Defendant halts NY hotel heir trial, yells at jury

One of the defendants in the killings of a Florida hotel heir and his mother asserted his innocence on Tuesday by shouting at the jury during the prosecution's closing argument.

Cristobal Veliz's outburst came as prosecutor Andrew Dember blamed him and his sister, Narcy Novack, for orchestrating the 2009 killings of her husband, Ben Novack, and her mother-in-law, Bernice Novack.

Dember said the men who carried out the killings "were brought into this case by these two defendants."

Veliz then shouted, "By May Abad!"

The defense strategy has been to suggest that Abad, Narcy Novack's daughter and Veliz's niece, is responsible for the killings. It notes that her sons would inherit the family fortune if her mother is convicted. Abad has not been charged and has denied any involvement.

Judge Kenneth Karas immediately sent the jury out of the courtroom and angrily told Veliz he would be banned from the courtroom if he erupted again.

"I expect you and everyone else in the courtroom to act with sufficient respect," the judge said. "Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," Veliz said.

Earlier, without the jury present and against his lawyer's advice, Veliz told the judge that despite his several days of testimony he had more to say.

The judge denied Veliz's request.

When Dember, the prosecutor, resumed his closing argument, he called the claim that Abad was to blame "incredible." He reminded jurors that the killers, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez, testified that they had been recruited and paid by Veliz and that Narcy Novack had ushered them into her hotel room to kill her husband.

He acknowledged that Garcia and Gonzalez, who have pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing, are criminals cooperating in the hopes of lenient prison terms so they can "walk out of jail, not leave in a coffin." But he said their testimony was credible and was corroborated by other witnesses and documents.

Ben Novack ran a successful travel company and was the son of the man who built the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. The prosecution says Narcy Novack, knowing her husband was having an affair, feared she would be divorced and would lose the chance to inherit the multimillion-dollar family estate.

Dember reminded jurors that the other woman, a heavily tattooed stripper named Rebecca Bliss, testified Narcy Novack had tried and failed to break up the affair by offering her $10,000.

But Novack gave up that plan in favor of what Dember called "Plan B" — doing away with her husband and his mother, thus clearing the way to take over the estate.

She wanted "to punish Ben Novack for his marital indiscretions and take control of his assets, his business and his wealth," Dember said.

He then laid out in meticulous detail — using cellphone records, credit card records and an ATM surveillance video — the course of the alleged plot as Novack, Veliz, Garcia, Gonzalez and others conferred and traveled up and down the East Coast.

Bernice Novack, who was 86, was beaten to death on April 4, 2009, at her Fort Lauderdale home. Garcia said he used a plumber's wrench. Ben Novack was killed three months later at the Hilton Rye Town in Rye Brook, N.Y., where his company was running an Amway convention. He was beaten with dumbbells, and his eyes were slashed with a utility knife.

Dember cited testimony from one of the getaway drivers that Veliz had told him "Narcy Novack wanted Ben Novack assaulted and was paying to have it done."

Garcia testified that in both cases, the plan was to disable the Novacks, not kill them, but both died.

Dember repeatedly pointed out where Veliz's testimony differed from records and even changed as he testified. He described as "fantasy" Veliz's account of his whereabouts, including claims he was on bus trips to Canada and a Virginia amusement park.

"His alibi has so many holes in it ... it is utterly incredible," Dember said. "He can't keep his story straight."

He also mocked the killers, calling them "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" because they were repeatedly caught on hotel video when they were supposed to be scouting the surveillance cameras.

The defense lawyers are expected to start their closing arguments on Wednesday.