday.