A former best friend of an Islip man on trial for murder testified Tuesday that their friendship faded as the defendant and his family urged him to keep quiet about what he knew about the killing.
Eric Thomesen, 22, who is now in the Army and stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at one point during a pause in the trial gazed from the witness stand for several moments at Thomas Liming, the man he once considered "like a brother." Liming is charged with second-degree murder, accused of bludgeoning, strangling and burying alive Kyle Underhill, 18, on Nov. 16, 2011.
The night it happened, Thomesen said Liming told him he beat Underhill to death "because he kept coming at him. He was in a rage."
But Liming withheld details from Thomesen, Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl suggested in his questioning in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead.
"Did he say anything about strangling him? Did he say he shoved sticks down his throat? Did he say he buried him alive?" Pearl asked Thomesen, who answered each question, "No, sir."
Earlier, Thomesen testified that he lied at first to police on Liming's behalf. Both Liming and his mother, Kim Liming, advised him not to say anything to anyone, Thomesen said. That took a toll on their relationship, which dated to grade school.
"There was an elephant in the room, a weight," he said.
He said he finally told police the truth after he enlisted in the Army in 2013.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Joseph Corozzo of Manhattan, Thomesen said Liming told him that Underhill had hit him in the back of the head with an object as they walked into the woods off Brook Street in Islip.
"He kept coming at me, so I had to finish him off," Liming said, according to Thomesen.
He said he was surprised to hear that Liming and Underhill were together at all. He thought they'd had no contact since they graduated from Islip High School in June 2011.
Thomesen told Corozzo he was unaware of several aggressive acts or threats by Underhill toward Liming in the months before the killing. Liming's defense has not contested that he killed Underhill, but has suggested his actions were justified.
Thomesen, who testified stoically for most of two days while wearing a dress uniform, showed some emotion near the end of the day when both lawyers asked if it was difficult for him to testify against Liming.
"Strongly," Thomesen said, and his face reddened as he wiped his eyes.