A Great Neck woman's murder case will be Long Island's first criminal trial since the coronavirus forced some court closures in March, according to court officials, who said the proceeding may break more legal ground because of the prominent role virtual technology could play in it.
Starting Monday, retired legal secretary Faye Doomchin, 68, is scheduled to stand trial in Nassau County Court on a second-degree murder charge in the 2018 killing of a British tourist.
The proceeding is expected to include testimony from witnesses who will appear in person in the Mineola courthouse and at least one who will testify remotely via Skype.
The defendant also may take part in the trial from Nassau’s jail using Skype after coming to court for the trial’s first day, according to her attorney, Robert Gottlieb.
State court officials said it’s believed such use of Skype would be another first for New York’s court system.
Gottlieb said Doomchin will be present in court Monday so she can sign documents related to waiving a trial by jury and allowing use of the Skype video conferencing technology.
“It’s going to be groundbreaking,” Manhattan defense attorney Gottlieb said of his client’s trial. “…This is so unique and so different than anything I have done in my entire career.”
The emergence of such a hybrid trial model epitomizes the aim of top administrators in the judicial system as New York’s courts reopen. They are striving for a gradual return to in-person operations to prevent the spread of coronavirus, while trying to leverage technological advances made during the pandemic when court business went virtual.
As the trial gets underway before Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle, some of the changes will be physical in nature. That will include the face coverings that participants will wear and the seating of witnesses in the courtroom’s jury box for spacing reasons.
Courthouse visitors also will have to undergo temperature checks and answer coronavirus-related health questions on the way into the Old Country Road facility, where hand sanitizer stations and social distancing floor markers have been set up and wearing a facemask is mandatory.
“It really demonstrates the commitment of the Nassau courts to move forward during this pandemic, providing access to justice,” Nassau courts spokesman Daniel Bagnuola said of plans to hold Doomchin’s trial.
It shouldn’t be a lengthy proceeding. Gottlieb said the defense doesn’t contest that Doomchin fatally stabbed victim Denise Webster, 61, and already has stipulated to — or agreed with — a great deal of the prosecution’s evidence.
The attorney said the defense maintains that Doomchin is not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect after struggling for decades with schizoaffective disorder.
“This case begins and ends with the issue of whether or not she is so mentally ill that she couldn’t appreciate the consequences of her acts,” Gottlieb said.
The prosecution and the defense will present experts who examined Doomchin and will render contrasting opinions on that issue, he added.
Nassau district attorney’s office spokesman Brendan Brosh declined to comment on the elements of the case. But of the trial itself he said that prosecutors "welcome the introduction and continued use of technology in our court proceedings."
Police have said Doomchin declared she "needed to rid the house of evil” before plunging a knife into Webster’s chest while the victim was visiting her home on Aug. 13, 2018.
A mutual male friend who introduced the women that day also was present along with another member of his family, according to authorities. They said the group went to the defendant’s North Road residence to enjoy piano music, along with coffee and cake after lunching out.
Doomchin said she didn’t like Webster as they sat talking in her living room, according to police, who added that the defendant went into her kitchen to retrieve the weapon before lashing out with the deadly violence.
Webster was from Garswood in northwest England and had traveled to the United States for a three-week visit, police also said.
The victim reportedly was in New York to see former “American Idol” star Adam Lambert in concert, and the singer — now frontman for rock band Queen — later acknowledged Webster’s death in a tweet that said he was “Heavy hearted.”
After the stabbing, Doomchin told authorities she made a "terrible mistake," but felt Webster was "evil," a prosecutor previously said in court.
“I meant to do a good thing and it turned out awful. God, strike me dead," Doomchin also said in the stabbing's aftermath, according to authorities.
The prosecution has said the defendant also remarked that she wished she "could go into a time warp and make this day never happen."
In 1999, Doomchin carried out a nonfatal knife attack on another woman in Great Neck, and later pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect and was under mental health supervision for years, court records show.
Gottlieb has called that assault in a store and the slaying "strikingly similar" and said his client got outpatient, state-mandated treatment for more than a decade after the 1999 encounter.
He added that Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where Doomchin was treated after her 2018 arrest, had “documented her psychotic state" after Webster's homicide.
But a prosecutor previously cited evidence suggesting that Doomchin “had some sort of jealousy” toward Webster because of the attention the woman was getting from their male friend.