MOUNT SINAI, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A suspect in a deadly hit-and-run case on Long Island headed to court Monday thinking his plea deal was a done deal. But the judge shocked everyone by refusing to sentence the suspect.
As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the judge called Thomas Costa a “liar” and dismissed his plea deal, sending the man to trial to face a potentially harsher sentence.
Costa, who was on parole for a drug conviction, admitted in court that he fled the scene out of fear, hid his car and was deeply sorry. His lawyer and prosecutors reached a deal for Costa to serve two to six years in prison for leaving Benjamin fatally injured.
However, the judge nixed the plea deal, ruling Costa failed to accept responsibility for the hit-and-run and lied about his prior drug convictions.
“Total shock and surprise to me,” said defense attorney John Ebel. “I said, ‘Why did this happen? Because we had a deal.'”
“It was an accident,” said Robert Costa, the suspect’s father. “That’s all it was. My son made a bad decision, and now he’ll have to live with it.”
Costa’s trial could begin next month. He faces up to seven years if convicted.
The victim’s family applauded the judge’s decision.
“I think the trial is the best thing that can happen because it will give more time for him to be incarcerated,” said Roslyn Freedman, Karen Benjamin’s mother. “He’s a predator.”
“It certainly underscores what a bad guy this is, and we were not willing to settle,” said Robert Freedman, the victim’s brother.
“He’s got to pay the consequences, and honestly for me, this is the best decision that could happen because it is so important for our family to have justice,” said Lindsay Benjamin, Karen Benjamin’s daughter.
The Benjamins have been lobbying online for increased hit-and-run penalties. They say under current law, “it pays to flee.” If a hit-and-run driver isn’t caught within 36 hours, there is no way to prove drugs or alcohol were involved.
“If you run, you’re done,” said Andrew Benjamin, the victim’s husband. “That should be the new motto. If you run, you’re done, directly to jail.”
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