Suspect in pharmacy murders pleads not guilty

Mug shots of David Laffer and wife Melinda Brady

June 23, 2011 8:16:30 PM PDT
The man accused of killing four people during a drug store robbery on Long Island pleaded not guilty to murder charges Thursday.

David Laffer, 33, and his 29-year-old wife were arrested Wednesday at their home, not far from Haven Drugs in Medford.

Laffer was ordered held without bail.

The sadness and the anger felt by residents in the town was only compounded by the fear that this gunman could strike again. Police believed the suspect was a drug addict and issued warnings to other pharmacies to be on guard in case he needed more pills once his stash ran out. Now, investigators say they have their man locked up.

Laffer was led out of police headquarters in Yaphank Wednesday night and taken straight to jail on charges of first-degree murder and resisting arrest.

He claims he was not strung out on drugs at the time of the murders.

A three-day manhunt ended with police descending on Laffer's home, located just a mile and a half from the pharmacy where he's accused of slaughtering 17-year-old Jennifer Mejia and 45-year-old Raymond Ferguson, both employees, as well as customers Jamie Taccetta, 33, and Byron Sheffield, 71. He allegedly committed the violent crimes while wearing a fake beard, glasses and a baseball cap.

"They were full force, not playing no games," neighbor Peter Spano said of the police. "They were so professional. I really, in all honesty, I was in awe."

Laffer's wife, Melinda Brady, was arrested on charges of robbery and obstructing governmental administration. Brady, who allegedly drove Laffer to the drug store, was hospitalized Thursday for unknown reasons. It's not clear when she would be arraigned.

"I'm sorry that he did all this," she said as she was led out of police headquarters Wednesday night.

Brady apologized for her husband as she was taken to jail, saying he did it because he lost his job because of her health.

"He did it," she said. "He did all of this."

Sources say Laffer carried out the murders so he could steal more than 11,000 pain pills to feed an addiction. Several hundred tips, including one from his former boss, led investigators to Laffer.

But it was the New York City Office of Special Narcotics that really cracked the case. Investigators realized that Laffer had filled multiple prescriptions for oxycodone at the same drugstore. They also learned he lived nearby and had a pistol license, and his fingerprints were found at the crime scene.

Undercover police started staking out his home, and a day later they made their arrests. Police say both suspects were high at the time of their arrest and put up a violent fight being taken into custody. Laffer's injuries (seen in his mug shot) were attributed to his resistance, which included trying to grab an officer's gun and refusing to let it go, according to court papers.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said at a news conference Thursday that Laffer has not been cooperating with authorities and shows no remorse.

As word spread of arrests, Taccetta's grandmother showed up on Laffer's block with a message for the accused killer.

"You're the devil," she said. "Your day will come."

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.

Friends and neighbors said they did not believe Laffer, whom they described as polite and friendly, was the shooters. They said if there were drug problems, they did not see it. He lived at his family's home in Medford with his mother, Pam, and his wife.

According to their wedding announcement, Laffer and his future wife met while they were out to dinner with mutual friends, and he proposed to her at an Islanders game. Next-door neighbor Trish Bohlert attended the wedding and said Laffer was always friendly.

"Something must have made him snap, because his personality, I can't picture him robbing a store, much less hurt people," she said.

It was the worst mass killing in Suffolk County since 1974, when a man shot six relatives to death in Amityville, a crime that spawned horror films and a book after the family's home was said to be haunted.

The Victims:

Meanwhile, the families and friends of the victims have begun the difficult process of saying goodbye.

An hour before the start of Jennifer Mejia's wake Wednesday afternoon, the teenager's extended family arrived at the Robertaccio Funeral Home in Patchogue to mourn the senseless killing of a smart and beautiful 17-year-old girl.

"It's not who she is, it's not what she give us. It's so we give the same thing back," Angel Ramirez, speaking for the family, said.

Mejia was set to graduate Thursday from Bellport High School. Her classmates, along with teachers and administrators, wiped away tears as they arrived at the funeral home, where Jennifer's body lay in the dress she was ready to wear to Wednesday night's prom.

Mejia was honored at that prom. Her classmates were easy to pick out at the crime scene in Medford, as many showed up wearing their prom gowns.

She was also remembered at Thursday evening's graduation.

Before they graduated, they would stop to remember the special classmate they have lost.

"I can't even explain it right now. It's so sad, what happened to her," said Brandon Williams, a graduating senior.

It was a night that was supposed to be a joyous celebration, but it was full of mixed emotions for Bellport High School seniors as they left the graduation ceremony without their classmate, Jennifer Mejia.

"They had a picture there, and they had these ribbons, and her funeral is coming up," said a student.

At the start of the graduation ceremony, white balloons were released in her honor.

The school district consulted Jennifer's family on ways to honor her.

"It's that visual meaning, of her watching down on us," said Joe Cipp, the Superintendent of Schools.

Several hundred people filled the school's auditorium as these 287 graduates spoke of Jennifer from the heart.

This class of 2011 at Bellport did not want this moment to pass without remembering Jennifer.

In the graduation program, there is a touching dedication to their classmate who had big dreams of becoming a doctor.

"Jennifer would want us to be close and not separate because of this, or try and stay inside our houses. She would want us to have fun and enjoy her as a good person and not anything negative," said Melissa Mosby, a student.

Many students wore purple ribbons, one of Jennifer's favorite colors, to honor her.

It is tough on many students struggling to deal with the loss of a classmate and yet looking forward to taking their next important steps in life.

"A lot of the students are just devastated. Many of them went to the wake this afternoon before the ceremony tonight. It's tough, tough on the kids, tough on everybody in the community," a parent said.

Even as students and parents were arriving for the ceremony, Sean Clark, a friend of Jennifer's was struggling with mixed feelings.

"She was a beautiful girl, a joy and genuine. Everybody loves Jen. I just send my condolences to her and her family. I loved Jen, she was the best but, this shouldn't have happened," Clark said.

A similar scene of grief and sorrow could be found in Farmingdale, where family and friends filled the McCourt and Trudden Funeral Home to say goodbye to Raymond Ferguson. The 45-year-old was working behind the drug-store counter Sunday morning when the gunman shot him dead.

Jamie Taccetta, 33, and Bryon Sheffield, 71, were also killed in the shooting.


Jennifer Mejia
Thursday- Wake at the Robertaccio Funeral Home on Route 112 between 2 and 4 p.m. and 7 and 9 p.m.
Friday- The funeral Mass will be at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Patchogue at 10 a.m., with burial following at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.

Raymond Ferguson
Saturday- Funeral Mass at 10:45 a.m. at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church, 110-06 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, Queens.

Jaime Taccetta
Thursday and Friday- Viewing at Moloney's Lake Funeral Home and Cremation Center, 132 Ronkonkoma Ave., Lake Ronkonkoma from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
Saturday- Funeral Mass at 8 a.m. at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, 45 Church St., Ronkonkoma, followed by burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Coram.