A Suffolk jury convicted a Roosevelt man Friday of first-degree murder for crushing the skull of his girlfriend’s mother and using her bank card to buy himself a PlayStation 3.
Antonio Christian, 28, of Roosevelt, faces a maximum of life in prison without parole when state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen sentences him May 3.
Christian was found guilty of hitting Saundra Simonée, 59, in the head at least 10 times with a hammer in the living room of her East Norwich home on Sept. 26, 2013, then dumping the body at a Bay Shore apartment complex.
Christian did not react to the verdict in the courtroom.
“I’m relieved he will be behind bars for a significant amount of time and not able to hurt anyone again,” Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said afterward.
The prosecution relied on testimony by the victim’s daughter, Shatura Simonée, 29, who lived in the East Norwich home with her children. Only she put the murder weapon in Christian’s hand.
However, she was a remarkably cold witness, and defense attorney Steven Wilutis of Miller Place confronted her with the numerous stories she’d told of what happened — and accused her of being the killer. She is expected to serve 6 to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to criminal facilitation and hindering prosecution in the case.
Newcombe said the right person was convicted.
“We said she was a participant in the crime,” she said. “He was the one who struck the blows.”
Wilutis said he and his client were disappointed in the verdict, and that he would appeal.
“I disagree with their findings,” he said. “I feel strongly that she [Shatura Simonée] was not a credible witness, and that she committed the murder herself.”
The verdict came after 17 hours of deliberation over four days. Notes from the jury focused on whether the theft of Simonée’s bank card took place in the course of the killing, a necessary element of first-degree murder.
After the verdict, several jurors said they didn’t believe Shatura Simonée, who was six inches shorter than her mother and four months pregnant at the time, had the physical strength to overcome her mother.
Since the killing, Christian and Shatura Simonée wrote love letters to each other, some of which were evidence in the trial. In the letters, they told each other to fight for custody of her three children, now 8, 3 and 2. Christian is father of the younger two.
The older children were at home in bed when their grandmother was killed. Shatura Simonée testified that she told them to keep their eyes closed when they walked by the body in the living room the next day.
That prospect horrified the law guardian for the children, Lee Kleinhardt of Baldwin.
“I would never allow him near the children,” Kleinhardt said, and the same applies to their mother. He said he will recommend that a Nassau Family Court judge allow their foster family to adopt them.
“The children are doing superbly, all things considered,” he said. “Whatever happened in this house, these children had to have seen and heard.”