NEW CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The prosecution and defense clashed in court Thursday as the man accused of stabbing five people inside a Monsey synagogue was arraigned.
Grafton Thomas, 37, acknowledged his name, but otherwise stayed silent as what started as a routine arraignment took on more dramatic form.
Rockland County has a brand new District Attorney, former judge Tom Walsh. It became clear Thursday his prosecution effort in this case will be very aggressive, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reports.
Walsh was in court for the first big case of his tenure.
Thomas is accused of storming into a rabbi’s home with a machete and hacking at six Orthodox Jewish men celebrating Chanukah.
One victim, 72-year-old Josef Neumann, remains hospitalized and unresponsive.
The defense made a relatively routine request for a brief visit to the crime scene.
The prosecution says that would harm the rabbi and family living there.
“It would be an unnecessary, undue burden upon them,” prosecutor Dominic Crispino said.
Crispino then told Judge Kevin Russo he considers defense attorney Michael Sussman a witness.
Sussman legally searched a cabin once used by Thomas, where he found unopened psychiatric prescriptions and bizarre writings in journals and on posters.
“At this point, I’m asking Mr. Sussman if he’s going to be resigning from the case because he’s now a civilian witness in this case,” Crispino said.
“I’m not resigning from the case, your honor,” Sussman said.
Sussman later told reporters, “Lawyers gather evidence. People present lawyers evidence all the time. In this case, I’m assuming that they’re a little bit embarrassed that they didn’t gather the evidence in a timely manner and I found it before they did.”
The prosecution says it will file a motion to have Sussman dismissed, while Sussman will file a motion to visit the crime scene.
The next court action is set for Feb. 18.
On Monday, Thomas pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges.
Earlier this month, a grand jury in Rockland County indicted the 37-year-old on six counts of attempted murder, assault, attempted assault and burglary.
“Mr. Thomas has been charged with a violent and heinous crime,” Walsh announced earlier this month. “Fear has spread through our community, and we must restore peace.”
The judge presiding over Thomas’ federal arraignment warned it could become a death penalty case if Neumann does not survive.
“If, unfortunately, he passes, there will have to be a decision made at the Justice Department level as to what to do,” Sussman said. “A reasonable view of the situation will compel the conclusion this will never be a capital case. That’s my view.”
His family left court Monday looking upset with nothing to say.
Thomas faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted on the state charges.
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