Less than 24 hours after a young Islip man was bludgeoned, strangled and buried alive in a swampy Islip grave, the family of the man now on trial for the killing started taking steps to conceal evidence, a private investigator testified Friday.
By the time Catherine Shelton and her then-employer, celebrity private investigator Jay Salpeter, were done, they had moved defendant Thomas Liming's car, examined his computer, searched in vain for threats sent to Liming, 19 at the time, by victim Kyle Underhill, 18, and hidden the clothes Liming wore when he killed Underhill, she said.
Shelton was called by prosecutors in Liming's second-degree murder trial before state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen. Liming's defense has not contested that he did it but has suggested he was justified.
Shelton said that the day after the Nov. 16, 2011, killing -- hours before Underhill was reported missing and days before his body was found -- she and Salpeter went to Islip to look for Liming's car. During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl, she said they initially looked for the wrong car until Salpeter called Liming's father, Keith Liming, who came to the parking lot.
"He was very, very nervous," Shelton said, as Keith Liming listened in the courtroom. "He was very excited, very shaky."
He walked them over to his son's car and left, she said. Salpeter got into it and they drove around Islip looking for a place where it wouldn't be found easily. They settled on Maple Street in Islip but unwittingly parked in front of a home with video and audio surveillance. Jurors watched video of Shelton and Salpeter parking there and heard her ask him, "Is this good?" before they left.
Shelton said that two days later -- the day Underhill's battered body was found with sticks jammed into his mouth -- she was on the phone with Liming's mother, Kim Liming, while the investigator searched Thomas Liming's Facebook account. Shelton said Kim Liming had provided her son's password.
"I was searching the inbox and chats for any arguments or threats that were made by Kyle Underhill to Thomas Liming," Shelton said, but there were none. "She was very angry" about that, Shelton said.
About a month later, Salpeter had her return a computer to the Limings. Keith Liming met her in his driveway to take it, she said.
She said she later heard that Thomas Liming's clothing was recovered from a shed at Salpeter's house after Keith Liming gave it to Salpeter. But Cohen struck that testimony from the record after Shelton told defense attorney Joseph Corozzo of Manhattan that she heard that from prosecutors.
Earlier, she told Pearl that Salpeter called and texted her about her testifying at the trial.
"How was he acting?" Pearl asked.
"Livid, I would say," she replied.