Suffolk's first drunken-driving murder trial in 14 years began Monday with the prosecution describing the defendant as a callous killer and the defense saying the prosecution's case rests shakily on the wild accusations of a dead man who was a killer himself.
The trial of Michael Grasing, 33, of West Babylon, charged with second-degree murder in the June 24, 2012, death of Brittney Walsh, 18, began with aggressive openings by both sides and District Attorney Thomas Spota sitting in the front row.
"Young Brittney Walsh never had a chance," said Assistant District Attorney Marc Lindemann, describing how she chose to work at Kmart that night instead of going to a post-high school graduation party. Pointing at Grasing, he continued: "Because of that defendant, Brittney's responsible choice turned out to be a deadly one."
She ended up pinned beneath her Kia Sportage, "her skull shattered like an egg shell," he said. "Ladies and gentleman, this is a case of murder."
The reason this case carries a rare charge of murder in a traffic death is that Grasing was speeding at up to 100 mph west on Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst with a blood-alcohol content of 0.32 percent -- four times the legal limit of .08 percent, Lindemann said. When Grasing hit Walsh's sport utility vehicle from behind with his Nissan Maxima, he sent it tumbling more than four times into Billy's Bar and Grill.
Grasing didn't slow down, Lindemann said, driving on the sidewalk, mowing down street signs and narrowly missing a crowd at Ralph's Italian Ices before hitting a utility pole.
Lindemann said witness John Patsalos, 46, of Lindenhurst, told police he followed Grasing out of a Wendy's restaurant parking lot, and saw him weaving in traffic and running red lights.
Lindemann said Patsalos, who died weeks after the crash, pulled beside Grasing and told him: "Get off the road! You're going to kill somebody!"
Defense attorney William Keahon derided the prosecution's case. "Raising your voice and pointing your finger and saying murder, murder, murder, murder, murder doesn't make his case today," Keahon said, before arguing that Patsalos can't be believed.
First, Keahon said, there's no proof Grasing was ever at the Wendy's. Neither he nor his car appear on the restaurant's several surveillance cameras.
But more important, Keahon said, only Patsalos describes Grasing's dangerous driving. "Just this guy, who I don't have an opportunity to cross-examine," he said.
Keahon made clear what that cross-examination would have looked like. He noted that Patsalos killed a man during a robbery in 1985. Patsalos served 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Earlier, in Nassau, Patsalos hit a security guard with his car after robbing a Sears store, Keahon said. "This is the guy who they lead off with, who's such a great guy," he said.
He said no police officer wrote down the warning Patsalos said he had yelled at Grasing.
"How does that happen?" Keahon said.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe played down Patsalos' importance, noting the crash was captured on surveillance video.
"Mr. Keahon talked about everyone else's actions except his client's," she said.
Walsh's parents, Thomas and Cheryl Walsh, watched quietly from the second row in the courtroom. Thomas Walsh said afterward Grasing must be held accountable. "He forced my daughter into a life sentence," he said.