HACKENSACK, N.J. – The lawyer for a Florida man who claims he's too fat to have killed his former son-in-law told jurors on Wednesday all they have to do is is look at his client to see that he's obese, old, and in no condition to commit such a murder.
Prosecutors agreed that Edward Ates is far from fit, but said he's still capable of methodically planning and executing the killing of Paul Duncsak.
"He's not running a marathon. I'll agree he probably can't do that," Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Wayne Mello told the jury during closing arguments. "What he can do is execute his son."
Prosecutors claim Ates drove from his home in Fort Pierce, Fla., to Duncsak's $1.1 million home in Ramsey, about 25 miles northwest of Manhattan, in August 2006 and shot him as he came home from work. Police quickly suspected Ates and found him 24 hours later at his mother's home in Sibley, La.
Defense lawyer Walter Lesnevich said his client — age 62 and at least 285 pounds at the time of the murder — didn't have the energy to run up a staircase, accurately shoot Duncsak, leave before police arrived, then make a 21-hour drive to his mother's home in order to create an alibi as prosecutors claim.
"Look at him!" Lesnevich told jurors, adding that Ates was 60 pounds heavier at the time of the crime.
Prosecutors also said there was evidence that the killer was hungry: A Burger King hamburger wrapper was found near Duncsak's body, and Duncsak was on his cell phone moments before he was shot asking his girlfriend if she had left the Whopper wrapper there. She said she had not.
Prosecutors have said Duncsak, a pharmaceutical executive, and Ates' daughter, Stacey, were involved in a bitter custody dispute after their divorce and that Stacey had serious money trouble.
Ates' attorney told jurors that a custody agreement had already settled on by the time of the murder.
"If he was planning this for a year, wouldn't it have made sense to get rid of Paul Duncsak while the divorce was going on?" Lesnevich posed to jurors.
But prosecutors countered that Duncsak had set up a $1.5 million trust for the children which Stacey would have control were Duncsak to die.
"She was spiraling downward into an abyss from which there appeared no return," Mello told the jury. "All she had, really, was daddy."
During the trial, the prosecution portrayed Ates, a former Marine, as a skilled marksman who methodically planned the murder for over a year. Mello pointed to the fact that at one point during his trip to Louisiana, Ates shot at a snake — inferring that Ates was still an accurate shooter.
The prosecution claimed Ates scouted Duncsak's neighborhood, used prepaid cell phones, did Internet searches and ordered books — including one entitled "How to Commit a Perfect Murder" — to help him learn to pick locks and build a gun silencer, and that Ates trip to visit his elderly mother was as a means to create an alibi.
Lesnevich disputes that his client could have made the trip to Louisiana without stopping, as prosecutors have suggested, and called upon doctors to talk about Ates' physical limitations.
Dr. Michael Farber, an internal medicine specialist at Hackensack University Medical Center, testified that bounding up the stairs would have caused Ates to become short of breath and shake, making it difficult to keep his wrist straight enough to accurately fire a gun at someone from a distance. He called it "highly improbable" that Ates could have driven for 21 hours straight.
Ates took the stand in his own defense. He said he had no reason to want Duncsak dead, but didn't delve much into his weight.