A Suffolk judge revoked a plea deal Monday for a Coram man who ran down a woman jogging in Mount Sinai and left her fatally injured, saying he was "extremely upset" by lies the man told during a pre-sentencing investigation.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho had promised to sentence Thomas Costa, 32, to no more than 2 to 6 years in prison after Costa pleaded guilty last month to leaving the scene of an accident with injuries. But then, all sides and the judge agreed, Costa lied to a probation officer about his criminal history, said he "kind of stopped" after the impact and yet denied knowing he'd hit Karen Benjamin, 56, even though he had admitted to that in court last month.
"I'm not prepared to proceed with the promise I made," a visibly irritated Camacho told Costa. "There will be a trial."
Costa was on parole for burglary and drug possession convictions when he hit Benjamin on June 23. She was in a coma for three weeks until she died.
Both Benjamin's family and Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco, who had sought the maximum of 21/3 to 7 years in prison, were cheered by the judge's unusual decision Monday.
"It certainly underscores what a bad guy this is," said Benjamin's brother, Robert Freedman. "Now we will have to spend weeks here . But we're willing to do this."
One of Benjamin's daughters, Lindsay Benjamin, said: "My mother would do the same thing. For our family, this is the best possible decision."
Brosco said, "When there's a conviction, we're going to be asking for the maximum."
Costa's attorney, John Ebel of Amagansett, said he was distressed by his client's behavior, particularly after negotiating a deal over the objection of the district attorney's office. When Costa pleaded guilty last month, he read a statement of remorse. "I will spend every day of my life haunted by what I've done," he said then.
Ebel said he was dismayed that his client undid the plea deal by failing to speak truthfully with the pre-sentence investigator.
"This was highly unexpected," Ebel said. "My client was less than candid."
Like Brosco, he said he had no doubt his client will be convicted. "The evidence is overwhelming," he said. Ebel asked Camacho to appoint a new attorney for Costa.
Benjamin's family has been lobbying to increase the penalties for fatal hit-and-run accidents. They have endorsed Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota's effort to treat such incidents as harshly as second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 to 15 years in prison.
Benjamin's husband, Andrew Benjamin, said the law should reflect his belief that "if you run, you're done."