Moments before his trial was to begin, a Central Islip man pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing a friend with an ax and keeping the body hidden in his bedroom closet for days.
Aston Martin Barth, 40, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Dec. 18, 2012, death of his friend and neighbor, Jason Campbell, 35. With the jury waiting outside the courtroom, Barth admitted hitting Campbell in the neck with an ax.
In return for the plea, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock agreed to recommend the minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison. During plea negotiations Tuesday morning, Barth's attorney, Scott Gross, had sought a plea to first-degree manslaughter with a 25-year sentence, but Kurtzrock insisted on a plea to murder, which carries the possibility of Barth serving life in prison.
Barth, wearing shackles, a tie and an eye patch, hesitated during the plea when Kurtzrock asked if he had intended to kill Campbell, but ultimately agreed that he did.
At the time of the murder, Barth was on parole for a 2007 bank robbery. During legal arguments before jury selection began, Kurtzrock told State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro that Barth had dressed in women's clothing and asked his father to drive him to the bank, explaining he was dressed that way because "he was conducting a survey." Barth stole $11,000, Kurtzrock said.
Campbell's family members watched Tuesday's plea and said they were relieved to avoid a trial.
"Part of it is relief that I don't have to go through the whole thing again," said Norma Campbell, the victim's mother. "I live with it every day."
Latonya Mills, the mother of Campbell's children, ages 3 years and 5 months, said it hurts not to have him.
"Jason was a good guy," she said. "He was a good father."
Gross said his client feels badly for the Campbell family and hopes to address them when he is sentenced Feb. 26.
"My client feels terrible about what happened," he said.
After Barth killed Campbell, he wrapped the body in a blanket and stuffed it in his bedroom closet. Almost a week later, on Christmas Eve, Barth's mother and brother discovered what was in there. Barth had warned family members to stay out of the closet.
Still unexplained is why he did it. "I really would love to know the real reason he did this," Norma Campbell said, noting the families got along and that her son had urged her to give Barth a chance after his robbery conviction. "Unfortunately, he didn't give the same chance to my son."
Kurtzrock said, "Only the defendant knows why this really happened. Hopefully, he'll shed some light on this at sentencing." Kurtzrock added he doubts any parole board that looks at Barth's record would ever release him.