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Riverhead man says guilty plea in burglary was coerced

A Riverhead man convicted earlier this year in connection with an auto crash that killed a Manorville salesman testified Wednesday that he felt coerced when he pleaded guilty in 2002 in an unrelated burglary case.

John Licausi Jr., 51, is awaiting sentencing in connection with a 2007 crash in Farmingville that killed Scott Foster, 46.

Licausi appeared in Suffolk County Court in Riverside Wednesday for a hearing on whether he should be classified as a persistent felony offender. That classification would allow County Court Judge James Hudson to give Licausi a stiffer sentence for the fatal crash.

Prosecutors say Licausi pleaded guilty in 1996 to third-degree attempted burglary and in 2002 to felony charges of burglary, forgery, possession of stolen property.

But Licausi testified Wednesday that he did so, in exchange for a prison sentence of 31/2 to 7 years, only because Hudson, in court, threatened to give him 21 years in prison if he was convicted at trial.

"He said to me a lack of guilt was a sign of a sociopath and doesn't deserve forgiveness," Licausi said, questioned by his attorney, Mike Ahern of Sayville in court. "I started shaking. I was very nervous and intimidated."

Later, questioned by Assistant District Attorney Laura Newcombe, Licausi said he pleaded guilty because "I felt I had no other choice."

Hudson said he was "unpersuaded" and refused to discount Licausi's guilty plea. The judge said he would sentence Licausi on Oct. 21, and did not make a final ruling on the persistent felony offender issue.

Outside court, Ahern said Hudson should have recused himself from the PFO hearing because he presided over the 2002 case.

A jury convicted Licausi in June of aggravated vehicular homicide and second-degree manslaughter for Foster's death. If he is not labeled a persistent felony offender, he faces a maximum sentence of 121/2 to 25 years in prison.

If deemed a persistent felony offender, Licausi faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors said Licausi was under the influence of cocaine when he smashed his sport utility vehicle into Foster's 1995 Toyota Camry in May 2008. Licausi was fleeing police who wanted to question him in connection with his alleged theft of lawn equipment, prosecutors said.

History of convictions

Before his conviction on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide in June in connection with the death of Scott Foster, John Licausi, 51, of Riverhead, had been convicted five times since 1994 on felony charges. Those include burglary, attempted burglary and drug possession, according to public records. He also had been convicted of numerous misdemeanors.

At a hearing Wednesday in Suffolk County Court, prosecutors asked Judge James Hudson to declare Licausi a persistent felony offender, based on two of Licausi's prior felony convictions. That status would mean he could receive a stiffer sentence for Foster's death.

1996: third-degree attempted burglary

2002: third-degree burglary, second-degree forgery and criminal possession of stolen property.

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