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Thomas Liming's relationship with slaying victim called into question

Thomas Liming of Islip, left, was charged in

Thomas Liming of Islip, left, was charged in November 2013 with killing Kyle Underhill, also of Islip, right, on Nov. 16, 2011. The two were classmates at Islip High School.

An unspoken subtext in the murder trial of an Islip man accused of killing his former high school friend became spoken Wednesday when the defense claimed prosecutors were suggesting there was a sexual relationship between the men.

The prosecution wants jurors to believe that was the context for the November 2011 killing, defense attorney Joseph Corozzo of Manhattan told state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen in Riverhead.

"It has been insinuated . . . that there's some sort of relationship between Kyle Underhill and Thomas Liming, and that it's sexual," Corozzo argued outside the jury's presence.

But Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl told Cohen "that's not my theory" of why Liming, 23, beat and choked Underhill, 18, before burying him alive in a swampy grave in the woods off Brook Street in Islip.

Liming is charged with second-degree murder. Corozzo has acknowledged his client did it but has argued he was justified and that Underhill was the initial aggressor.

Until Wednesday, neither side has publicly offered a reason for either man's actions.

That began to change during cross-examination of Amanda Gissi, 24, one of Underhill's co-workers at Manhattan Sweets Boutique Bakery in Islip. She told Corozzo that in the weeks before his death, Underhill had become more withdrawn and was sometimes "agitated."

"He just didn't talk to me as much," Gissi said. "He was different, yes."

Earlier in the trial, Corozzo argued jurors should hear about Underhill's Facebook posts from that period about "experiencing blind, murderous rage with no source."

An admittedly agitated Pearl peppered Gissi with follow-up questions.

"Did he ever express to you that he was going to kill Thomas Liming? Have you ever been agitated at work? That didn't mean you were going to kill anyone, did it?" Pearl asked, as Gissi gave yes or no answers.

"Did Kyle ever express his sexuality to you?" Pearl asked. Gissi said he hadn't, and said she had no idea about his preferences.

Later, outside the jury's presence, Corozzo asked Pearl to turn over any texts between Underhill and his girlfriend, Anna Hsiung, that mention Liming, and if there are none, to say so.

Those texts -- or lack of texts -- could indicate the nature of the relationship between Underhill and Liming, Corozzo said.

Cohen said he will decide whether prosecutors have to turn over the texts before the trial resumes Monday.

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