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LI man convicted of hiring 3 to kill business partner

Ronald Thornton hired a

Ronald Thornton hired a "death squad" to kill James DiMartino on Oct. 20, 2008, outside a restaurant on Jericho Turnpike in Commack, prosecutors said. Photo Credit: Suffolk County Police Department

With fist pumps and shouts of "Yes!" the family and friends of Nesconset real estate attorney James DiMartino erupted in applause in a Riverhead courtroom Tuesday as a jury convicted Ronald Thornton of hiring three people to kill his friend and business partner.

DiMartino's widow, Diane, wept in her second-row seat as one of her late husband's friends, Mike DiLullo, burst out of the courtroom in an explosion of joy. He calmed down when confronted by court officers in the hallway.

Thornton, 39, was impassive as the verdict was read, just as he had appeared throughout the four-week trial. His sisters, Nicole and Holly, sobbed in their gallery seats.

DiMartino, 44, the father of four daughters now ranging in age from 3 to 14, was shot once in the forehead in a Commack parking lot on Oct. 20, 2008.

"It doesn't bring him back," Diane DiMartino said of her husband of 14 years. "Our family is ruined. . . . I'm looking at four little girls and their daddy will never walk them down the aisle."

A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for nine hours over two days before convicting Thornton, of Nesconset, of first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy for arranging the killing of DiMartino. He also was convicted of first-degree conspiracy for trying to arrange the kidnapping of the daughter of a woman who had testified against him.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. State Supreme Court Justice C. Randall Hinrichs set sentencing for April 14.

Jurors declined to speak to reporters. After the verdict, many jurors hugged Diane DiMartino outside the courthouse.

"I have no words," said DiMartino's father, Joe. "My emotions and everything are just drained."

Assistant District Attorney Nancy Clifford called DiMartino's murder a "calculated execution by a man without a conscience."

The verdict brought to a close a colorful and often bizarre trial that featured an exotic dancer, a jailhouse snitch, accusations of mortgage fraud and testimony about made-up mobsters.

Prosecutors said Thornton paid the dancer, her boyfriend and another man $10,000 to kill DiMartino because he knew about real estate frauds allegedly perpetrated by Thornton.

Jurors were shown stacks of phone and bank records, video from security and surveillance cameras, and secretly made recordings of conversations to link Thornton to the murder and attempted kidnapping.

Thornton's attorney, Glenn Obedin of Central Islip, said prosecutors' evidence "worked against Mr. Thornton."

Nicole Thornton of Shirley, reached by phone after the verdict, said, "He's still my brother and we love him very much. . . . Our hearts go out to James' family. It's hard, it's hard on both sides."

 

Other defendants

 

In addition to Ronald Thornton, three people were charged in connection with the Oct. 20, 2008, murder of Nesconset real estate attorney James DiMartino.

 

Monique Randall, 30 St. Albans, Queens

Pleaded guilty in November 2008 to second-degree murder.

Expects to be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Testified against Thornton.

 

Donovan Raysor, 22 St. Albans, Queens

Randall's boyfriend.

Charged with first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy.

Pleaded not guilty, awaiting trial.

 

Darnell Festus, 24 Queens

Alleged shooter

Charged with first-degree murder and first-degree conspiracy.

Pleaded not guilty, awaiting trial.

- CARL MACGOWAN

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