NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A jury on Friday found one of the men on trial for the death of 26-year-old Joseph Comunale guilty of murder and hiding the body.
James Rackover and two New Jersey men were charged in the death of Comunale, whose body was found in Oceanport, N.J., buried in a shallow grave within a wooded area behind a flower shop back in 2016 after a night of partying in Manhattan.
Prosecutors say Rackover and Larry Dilione beat and stabbed Communale at Rackover’s Upper East Side apartment.
Friday morning, the jury requested autopsy photos and a read-back of a doctor’s testimony about the stab wounds amid their deliberations.
After a short deliberation, the jury came back with guilty verdicts for all four charges facing the 27-year-old, including murder and concealment of a human corpse. Applause and cheers broke out as the jurors rendered their decision.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the NYPD in what they did,” Comunale’s father, Pat, said following the verdict. “And everyone who’s supported us over the last two years.”
In Rackover’s trial, the defense argued Dillione killed Comunale, and Rackover just helped cover it up and conceal the corpse.
Prosecutors argues Dillione and Rackover both murdered Comunale and together made the decision to cover it up.
Rackover has a criminal history in Florida, including burglary and drug charges.
Dillione has also been charged with Comunale’s murder and will be tried in early 2019.
Police said the victim was at a club in Greenwich Village when he decided to leave with some people he had just met. Sources said he went to a party with them inside a fourth-floor apartment at the Grand Sutton building near the corner of East 59th Street and First Avenue early Sunday morning. At some point, violence broke out.
Prosecutors in Rackover’s trial say medical evidence shows Comunale’s wounds were consistent with being beaten by two people, and consistent with being stabbed from both sides.
Comunale’s father reported him missing when he never came home. Sources said the NYPD also received a 911 call about a man dragging a suspicious trash bag out of the East Side building.
K-9 dogs found pants and sheets covered in human blood inside the apartment building, and the luggage cart used to carry the bags from the apartment to the car was among several pieces of evidence collected in the investigation.
After he was killed, they said the men tried to dismember Comunale’s body in a bathtub before tossing his remains out the window of Rackover’s high-rise apartment. They said Rackover and Dilione then drove the body to Oceanport where they burned it and left it in a shallow grave.
Prosecutors said EZPass and license plate readers traced Rackover’s car heading to New Jersey the night Comunale went missing.
Comunale’s father, Patrick Comunale, also filed a lawsuit alleging Rackover’s surrogate father, Jeff Rackover, helped cover up the crime.