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Trial begins in Officer Peter Figoski slaying

Kevin Santos sits by his lawyer in court

Kevin Santos sits by his lawyer in court in Brooklyn during a hearing prior to going to trial in the murder of police officer Peter Figoski of West Babylon in 2011. (April 29, 2013) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

A Queens man suspected of being the ringleader of a robbery crew that preyed on drug dealers went on trial Wednesday in Brooklyn on charges of taking part in the murder of NYPD Officer Peter Figoski, a West Babylon resident.

Prosecutor Kenneth Taub outlined in his opening statement in State Supreme Court how Nelson Morales and four other Ozone Park residents went to a Brooklyn home owned by an uncle of Morales about 2 a.m. on Dec. 12, 2011, to rob a small-time drug dealer who lived in the basement. As Taub spoke, Morales, 28, stared straight ahead or looked down at the table.

When two police officers responded to the report of a commotion in the basement, Morales pretended to be a victim and put his head in his hands, Taub told the jury. Responding officers thought, "This guy must be a victim," Taub said, and even asked him if others in the room were the robbers.

"That's how good his performance was," Taub said in a 45-minute opening statement.

Taub said two other robbers, who had been hiding in a side room, ran out of the basement, but encountered Figoski coming down the steps to back up the first officers on the scene.

Lamont Pride, 29, of Brooklyn, shot Figoski in the head before the officer had a chance to draw his gun, Taub said. Pride was convicted of murder in February and is serving a term of 45 years to life in prison. The accused getaway driver was acquitted by another jury in February.

Taub said detectives began to doubt the Morales "performance" -- particularly after Pride saw him at the 75th Precinct and said aloud: "There's Nels."

Morales' attorney, Wayne Bodden of Brooklyn, made a brief opening statement in which he asked the jurors to keep an open mind, and told them, "Passion is not evidence."

Figoski's parents, Mary Anne, 79, and Frank, 80, attended Wednesday's court session, as did about 50 police officers, some in uniform and some in civilian clothes. The officer's four daughters, who had attended most of the Pride trial, were not in the courtroom.

The trial of another accused robber, Kevin Santos, 32, was to begin Thursday in the same courtroom before the same judge, Alan Marrus, with another opening statement from Taub, but before a separate jury.

The prosecution will begin presenting evidence and testimony Thursday afternoon, but one jury will be out of the courtroom at times during the trial because some evidence is not admissible against both defendants.

A fifth man, Ariel Tejada, 24, pleaded guilty to murder and accepted a sentence of 18 years to life in prison in return for his testimony.

All five defendants were charged with murder under a state law and legal theory that they were responsible for any death resulting from a felony they committed."If they hadn't been out to rob a drug dealer on that fateful evening, then Peter Figoski would be alive today," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement. "The PBA fervently hopes that they will be found guilty and given the maximum sentence."

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