A Wyandanch man accused Suffolk homicide detectives of forging statements saying he witnessed a murder in North Amityville, claiming police harassed and intimidated him until shortly before he walked into a Riverhead courtroom Wednesday to testify.
Tariq Burwell, 35, was the first witness to testify on behalf of Shawn Lawrence, 42, who is charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder. Lawrence is accused of taking part in a Jan. 12, 2010, shooting that killed James Terry, 44, and left David Hodges and Ralph Council Jr., 49, injured.
Lawrence was arrested in 2012 based on a statement that police say Burwell signed, which says he saw Lawrence and Allen McGhee open fire on a minivan in the parking lot of Andpress Plaza, an apartment complex. McGhee is serving 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Burwell said Wednesday he wasn't at Andpress Plaza during the shooting and never signed any police statements. He said he went there that night only after his wife heard Terry had been shot.
During questioning by defense attorney Joseph Hanshe of Sayville, Burwell said he refused when Det. Thomas Walsh asked him to sign the witness statement.
"The only time I met with Walsh is when he came to my house and said, 'Do me a favor and sign this piece of paper,' and he'd clear up my criminal charges," Burwell said.
The last time he saw Walsh was moments before he began testifying, he said.
"In the hallway, Detective Walsh told me I could get 7 years for perjury," Burwell testified. That warning came, he said, after a series of false arrests "because I wouldn't do what they want me to do."
During cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock, Burwell acknowledged a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1994, which includes drug sales, burglary, assault, forgery and other charges. Burwell said several of the arrests were baseless.
Earlier Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice William Condon interrupted the trial to have a brief hearing on the defense claim that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence that a teenager was arrested with one of the guns used in the shooting.
The original prosecutor in the case, Robert Biancavilla, testified that although he didn't recall turning over the ballistics report for the gun to the defense, he knows he must have because he made the same note on his copy of the report that he always makes when he turns over evidence.
Hanshe noted that when Biancavilla turned over evidence to a prior defense attorney, it came with a letter listing all the items. But Biancavilla said it's possible he sent the report separately or turned it over during a court appearance.
Hanshe told Condon the defense never got it and asked again for a mistrial or a dismissal of the case. Condon again refused.