The DiMartino family (Left-Right): Ava, 4, James DiMartino, Alana, 8,...

The DiMartino family (Left-Right): Ava, 4, James DiMartino, Alana, 8, Amanda, 14, James' wife Diane, and Ashley, 12. Credit: Handout / 2008

The scheduled sentencing of a Queens man convicted of murder-for-hire in a Nesconset lawyer's death was postponed Thursday, when a Suffolk County judge granted the defense extra time to investigate two letters and a phone call from a purported eyewitness whose testimony could exonerate the defendant, the defense said.

Donnell Festus, 25, faced up to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder, second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy at his sentencing before Judge C. Randall Hinrichs in County Court in Riverhead.

He was convicted by a jury in July of acting as the gunman in a scheme engineered by Ronald Thornton of Nesconset to kill lawyer James DiMartino outside of a Commack restaurant in 2008, because Thornton was worried DiMartino would discover his mortgage fraud, prosecutors said.

Thornton was convicted of first-degree murder. Another defendant, Monique Randall of St. Albans, Queens, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is cooperating with prosecutors. A third defendant, Donovan Raysor, also of St. Albans, is awaiting trial in September.

Hinrichs told the court he received an anonymous letter hours before the sentencing but did not disclose the letter's content.

Festus' attorney, Jason Bassett of Central Islip, told the court his client received a letter earlier this week from an eyewitness who claimed to have been driving by the Commack restaurant at the time of the shooting. Bassett also told the court Festus' brother Donte had been contacted a few days ago by a man representing the alleged eyewitness, and the man left a phone number.

Bassett said the letter's contents and the eyewitness' testimony could have a drastic impact on the case and asked for time to investigate. Hinrichs set the next sentencing date for Aug. 27.

Outside the courtroom afterward, widow Diane DiMartino said, "this is ridiculous," and DiMartino's father, Joseph DiMartino, called the letter a clear "stall tactic."

Festus' mother, Monica, proclaimed her son's innocence. "You can't convict an innocent man if he didn't do it," she said.

Bassett said the unsigned letter sent to Hinrichs appeared to be from the same eyewitness because of similar content.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports. Credit: Newsday/Daddona / Pfost / Villa Loarca

Uncovering the truth about the chemical drums A tipster says he told the state about buried drums at Bethpage Community Park nearly a decade ago. Newsday's Ken Buffa reports.

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