WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The key prosecution witnesses in the killings of a Florida millionaire and his mother are "outright sociopaths" who shouldn't be believed, a defense lawyer told jurors Wednesday.
"They're people without consciences, they're people without a soul," attorney Lawrence Sheehan said while presenting his closing argument for defendant Cristobal Veliz. Veliz and his sister, Narcy Novack, are accused of arranging the 2009 killings of Novack's husband, Ben Novack Jr., and her mother-in-law, Bernice Novack.
Ben Novack was the son of the man who built the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. Prosecutors say Narcy Novack wanted control of her husband's multimillion-dollar estate.
Sheehan spent most of his time castigating the men who carried out the killings, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
The killers, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzalez, testified that they were recruited and paid by Veliz and that Veliz was acting at Narcy Novack's behest.
The defense attorney seized on the brutality of the killings to attack the character of the witnesses.
"What type of animal beats an 86-year-old woman across the face with a monkey wrench?" Sheehan asked jurors, echoing Garcia's account of the killing of Bernice Novack at her Fort Lauderdale home. He also noted that Garcia admitted using a utility knife to slice Ben Novack's eyes during his fatal beating in suburban New York.
Sheehan said the killers — and two getaway drivers who also testified — had only one way out when they were caught: "cooperate and manufacture evidence."
He said their plea deals with the government, which could lead to shorter prison sentences, encourage them to say whatever the prosecutors want.
"They know that if they don't give the government what the government wants, they go to jail," Sheehan said.
He also pointed out more than 20 inconsistencies in their testimony and questioned whether they were "testifying or testi-lying."
And he made several casual suggestions that the real force behind the killings was May Abad, Narcy Novack's daughter. Veliz has claimed that Abad, who has not been charged and has denied involvement, was responsible. And the defense has pointed out that if Narcy Novack is convicted, Abad's sons would inherit the bulk of the family estate.
Veliz, who had shouted Abad's name Tuesday during the prosecution's closing argument, startled the courtroom again Wednesday. He told Judge Kenneth Karas — against his lawyer's advice — that he was willing to plead guilty in exchange for a chance to expose what he said was false evidence against him.
Motioning to prosecutors, he said, "I can say they're liars to their face." He suggested his lawyer had made deals with the prosecutors.
Karas said that was "just absurd" and told Veliz he could not plead guilty while disputing his guilt.
He reminded Veliz he had testified for four days and would not get "a do-over."