Death penalty off the table in NY, Fla. killings

A Florida woman accused of arranging the killings of her husband and mother-in-law will not face the death penalty, a federal prosecutor announced Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliott Jacobson said in court that he was directed by the Justice Department not to seek the execution of Narcy Novack, 54, of Fort Lauderdale, or her brother, Cristobal Veliz, 57, of Brooklyn.

They are accused of hiring killers who did away with Bernice Novack in her Florida home and Ben Novack in his New York hotel room. Ben Novack's father built the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. He and his mother were beaten to death in 2009 in what the government says was Narcy Novack's attempt to acquire the family's multimillion-dollar estate.

Narcy Novack and Veliz have pleaded not guilty.

Jacobson did not say why the Justice Department decided against capital punishment. He said he still plans to upgrade the charges next month to include murder in aid of racketeering. When the death penalty is not at issue, that charge carries a mandatory life sentence upon conviction.

Novack's attorney, Howard Tanner, would not comment on how she took the news that the death penalty was off the table. He also would not say whether the maneuver could spur plea negotiations. He said Novack is innocent and he is looking forward to defending her.

Federal death penalty cases — and executions — are uncommon. Invoking the death penalty can delay a trial for months and add millions of dollars to the cost of prosecution.

U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn sought capital punishment this year for Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, who was convicted of ordering a gangland hit while taking control of the Bonanno crime family. But the jury, which decides the sentence in federal death penalty cases, chose life in prison over death.

Just three federal prisoners, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, have been executed since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. There are 58 prisoners on federal Death Row, none involving New York cases.

The death of Bernice Novack, 87, was originally ruled an accident, despite her broken jaw and blood smeared on the walls of her Fort Lauderdale house. It was reclassified a homicide after Narcy Novack's arrest in the death of her husband.

Ben Novack, 53, was found beaten to death in July 2009 at the Hilton hotel in the New York City suburb of Rye Brook, where his company had organized an Amway convention.

Prosecutors said Narcy Novack let two men into the suite she was sharing with her husband, where they beat him with dumbbells and bound him with duct tape. His eyes were allegedly cut with a utility knife on his wife's orders.

Narcy Novack's daughter, May Abad, stands to inherit the Ben Novack estate, which includes one of the world's largest collections of Batman memorabilia, if her mother is convicted.