NY pharmacy shooting suspect pleads not guilty
CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. – Two years ago, they posed for a wedding photo: Him beaming broadly in a dark suit, she a pudgy fresh-faced bride. They soon started a promising life together in the suburban New York home where he was raised.
Police mug shots of David Laffer and Melinda Brady released Thursday portrayed an altogether different couple: Gaunt, stone-faced suspects charged with a drug-store robbery and the killings of two pharmacy employees and two customers on Father's Day.
Laffer, 33, had two black eyes and bruises all over his face during his arraignment on first-degree murder charges, where a court-appointed attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
A police complaint says Laffer sustained the injuries when he grabbed for a police officer's weapon during a raid at his Medford home on Wednesday. He was tackled to the ground and placed in handcuffs, the complaint said.
Brady, 29, now many pounds lighter than her wedding photo, was being treated at a hospital for an undisclosed ailment, forcing authorities to temporarily postpone her arraignment. She is charged with robbery and obstructing governmental administration, although a prosecutor said Thursday that upgraded charges were likely.
Both were high on drugs when they were arrested, police said.
Assistant District Attorney John Collins described the shootings Sunday at Haven Drugs in Medford as "the most cold-blooded robbery-homicide in Suffolk County history." He said the methodical killings were captured on surveillance video.
Laffer, his wife waiting outside in the car, went into the pharmacy and commenced the carnage, Collins said.
"He did not announce a robbery," Collins said at the arraignment, where Laffer was ordered held without bail. "He simply shot first after engaging the pharmacist in conversation."
The pharmacist, Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, was shot once in the abdomen. Prosecutors say Laffer then aimed his .45-caliber handgun and shot 17-year-old store clerk Jennifer Mejia, killing her.
Laffer, the prosecutor said, then fired two more fatal shots at the pharmacist before two customers, 71-year-old Bryon Sheffield and 33-year-old Jamie Taccetta, walked into Haven Drugs without a clue about what was happening.
"He came up behind them and simply executed them by shooting them in the back of the head," Collins said.
Seven bullets fired, four people dead.
The prosecutor said Laffer left with a backpack full of painkillers "of the hydrocodone family," and fled with his wife back to their home about a mile and a half away. He left behind fingerprints, Collins said, one of several keys in his eventual capture.
A print was matched to those on file in the Suffolk County Police Department from a pistol license permit Laffer had obtained several years ago, authorities said. Police also found other weapons and ammunition during a search of Laffer's home.
Laffer reportedly worked at a Yaphank warehouse, although his wife told reporters he was currently unemployed. A spokesman for the company where Laffer had worked did not immediately comment.
Police Commissioner Richard Dormer was at a loss to explain the actions of a suspect who had no criminal record or history of violence.
"It is very difficult to comprehend this," he said. "To suddenly engage in this type of violent behavior is beyond understanding. It doesn't make sense. I don't have the answer. Nobody has the answer."
Brady, who was cooperating with investigators, provided a glimpse on Wednesday night when she was led from police headquarters to a nearby precinct holding cell.
"He was doing it because he lost his job and I was sick," Brady said. "He did it. He did all of this," she told reporters. She seemed addled and disheveled in an over-sized yellow T-shirt and black shorts.
Laffer expressed surprise early Thursday morning when reporters asked what he thought about his wife blaming him, although his response was inaudible.
Brady had several surgeries on her mouth in the year before their January 2009 wedding, according to posts she made on the website Long Island Weddings. She told fellow brides-to-be on the site that she was in severe pain and taking different types of painkillers.
"I only take it if I really have to," one post read. "I really hate taking them."
She wrote that Laffer and her family were supportive, but it was taking a toll on her relationships.
"I have been on pills after pills for this infection and it won't go away," she wrote. "I am not a depressed person or anything before this all happened. I was happy."
Laffer served in the Army from 1994 until 2002 and attained the rank of private first class, said Mark Edwards, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Fort Knox. While in the service, he worked as an intelligence analyst.
His Facebook page showed he was interested in weapons and science fiction. He lists himself as a fan of the conspiracy-based science fiction drama "Dark Skies" and the Spike TV show "Deadliest Warrior." He also lists Springfield XD, a type of pistol, among his interests.
The intense manhunt for the suspects in the worst mass killing in Suffolk County since six family members were slain in the 1974 "Amityville Horror" killings, generated more than 400 tips from a community on edge since Sunday, police said.
"We know this arrest won't bring back Raymond, Jennifer, Bryon and Jamie, but we're hoping this will provide some sense of closure to the victims' families," said Dormer, the police commissioner. "We are also hoping this gives the community peace of mind that this violent individual is behind bars."