A West Babylon man wanted to be anywhere other than a Riverhead courtroom testifying against his high school friend charged with murder in a drunken driving case -- so much that he had to be brought to court to testify Monday in handcuffs.
Thomas Mott, 36, was arrested on a material witness order to appear in court to testify against his friend, Michael Grasing, 34, also of West Babylon. Mott was expected to testify last week but failed to show up. Grasing is charged with second-degree murder, accused of driving recklessly with a blood-alcohol content of .32 percent -- four times the legal limit -- when he hit a sport utility vehicle driven by Brittney Walsh, 18, of Lindenhurst. The collision sent her vehicle tumbling more than a block down Montauk Highway, killing her.
After Mott testified Monday outside the jury's presence, it was unclear how useful he would be to Suffolk prosecutors when jurors get to hear him Wednesday. Mott backed away from key assertions in a statement he signed for police in September, in which he said he believed Grasing was drinking hours before the June 24, 2012, crash.
Monday, during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Marc Lindemann, Mott said a detective wrote the statement and he signed it without reading it. Mott did recall having a "handful" of brief phone conversations with Grasing, the longest of which was about two minutes. Mott said he asked Grasing if he'd been fighting with his wife, and Grasing replied, "Something like that."
But on the issue of whether he knew Grasing was drinking, Mott said, "I couldn't tell. I remember the conversation being very vague. He wanted me to come out."
Lindemann pressed Mott on what Grasing meant.
"He was asking me to come hang out, but I don't know if he was drinking," Mott said. "One could infer it." But Mott added that he didn't infer it himself.
The next day, when Mott saw news of the crash, he said he realized, "Oh my God, it could have been me, too."
Mott denied that Grasing's speech was slurred, as the statement to police said. "It was a little animated, but it was not slurred," he said.
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen later told prosecutors he would not let them challenge their own witness on inconsistencies between the statement and what he said Monday.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe said she would submit a written argument on the issue before testimony tomorrow. Meanwhile, Cohen ordered Mott held on bail of $100 cash.