Pharmacy shooting suspect pleads not guilty

June 30, 2011 2:18:55 PM PDT
A Long Island man accused of killing two pharmacy employees and two customers during a holdup for prescription painkillers pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges on Thursday in a heavily secured courtroom.

David Laffer appeared on charges stemming from the June 19 massacre at Haven Drugs in Medford.

About 15 officers ringed the courtroom, including at least four directly surrounding the handcuffed defendant, as he pleaded not guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and four counts of criminal use of a firearm. About two dozen relatives of the victims watched from the gallery.

According to the indictment, the five first-degree counts reflect the deaths of the four victims in the pharmacy, plus an umbrella charge for multiple murders.

If convicted, Laffer faces life without parole on the murder counts and up to 25 years in prison on each of the weapons charges.

Laffer and his wife, 29-year-old Melinda Brady, were arrested June 22 in their suburban home a mile and a half from Haven Drugs, where authorities say he opened fire on the victims before jamming a backpack full of prescription painkillers.

Prosecutors have called the killings, which were captured on a drugstore surveillance camera, "the most cold-blooded robbery-homicide in Suffolk County history."

The four deaths were the worst mass killing on Long Island since a gunman opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road train in 1993, killing six commuters.

Laffer, who was originally charged with one count of first-degree murder and resisting arrest, is being held without bail in protective custody in the county jail. His wife is being held on $750,000 bail on allegations of driving the getaway car.

She has cooperated with investigators, police have said, but prosecutors say she also faces the likelihood of upgraded charges from a grand jury in coming days.

Authorities have not said whether the painkillers were recovered after the holdup, but Police Commissioner Richard Dormer noted both were high on drugs when they were arrested.

The victims included the 45-year-old pharmacist who was working so a colleague could enjoy Father's Day, and a 17-year-old clerk who was days away from her high school graduation.

A 71-year-old man picking up medication for his ailing wife and a 33-year-old mother of two who was planning to be married this year were shot in the back of the head when they unwittingly walked in on the carnage, police said.

Prosecutors say Laffer left with painkillers "of the hydrocodone family." His fingerprints were found on a piece of paper left on the store's countertop, according to a prosecutor.

But defense attorney Mary Beth Abbate has suggested Laffer was a frequent customer and could have left his fingerprints there some other time.

More troublesome for the defense is the surveillance video that captured the massacre, although the suspect in the shooting wore a beard, hat and mask. Laffer was clean-shaven when he was arrested.

Brady blamed her husband when she was led from police headquarters to a nearby precinct holding cell following her arrest last week. "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 had previously posted messages on a website discussing her difficulty with painkillers.

Laffer served in the Army from 1994 until 2002 and attained the rank of private first class, said Mark Edwards, a spokesman for the Army Human Resources Command in Fort Knox. While in the service, he worked as an intelligence analyst.

Media reports have said he lost his job at a Long Island warehouse several weeks ago.

Laffer will be held without bail until his next court appearance, on Sept. 8. The judge said jury selection is expected in early January.