A Utah man cheerfully admitted Wednesday that he shot a Setauket horseman to death and wounded his partner last year, recounting how he spent months threatening and plotting to kill them.
Brett Knight, 46, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder and other charges. In return for the plea, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro promised to sentence him to 22 years to life in prison. Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl said his office recommended a sentence of 35 years to life.
In a light tone at odds with the acts he was admitting, Knight described how he planned and carried out an attack at the home of his former friends, equestrian trainer Ross Reisner and Kevin Murray. He admitted firing 11 shots into their house on Sept. 24, 2013, with one of two .40-caliber pistols he bought in Utah specifically for the attack, killing Reisner, 50.
Pearl said afterward he was not surprised by Knight's demeanor in court.
"It's almost psychopathic, the lack of remorse," he said.
Knight, whose hair and beard were noticeably shaggier than when he was arrested last year, seemed relaxed and chipper as he answered Pearl's detailed questions about the crime. He told Ambro that his attorney, Michael Brown, had "done an excellent job," and said the Suffolk homicide detectives who interrogated him treated him "very well."
Knight told Pearl he rode his motorcycle from Utah and checked into the Extended Stay America hotel in Melville two days before, and then rode to the house that night and hid in the bushes. When he fired through the window, he said, he intended to kill both men. Murray was slightly injured.
Knight quibbled with Pearl about whether Reisner and Murray evicted him or asked him to leave the house after they had a falling-out. He suggested he left on his own.
"You blamed these gentlemen for ruining your life?" Pearl asked.
"They did a very serious thing to me," Knight replied. Prosecutors have said that Knight was angry after Reisner and Murray alerted his former employer, American Express, that his wrongful termination lawsuit was baseless.
Knight admitted that in the months before the shooting he harassed the men, at one point mailing them a dead pigeon and a letter quoting a passage made famous in the movie "Pulp Fiction": "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men . . . I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."
The letter concluded, "Prepare yourselves for a painful end."
Murray and Reisner's friends and family embraced afterward. They declined to comment.
Although the district attorney's office recommended a much harsher sentence, Pearl said family members were satisfied with the plea. If the case had gone to trial, Murray, in particular, would have had to relive that night on the witness stand. "The entire family didn't want to go through the trial process," Pearl said.
Det. Phil Frendo, the lead detective, said Knight's demeanor reflected his lack of remorse. "He feels he was justified," Frendo said.
Brown had a different explanation for his client's attitude. "He's an upbeat guy," Brown said. But at the time of the murder, Brown said, he was angry and despondent.
"He was at a very low point in his life," he said. "He was acting from his heart and not from his mind, and it caused havoc in these people's lives. He regrets it."
Brown also said the case was unwinnable at trial.
"He minimized his exposure by pleading guilty," Brown said. "This plea gives him a tremendous opportunity to become a free man in his 60s and enjoy a substantial period of his life."
Pearl assured family members that would likely never happen.