TODAY'S PAPER
26° Good Morning
26° Good Morning
Long IslandSuffolk

Convicted as triggerman in murder plot

Police say Darnell Festus, 24, of Queens, is

Police say Darnell Festus, 24, of Queens, is the alleged hit man in the 2008 murder-for-hire of Nesconset attorney James DiMartino. Photo Credit: SCPD

A Queens man charged in a plot to kill Nesconset attorney James DiMartino was convicted Friday in Suffolk County Court of being the triggerman in his murder.

A jury of seven women and five men found Darnell Festus, 24, guilty of all charges - first- and second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy - for plotting to kill DiMartino, and shooting and robbing him in the parking lot of a Commack restaurant on Oct. 20, 2008.

The verdict came four hours after jurors said they were deadlocked on one of the charges.

Ronald Thornton, 39, of Nesconset, was convicted earlier this year of paying Festus, a stripper and her ex-boyfriend $10,000 to kill DiMartino to cover up mortgage frauds committed by Thornton.

Diane DiMartino, the widow of the slain man, said the verdict left her "ecstatic." Reached in Florida, where she was on a family trip with her four daughters, she said the lengthy deliberations, which she monitored with the help of family and friends in the courthouse, were "pretty nerve-racking."

James DiMartino's father, Joseph DiMartino of Patchogue, said he was relieved. "I feel justice is served. I feel sorry for his family - same as us."

Festus faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. State Supreme Court Justice C. Randall Hinrichs scheduled sentencing for Aug. 19.

Festus showed little reaction as the verdict was read. His mother, Monica Festus, wept, fell from her seat and covered her face with her hands before she was led from the courtroom by court officers.

The verdict came after the jury deliberated 27 hours over four days and appealed to Hinrichs for help in breaking an impasse on one of the counts. Hinrichs ordered the panel to continue its discussions.

Two female jurors leaving the courthouse together said the deliberations were "very difficult." They declined to be identified. Other jurors declined to comment.

Assistant District Attorney Nancy Clifford said she was "very pleased to see the jury worked so hard . . . and came up with the right verdict."

Festus' attorney, Jason Bassett of Central Islip, said he was "very surprised at the verdict." He said he would appeal.

Festus' conviction leaves Donovan Raysor, 22, of St. Albans, Queens, as the last of four original defendants awaiting trial for DiMartino's slaying.

Thornton is serving a life sentence in an upstate prison after being convicted earlier this year of first-degree murder.

The stripper, Monique Randall, 30, of St. Albans, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Randall, Raysor's former girlfriend, is awaiting sentencing.

The DiMartino family said they hope Raysor spares them another trial and pleads guilty.

"I'm hoping that the one that's left is seeing he's not going to get anything better," Diane DiMartino said.

Latest Long Island News