Brown Asks Chair For One Wendy’s Killer, Life Without Parole For Other
After eight months of soul searching and scrutinizing the evidence in the Wendy’s massacre in Flushing last May, District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Monday he will seek the death penalty against one accused murderer and life without parole for the second because he is mentally retarded under New York law.
Brown, who personally opposes capital punishment, told Queens Supreme Court Justice Steven W. Fisher in a rare court appearance that he was "satisfied, after a lengthy, intense and thorough process," that defendant John Taylor, 36, should face the death penalty in a special trial if he is first found guilty of the charges in the 50-count indictment which arose out of the multiple killings last May 24th in Wendy’s on Main Street in Flushing.
Brown told the judge that "the aggravating factors involved" in Taylor’s case "substantially outweigh any mitigating circumstances and under the law a sentence of death would be justified in the event of his conviction."
In an interview following the court hearing Brown was asked what the major reason was that he set aside his aversion to the death penalty and requested it in Taylor’s case.
"I cannot provide any more details because it might violate the defendant’s right to fair prosecution," Brown replied. But, he added, "That which occurred was one of the worst crimes that ever occurred in Queens or New York City."
In response to a question regarding Taylor’s motive, Brown said, "We treated it as a robbery. (Craig) Godineaux told the court they went in intending to rob the place and Taylor put the gun in his hands and told him to shoot the victims to make certain there were no witnesses."
As to defendant Craig Godineaux, 30, the soft-spoken DA said, "His plea of guilty has been accepted because under New York law it is clear that he is mentally retarded and cannot, as a result, be executed."
At another point during the hearing before a hushed audience in the Kew Gardens Courthouse, Godineaux pleaded guilty to each count of the indictment "upon the understanding," Brown said, "that he will receive the maximum sentence allowed by law."
Judge Fisher then told Godineaux, who was represented by Legal Aid attorney Colleen Brady, that he would face five consecutive terms of life in prison without parole, assuring he would never get out of prison alive.
Brown also explained that under the law, unlike a person who is found not responsible by reason of insanity, a mentally retarded person may be held criminally responsible for his or her acts.
An aide to Brown explained this distinction was made to account for the fact that Godineaux would serve out his sentence in a prison and not in a mental institution or hospital.
In what Brown has described as the most horrible crime in his 28 years in law enforcement, Taylor, who had formerly worked in a Wendy’s fast-food place, and Godineaux forced the seven employees at gunpoint down to the basement and into a freezer.
There they covered the victims’ heads with plastic bags and, according to confessions by the two defendants, Taylor killed one and Godineaux shot five others, three of whom died.
The dead victims were Anita C. Smith, 22, Jeremy Mele, 18, Jean Dunel August, 27, Ramon Nazario, 44 and Ali Abidat, 40.
The pair who survived were Jaquione Johnson, who remains in a nursing home because of his injuries, and Patrick Castro, who is fully recovered and is expected to be a key witness at Taylor’s trial.
Prosecutors have said that the defendants’ confessions and eyewitness accounts created an overwhelming case against Taylor and Godineaux.
Brown had six months to examine the evidence against the pair before making a determination whether he wanted to seek the death penalty. But when that six months was up last November, he asked the court for and was granted a two-month extension. During the extended period, Brown’s office investigated Godineaux’s mental capacity. It was on the basis of what this investigation showed that Brown accepted the conclusion that Godineaux was mentally retarded in the eyes of the law.
Brown disclosed in his appearance in court on Monday that during the two-month extension he met with the families of the victims and with the survivors and their families, and consulted with his eight-member capital case review committee.
The DA said he also relied upon the examinations and findings of two forensic psychologists, Dr. Daniel A. Martell of Newport Beach, California, and Dr. Timothy J. Derning of Lafayette, California. Their examinations looked into Godineaux’s elementary and high school and other records, Brown said, "including various test scores and interviews with people who knew him as a child and who know him now."
Brown concluded: "While I understand that some might want a more detailed explanation for the decisions that I have reached, the interests of a vigorous and fair prosecution in this and other cases precludes further comment. My prime responsibility is to ensure that nothing compromises or prejudices this or any other capital prosecution and any further comment by me at this time would be inconsistent with that responsibility."
Meanwhile, relatives of the victims generally supported seeking the death penalty against both Taylor and Godineaux. Reacting to the treatment accorded Godineaux, Jean August, mother of the assistant manager who was among those slain, said, "I wanted to kill them myself, but I didn’t. I expected to see justice served. And it’s not."