RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – A man who executed four people inside a quiet New York pharmacy during a drug robbery was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole. His wife, who drove the getaway car, received 25 years.
David Laffer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the June holdup at Haven Drugs in Medford, perhaps the most egregious case in a wave of U.S. pharmacy robberies.
Laffer said he committed the robbery because he had lost his job, and his wife required not only painkillers but also blood pressure medicine, anti-nausea pills and muscle relaxants. He jammed a backpack full of pills after killing the four.
The victim-impact statements were so emotional that hardened homicide officers fought back tears as they watched, but Laffer showed no emotion.
"He is a dark, hell bound soul," said Mary Moran, the grandmother of victim Jamie Taccetta. "He is a coward. He has no soul."
Later, she looked at Laffer and said: "Burn in hell."
Laura Bustamonte, the daughter of victim 71-year-old victim Bryon Sheffield, looked directly at Laffer and said: "You had a gun and you didn't care who or how many people had to die for your mission to be accomplished."
Laffer, his hands cuffed behind his back, sounded sober and straightforward as he read a statement from a paper held by his lawyer.
"I know that it doesn't begin to explain or excuse my horrific actions that day," he said.
"However, if a discussion and recognition of prescription pill abuse and doctor-shopping will be generated among the public, then maybe something beneficial can come from this."
He said of the victims' families: "To ask for forgiveness from them would be a selfish act."
Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, had pleaded guilty to robbery charges and was sentenced Thursday to 25 years. Prosecutors said they could not prove that Brady was aware in advance that her husband planned the killings and, thus, could not charge her with murder.
"I am so sorry for the loss of your loved ones," said Brady, who cried throughout the proceeding. "That awful day will haunt me for the rest of my life."
Judge James Hudson responded: "You're more sorry for yourself than for the victims."
Daniel Taccetta, the victim's brother, said Brady was getting away with murder. "She is just as guilty as he is," he said.
"You are both cowards for what you did to my family," said Tricia Taccetta, Jamie Taccetta's mother.
Later, Hudson told Laffer: "I promised you when you pled guilty that you could not hope for mercy and I will not disappoint you. You merit only the scorn of this community, your victim's families and this court."
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota called the killings among the most gruesome in the history of the county, which in 1974 was the scene of the "Amityville Horror" slayings in which a man killed six members of his own family.
Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney James Chalifoux said Thursday: "We as a society look at it and see that it could have been anybody. It could have been me. It could have been my children, or it could have been me or my wife."
Laffer, a 33-year-old Army veteran, walked into Haven Drugs shortly after 10 a.m. on June 19 and opened fire without announcing a robbery, killing a 45-year-old pharmacist filling in for a colleague celebrating Father's Day, and a 17-year-old store clerk who was due to graduate high school just days later.
He then fatally shot two customers who unwittingly walked in on the carnage, authorities said. One was Sheffield, a 71-year-old retiree picking up medication for his ailing wife; the couple was planning their 50th wedding anniversary in July. The other, Taccetta, was a 33-year-old mother of two who was planning her wedding.
Store surveillance video showed Laffer disguised in a scruffy beard augmented by mascara, firing at the victims.
The first shot came from a .45-caliber handgun hidden in Laffer's backpack. The bullet struck the pharmacist, Raymond Ferguson, behind the counter. Laffer then found the clerk, Jennifer Mejia, and shot her.
As he began filling a backpack with pills, Sheffield and Taccetta walked into the store and he sneaked up behind them and fired shots into their heads. He then fled with thousands of pills.
Laffer has since said in a jailhouse interview that the first shot went off accidentally and when he realized what happened, he killed the others. Prosecutors say Laffer and his wife staked out several pharmacies before settling on Haven Drugs, a tiny family-owned business on an out-of-the-way suburban street.
Investigators said they found parts of the disassembled weapon used in the holdup, as well as at least 2,000 hydrocodone-type pills in the couple's home, which is near the pharmacy.
Other evidence, including the backpack and empty medicine bottles, were believed tossed out in trash bins behind businesses in the area. A shirt Laffer was seen wearing was found buried in his yard.
Laffer was sentenced to five consecutive life terms. The five first-degree counts reflect the deaths of the four victims in the pharmacy, plus an umbrella charge for multiple murders.
Laffer has said he expects he will be killed in prison.
"I'm not even under any illusions that I'd make it 15 years," he told Newsday in a September interview.