CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – An emotionally charged and legally complicated trial began Thursday in the death of anti-gang activist Evelyn Rodriguez, who was killed during a confrontation at a sidewalk memorial for her daughter who was murdered by MS-13 gang members.
Emotions were raw as defendant Annmarie Drago — registered nurse, mother and teacher — faced a jury for day one of her criminally negligent homicide trial, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reports.
“She did not see Evelyn in front of her car,” Drago’s defense attorney Stephen Kunken said.
“She was a huge advocate and warrior in our community,” said Liz Cordero, a friend of the victim.
A 911 call from a News12 reporter who witnessed the incident was played in court. In the call, the reporter can be heard saying, “Evelyn Rodriguez was just run over.”
Rodriguez had set up a memorial honoring her 16-year-old daughter on the site of where her body and the body of classmate Nisa Mickens, age 15, were discovered near the defendant’s mother’s home.
Prosecutors said the house was on the market and Annmarie Drago didn’t want to “scare off potential buyers.”
“She did not want to lose that money from the closing, so for 20 stupid thousand dollars, Evelyn is dead,” the victim’s friend Vanessa Lopez said.
Drago removed candles, flowers, balloons and photos, driving off in her SUV when confronted by Rodriguez and Kayla’s father, Freddie Cuevas.
In the audio from that 911 call, someone can be heard saying, “There was an argument.”
“When you are scared to death, you either fight the situation or you try to get away from it,” Kunken said.
The defense says Drago, who suffers from PTSD, was “boxed in, trapped and slowly accelerated to get away.”
Prosecutors claim “she cut her wheel and hit the gas.”
Unjustifiable behavior or unintended accident? Drago faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
Graphic video and audio of the deadly encounter is expected to be played in court next week.